Brittany Jones is one of the most respected Naked ladies when it comes to the dirt. In this great read she lets us in on some of her secrets to working on descending.
We all ride downhill occasionally; it comes with the territory of riding bikes. Some of us like it more than others and some of us are better at it than others. I’m in the camp of “like it, but not the best at it.” The problem is that I also like being good at things, so to like something and not be great at it has caused my poor little type-A heart a fair bit of frustration. With that in mind, one of my cycling goals for the year has been to (wait for it)…get better at descending, and in so doing, up the fun-factor of my riding.
Step 1: I got myself a trail bike.
Turns out, more than 100mm of travel, a head angle in the 68-67° range, and (for me) 27.5-inch wheels were the keys to descending bliss.
The benefit: The handling skills and the confidence I gained on my longer-travel trail bike translate back to how I ride on my hardtail. I have to occasionally remind myself that the hardtail isn’t quite as forgiving as my big-girl bike, but I’ve found that I don’t necessarily need “forgiveness” on either bike, just a good grasp of what I can trust a bike to do.
Step 2: dropper post. Scratch that—this should be step one.
I now have a dropper on my XC bike, too; and if you asked me to choose between my suspension and the dropper post, I’d hand over my fork. I will never own another mountain bike without a dropper post.
The benefit: I learned how to actually ride a mountain bike. Turns out, not a road bike. They don’t corner the same and my weight and body placement isn’t at all similar, but with a saddle in my chest on descents and in my ahem any other time, I’ve always been forced to ride my mountain bike the way I ride my road bike. That meant every kitty litter corner on the Front Range had a 50/50 chance of success or road rash. Now? I get more of a quad and glute workout, but the bike moves, I don’t, and everything is smoother and faster.
Step 3: Lift service.
Not all the time, not even most of the time, but I guarantee that anyone—from veteran XC racers to dirt newbs—will benefit from a day here and there of riding park. And the best part: This step includes rental shops for steps 1 & 2, so you don’t have to go buy the new Stumpjumper (yet). Riding at the resort isn’t drastically different from skiing at the resort; you have the option of green, blue, black, double black, etc. runs. Ride what you’re comfortable with, and then start gradually pushing your comfort zone.
The benefit: When was the last time you got to spend an entire day practicing your descending skills, where you weren’t completely gassed from the climb up? I’m not at all opposed to pedaling or climbing—I’m a half way decent climber (and remember—I like things I’m good at). This is skill-specific training; you do interval work to get faster, you do long rides to build fitness, you practice starts so you can get the holeshot, you climb to be a better climber. Why wouldn’t you practice descending to be a better descender?
Worried you’ll spend an entire day riding with no workout? Don’t be; you’ll walk away worked. Your shoulders and arms will be noodle-y and your quads and glutes (or glute if you’re like me and have only one dominant leg) will be rocked from you being out of the saddle and low all day. Plus, you’ll be a better descender and you’ll have a blast.