Ivan Basso rips it up on the way down.

Descents are Not for Recovery. Recovery Ales are for Recovery.

Descents are Not for Recovery. Recovery Ales are for Recovery.

by / / 111 posts

My trouble isn’t with being a good descender; it is with cornering and stopping – and sometimes both. Or, as G’rilla puts it, “Descending is like sex; how good I am at it has nothing to do with how much I enjoy it.”

Descending is demanding and requires great skill. It is not a time for resting or taking it easy; getting down the mountain should be every bit as hard as getting up it. Merckx was himself a good climber, but his bikes were all designed to be stable and fast on the descents so he would be able to get off the mountain faster than the mountain goats he was chasing.

On the way down, we are compelled to smoothly spin the pedals at 120 or more rpms in pursuit of maximum speed. Once escape velocity is reached, we contort our bodies into the most aero tuck possible, causing our muscles to scream out in agony from the unnatural position. Cornering, we push on the pedals and bars in an effort to maximize friction between tire and pavement as an alternative to finding too much friction in the ditches at the roadside. The mind is consumed in the total concentration of keeping the rickshaw in one piece.

We hereby hand down Rule #93, plucked from the ether by @urbanwhitetrash in a moment of clair-V-ance after the VVhidbey Island Cogal.

Rule #93 // Descents are not for recovery. Recovery Ales are for Recovery.

Descents are meant to be as hard and demanding as – and much more dangerous than – the climbs. Climb hard, descend to close a gap or open one. Descents should hurt, not be a time for recovery. Recovery is designated only for the pub and for shit-talking.

// Etiquette // Look Pro // Racing // The Rules // Tradition

  1. A worthy addition!  I do love descending, I have no idea how good I am at it, but the thrill of being on the edge of oblivion is very seductive.  The only problem is that invariably it is followed by another hill!

  2. @zeitzmar

    True fearless descending by The Prophet himself. Right into the fog. I could stand to learn from this. As @frank says, I descend like a Schleck.

    Beautiful video; absolutely beautiful. Thanks for posting this.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I can tell, the rider seen in action here on the descent is José Manuel Fuente (credit where credit is due). But that being said, the footage of the long, winding descent through the mist and rain is absolutely stunning. Great stuff.

    By the way: could that be de Vlaeminck at 4.58 ??

  3. @Chris

    Descending? Did someone say GIF?

    @wiscot This.

    So GIF means a short clip of a mad Columbian cyclist bombing down a mountain? Got it! Thanks!

  4. @frank

    @wiscot

    Feeling pretty left out of things here. I live in SE Wisconsin. Not much on offer in terms of descents that last more than 30 seconds – if that.

    Frank, I think you mean “piss-taking” not pissed taking. Take the piss properly FFS! And by the way, what the hell does GIF mean?

    I thought you were SW Wisconsin; there is enough technical descending on roads that may or may not stop being pave mid-corner and what may or may not be free of pebbles even if it is paved all the way through.

    @Siri

    @frank I didn’t find anything for pissed taking. Do you want me to search the web for you?

    I always thought you lived in Cupertino; I didn’t realized you moved to Chicago.

    You’re still kinda hot though.

    Nah, south east Wisconsin. Kettle Moraine country. Lumpy terrain with what can really only be called downhills rather than descents. Rode in the bluffs of Iowa last near and damn near shit myself coming down a couple of those.

  5. @ErikdR Yup, it’s Fuente descending in pink and it is RdeV in the Brooklyn jersey.

    Someone should show this film to Wiggo.

  6. @ErikdR How embarrassing. I remembered watching that video a while ago and then searched for it and posted it without re-watching it to verify. It is most certainly Fuente on that harrowing descent, Merckx forgive me.

    That definitely looks like the Gypsy at 4:58. Another awesome rider from that era to watch.

  7. @Simon

    @wiscot

    Feeling pretty left out of things here. I live in SE Wisconsin. Not much on offer in terms of descents that last more than 30 seconds – if that.

    As a fellow SE Wisconsinite (and city boy) I ask, Where do you find a 30-second descent? Unless I pack up the ol’ stead and head up north, my longest descent is Lake Drive hill heading South. Or maybe the hill from the Water Tower to the Lake, but I don’t like getting hit by cars so I don’t ride that one.

    There are a few up my way near West Bend: Schuster Hill, Hwy 28 heading east, County A near Greenbush. The latter could almost be called a descent as it turns and twists a bit.

  8. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a masterclass in descending courtesy of Mr Fabian Cancellara: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxXqQqAc2pA

    I’d be grateful if some could post it properly!

  9. After years of road cycling and now just a few of cx riding, it’s clear that that only way to get good at descending is to ride on stuff that isn’t as unforgiving as pavement. Unless you can push yourself and your tyres and your bike and have it possibly result in a washout on wet grass, I simply don’t think you’ll ever find that line where you maximize your potential.

    Well, unless you don’t mind road rash, smashed shifters and ground-down pedals.

    Most corners where I ride are full of debris, rocks and loose gravel, meaning I rarely get to corner at any speed. Just not worth it in terms of skin or bike.

  10. @wiscot ! Give yourself an uppercut! (Skip to 3.30 for the full berries)

  11. @wiscot

    @Chris

    Descending? Did someone say GIF?

    @wiscot This.

    So GIF means a short clip of a mad Columbian cyclist bombing down a mountain? Got it! Thanks!

    Except I think its an Australian. Simon Clarke?

  12. @Haldy

    @frank

    @Haldy

    @Frank- are the extra pages at the back of The Rules..specifically to write the new Rules in as they come along? I don’t feel like I have the authority to add to the tome without express Keeper permission!

    No, they’re for writing down your sins.

    The US release of the book will include any new Rules divined between the UK edition and when we go to press. So far that’s only two, but nevertheless.

    Hmmm….well, since I couldn’t wait for a US edition and have the UK edition…I shall amend my copy with the new Rules

    Same here

  13. When’s the US edition due out? Just ordered a UK version but two rule books wouldn’t hurt.

  14. @Harminator Thank you sir! Appreciate the tech skillz. Uppercut duly administered.

  15. @wiscot

    @Simon

    @wiscot

    Feeling pretty left out of things here. I live in SE Wisconsin. Not much on offer in terms of descents that last more than 30 seconds – if that.

    As a fellow SE Wisconsinite (and city boy) I ask, Where do you find a 30-second descent? Unless I pack up the ol’ stead and head up north, my longest descent is Lake Drive hill heading South. Or maybe the hill from the Water Tower to the Lake, but I don’t like getting hit by cars so I don’t ride that one.

    There are a few up my way near West Bend: Schuster Hill, Hwy 28 heading east, County A near Greenbush. The latter could almost be called a descent as it turns and twists a bit.

    I moved from SE Wisconsin to Central Wisconsin (Fond du Lac) this summer, and lo and behold, there are actually (*gasp*) a few categorized climbs in the area!  That being said, I’m still with wiscot–nothing around here that I would actually classify as a “descent.”

    Frank’s right, though, SW Wisconsin has a decent amount of up and down.  Also, head over to La Crosse and try bombing down Grandad’s bluff.  That’s a good combination of tight blind turns and sheer road-side drop-offs.

  16. @Harminator

    @wiscot ! Give yourself an uppercut! (Skip to 3.30 for the full berries)

    Great example – one of my favorite clips to watch.  On long descents, I often find myself humming this movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 and channeling Faboo.  It motivated me do more with what I’ve got.  As a direct result, I now reach Escape Velocity at 134 RPMs.

  17. Good work by the moto, to stay with Faboo.

  18. @Optimiste Where I live you get through the first few bars then you hit the bottom!

  19. @The Oracle Hey! Good to see you post. So you moved (slightly) up north? Too late for a WI cogal this year, but for sure next year.

  20. @RManneck not too hard really. When you think about it, at 80kph, anordinary car or motorbike is cruising, safely within its design parameters.  A bicycle doing 80kph is right on the edge of disaster.

  21. Ah, descending; one of the greatest pleasures in life when i manage to relax in to it. I always seem to feel myself loosen up as I crest a long climb but doubts so easily creep in. It’s my sense of mortality I guess.  But for me, on the couple of occasions I’ve been blessed enough to spend a week in the high mountains and watch better riders, plus learned to trust my equipment, there is no feeling like it.  God I envy people who have those mountains as their home playground!

  22. @brett

    @frank

    @brett

    Descending has never been about recovery for me either, it’s always a time to put the hammer down… cornering at speed, knee out slightly, in a tuck, hugging the apex, it’s a beautiful thing. Maybe there needs to be Enduro-style road races…

    There are. They are called Gravel races!

    So they don’t time the climbs in these gravel races? Only the descents? Sign me up!

    They only time the descents? What kind of pussy-ass sport is that?

    The gravel races are timed, but only about 5% of people give a shit, the rest are out for a laugh. Its fucking fantastic.

  23. I might need to rethink things when it comes to riding down the hills. 

    Till now I’ve always thought it impolite to work too hard on the downhill sections – instead allowing the fat fucks that I ride with a chance to feel good about themselves after the ass kicking they just took on the climb.  I crusie along behind feeling all superior, knowing that I can take them out again just as soon as the road turns skyward. 

    Maybe I’m being shortsighted.

  24. 78 km/hr and working on getting north of 80. Why do I suffer up hills? So I can ride like a banshee down the other side.

    Although, I guess I should really work at getting up the hills faster too.

  25. @Ken Ho

    @RManneck not too hard really. When you think about it, at 80kph, anordinary car or motorbike is cruising, safely within its design parameters. A bicycle doing 80kph is right on the edge of disaster.

    I think it depends on conditions. A properly set-up and maintained road bike on a smoothly-paved descent having long sweeping turns and no motor vehicles (or dogs or deer or coyotes) is, at least in my experience, not a problem at 80 or even 90km/hr. (97 km/hr felt really fast to me, and I did it only once, because it made me afraid.)

    The problem, IMO, is not knowing the specific conditions around the next turn.

  26. @PeakInTwoYears

     

    The problem, IMO, is not knowing the specific conditions around the next turn.

    IMO worrying about the SPECIFIC conditions would be nirvana mostly I just worry about where the next turn goes!  I have to admit here, as one who likes to venture out on routes previously unknown to self, that the much scorned GPS is a bit of a help that I use in giving some indication as to whether the next bend is a little wiggle or a complete blind hairpin.  Darn it I guess it’s soap for breakfast again.

  27. @Teocalli

    Dude. I have as much dried semen on my various GPS-enabled devices as any other navigation geek. I really enjoy navigation with map, compass, GPS, and any combination thereof.

    But if you’re looking at the damned thing during a descent, on a bike, I’m sorry, and I’ll be even sorrier when you eat shit because you weren’t looking where you wanted to be in two or three seconds.

  28. All those videos but no mention of Mohorič yet? The kid demonstrated some skills on the WC U23 road race…

  29. @Fiery Just ‘cos you’re a winner doesn’t make it OK.

  30. @piwakawaka

    @Fiery Just ‘cos you’re a winner doesn’t make it OK.

    A-Merckx!  There’s nothing right about that.

  31. @Fiery there’s a reason for that, he’s still pedalling, ergo he hasn’t yet reached Escape Velocity & thus shouldn’t be attempting an aero tuck.

  32. @brett

    @RedRanger

    ride a MTB to become a better descender.

    This.

    Although The Chicken was a bad example of bike handling crossover…

    The best part is where he holds up the bike like a grampa holding his cock and the mech disappears for an age before returning with not a wheel, but an entire bike.

    You can’t write comedy like that.

  33. @Teocalli

    @PeakInTwoYears

    The problem, IMO, is not knowing the specific conditions around the next turn.

    IMO worrying about the SPECIFIC conditions would be nirvana mostly I just worry about where the next turn goes! I have to admit here, as one who likes to venture out on routes previously unknown to self, that the much scorned GPS is a bit of a help that I use in giving some indication as to whether the next bend is a little wiggle or a complete blind hairpin. Darn it I guess it’s soap for breakfast again.

    I’d agree with @PeakInTwoYears that you don’t want to be looking at a GPS to work out where a corner is going. Presumably you want to know so that you can judge your speed into the corner – not so fast that you run off the road or end up on the wrong side playing with the traffic but not so slow that the Rover driving OAPs start overtaking you.

    The UK motorcycle police use a technique called riding to the vanishing point also known as the limit point as a guide to entry speed and when to start laying down the power on the way out. Obviously the second part is less important on a bicycle but the technique for judging entry speed is equally applicable to bicycles as motorbikes or even cars.

    There are plenty of articles on the net explaining it but essentially if the point at which the edges of the road converge are moving towards you, you’re going to fast, not moving you’ve got it right and moving away from you, you need to ma up and go faster on the straights. It doesn’t need to be the edge of the road that you use for a visual cue, hedgerows, lines of trees etc may give you a better indication as you might be able to see them further through the corner.

  34. @Fiery

    All those videos but no mention of Mohorič yet? The kid demonstrated some skills on the WC U23 road race…

    That’s not tuck position. That’s yuck position.

  35. That looks ridiculous….how can you possibly generate any power like that?

    …….I bet we will see Sagan doing that sh*t next season.

  36. As someone commented to me after our recent descent down Macquarie Pass (12k’s of some sweeping bends and a lot of hair pins) “one has to reach a point whilst descending where the thrill overtakes the fear and just go with it”.

  37. @frank Michael Rasmussen: surely one of the least-missed riders ever. Any other nominees? (COTHO is on the list, of course)

  38. Colorado taught me this rule.  Pushing it hard down a canyon for 20K is satisfying.  One more tip I learned besides outside pedal, inside in the drops – relax the outside shoulder to center your weight.

  39. These posts, these videos, have given me a new perspective on descending. This old dog can still learn some new tricks!

  40. @Mikael Liddy

    Trying again c/o chrome

    Thanks, that was great. Almost a meditation on descending without the rider in the picture. Very zen.

  41. @Frank

    If this rule is making its way into the North American version of The Rules, does this mean I can put Published author on my resumé?

  42. If you don’t or can not, learn to counter steer at speed and you will be happily amazed. Counter steering will also save yer ass in the bunch, at any speed – learn it.

  43. @PaulD Just looked up counter steering.  Interesting.  I realised that t I do this subconsiously on my mtb in the woods or at low speeds in traffic.

    So this works at speed on descents then does it?  Will try this tomorrow.

    Great thread @Frank

  44. @Fiery

    All those videos but no mention of Mohorič yet? The kid demonstrated some skills on the WC U23 road race…

    It’s like Graham Obree took him out drinking the night before the race, and filled his head with all sorts of ideas.

  45. @Harminator

    @Fiery

    All those videos but no mention of Mohorič yet? The kid demonstrated some skills on the WC U23 road race…

    That’s not tuck position. That’s yuck position.

    Hardly what you’d call casually deliberate.

  46. @Andre the Fish Hey Andre, I think most of us do it at speed w/out thinking about it, but I’ve seen some guys really struggle when trying going fast around corners on the road because they’re thinking about turning – push the left hand to turn right, when you want to push right to turn right etc.
    Slower speeds, for example, it’ll (help) save you it you touch the wheel in front of you.

  47. Today Shimano road hydraulic brakes are endorsed by none other than Andy Schleck who reports that they help him descend.

    I think Schleck’s descending would improve if he braked less, not more. Probably his TT, too.

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/reviews/shimano-r785-electric-hydraulic-road-system

  48. @G’rilla

    Today Shimano road hydraulic brakes are endorsed by none other than Andy Schleck who reports that they help him descend.

    I think Schleck’s descending would improve if he braked less, not more. Probably his TT, too.

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/reviews/shimano-r785-electric-hydraulic-road-system

    Oh how I hate him!

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  50. Brave. At least he’ll see the bump that castrates him..

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