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

Ivan Basso rips it up on the way down.
Ivan Basso rips it up on the way down.

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.

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111 Replies to “Descents are Not for Recovery. Recovery Ales are for Recovery.”

  1. Descents are for the rouleurs to chase their guts out, and bring it back together before the end.  It’s what I do…

  2. Now I understand a little better why you have issues descending.  The key to good descending is assuredly not contorting oneself into bizarre positions.  The machine knows how to get down the mountain so don’t fight it.  Be supple and loose on the bike, and let it carry you down the road.

  3. @Nate I agree, descents require a sort of blending of Rules #5 and #6. Harden yourself up enough to Free the Mind to let the bike fall as fast as it can down the hill. You must be loose and fluid.
    Today is a hill repeat day on Norway Hill for me…you can bet I will be embracing the new Rule every time I have to drop back down to hit the hill again!

  4. How much faith can I put into a Rule suggested by an urbanwhitetrash?

    As much faith as I put into the rubber on my rims as I hit the apex? More, or less.

  5. @Nate

    Sometimes I swear you get a lobotomy and forget with the site is about: pissed taking.

    All I can do in these cases is sigh and wait for your fuckwit comment get buried on the next page.

  6. People recovering on descents is how you catch, smile at, then drop their ass. The only thing I do better than go up the berg is going down it. Faster the better.

  7. @frank

    @Nate

    Sometimes I swear you get a lobotomy and forget with the site is about: pissed taking.

    All I can do in these cases is sigh and wait for your fuckwit comment get buried on the next page.

    Cripes and I’ve been trying to put into practice all I read here since I joined the community.  Here’s how I’m getting on………

    *Video deleted

  8. Excellent piece @frank, including your response to @Nate! The specific dynamics and physical properties of the road tire  were recently explained to me by the US masters TT champ.  I am not sure the actual properties are all that important, but the baseline message is – “lean the bike as far as you can around the turn and the tire does the rest” – it works and my descent speeds have improved materially. May the force (centripetal) be with you.

  9. @Cyclops unless you post a video or animated GIF, we can’t know if you’re pedaling or just coasting…I vote for animated GIF.

  10. I’m so happy about this. I’m always totally shattered at the bottom of a decent. Heart is always well up and legs are always on fire. I’m glad this means I’m doing it right.

  11. I need a Rule #93 shirt, clearly visible to those behind me, in large font of course, as I pull away from them as I have a love affair with gravity and push myself to the edge……

  12. Perhaps he’s just stopped pedaling so he can give the corner maximum lean..and then will get right back on the gear? He does kinda look like he’s about to nail the apex…

  13. @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!

  14. @Teocalli

    @frank

    @Nate

    Sometimes I swear you get a lobotomy and forget with the site is about: pissed taking.

    All I can do in these cases is sigh and wait for your fuckwit comment get buried on the next page.

    Cripes and I’ve been trying to put into practice all I read here since I joined the community. Here’s how I’m getting on………

    *Video deleted

    Sorry mate, we don’t condone animal cruelty videos here…

  15. 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…

  16. Fuckin A, downhills are where I get to make up time. I climb like a totally not scalded elephant and not even well for my weight! Stick that in yer pipe and smoke it stick insects, mwa ha ha ha !

  17. 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?

  18. Nothing like descending with better descenders to understand why you suck. Do you go into blind corners without touching the brakes? I just can’t do that and I lose a little on each one. Getting aero and not touching the brakes into corners can open up big gaps on those with active imaginations.

  19. The V-locus of descending is quite different. Descending is all about survival. Gonna be killed on a bike on a mountain? Yeah, it’s gonna be on a descent. It all just happens so much…well…faster. My heart rate really doesn’t drop much on a descent only because they scare the living shit out of me. It’s a little fucked up that I relax MORE on the climbs.

  20. @wiscot GIF: Think of it as a animated photo. Tbh, as a great piss taker, I kinda like ‘pissed taker’ no?

  21. Great, ya’ll had to go and squeeze the last bit of enjoyment out it. Descents are not the recovery. They are the reward for all the huffing and puffing or to use G’rilla’s analogy, the orgasm.

  22. @robditch

    @wiscot GIF: Think of it as a animated photo. Tbh, as a great piss taker, I kinda like ‘pissed taker’ no?

    Still unclear ion the concept!

    Would that be a pissed piss taker? In the UK (where I’m from originally) “pissed” most often means drunk rather than upset. Being pissed often leads to taking the piss with the party on the receiving end of the extraction becoming pissed at having the piss taken.

  23. @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!

  24. @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?

    Fucking Siri is useless. So much for ranting at a mate on the internet using the voice feature while driving!

    Graphic Interchange Format.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_Interchange_Format

  25. I’m convinced that I learned more about descending when MTBing in Colorado on hard pack gravel.  3k FT drops in 4 miles will do that for you.

  26. @Chris

    Descending? Did someone say GIF?

    @wiscot This.

    The Colombian’s team mate told him that today’s podium would be made from three enormous piles of cocaine.

  27. This is what I love about The Rules.  Concise and compelling.

    However, I am not…so I elaborate.  As I see them, The Rules do not restrict action.  They expand understanding, focus action and elevate performance.  It’s hard to go hard downhill.  It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of accomplishment.  Rule #93 reveals yet another opportunity to serve up ample helpings of Rule #5 and demoralize ones opponents.  In doing so, the eventual recovery is that much sweeter.

  28. I used to be a good batshit descender until I got stupid this summer.
    The story is so stupid it might get me banned from the site so I shall not tell it here, suffice to say I went full retard.

  29. @Optimiste That’s Simon Clarke from Greenedge doing that decent, and it was because someone said there were pies on offer a the end and he didn’t want to miss out…..

  30. @Xponti

    @Optimiste That’s Simon Clarke from Greenedge doing that decent, and it was because someone said there were pies on offer a the end and he didn’t want to miss out…..

    Sweet recovery indeed.

  31. @Gianni

    Nothing like descending with better descenders to understand why you suck. Do you go into blind corners without touching the brakes? I just can’t do that and I lose a little on each one. Getting aero and not touching the brakes into corners can open up big gaps on those with active imaginations.

    @eightzero

    The V-locus of descending is quite different. Descending is all about survival. Gonna be killed on a bike on a mountain? Yeah, it’s gonna be on a descent. It all just happens so much…well…faster. My heart rate really doesn’t drop much on a descent only because they scare the living shit out of me. It’s a little fucked up that I relax MORE on the climbs.

    That these two posts came in succession is one of the happiest coincidences ever.

    @8-0, if you lowered your bars a foot, you’d be much more confident on the descents. You might also be broken, but you’d be more confident.

  32. @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.

  33. @frank

    @Gianni

    Nothing like descending with better descenders to understand why you suck. Do you go into blind corners without touching the brakes? I just can’t do that and I lose a little on each one. Getting aero and not touching the brakes into corners can open up big gaps on those with active imaginations.

    @eightzero

    The V-locus of descending is quite different. Descending is all about survival. Gonna be killed on a bike on a mountain? Yeah, it’s gonna be on a descent. It all just happens so much…well…faster. My heart rate really doesn’t drop much on a descent only because they scare the living shit out of me. It’s a little fucked up that I relax MORE on the climbs.

    That these two posts came in succession is one of the happiest coincidences ever.

    @8-0, if you lowered your bars a foot, you’d be much more confident on the descents. You might also be broken, but you’d be more confident.

    I’m am nervously considering reversing my stem, and moving the two spacers on top of it under it. I’ve done the math and this drops my bar about 2cm. That’s about the same as a “foot” right? In any case that’s way too much. Change is good. You go first.

    I have remembered from my ol’ “This is how to recover a winged spacecraft from orbit to a runway in 25 easy mach numbers” days that all I need to do to slow down on a descent is just sit up a bit. Hdot, Hddot etc etc. Brakes? “Touch your brakes and you go from 5th place to 55th place in a blink of an eye! Suitcase of courage, pedal of anger…”

  34. @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.

  35. For reference, from a Youngster with an Immortality Complex:

    And another from an Immortal with a Youngster Complex.

  36. I cannot join the ranks of those who boast of potent descending skills.  Whilst I have ample kinetic energy stored, the roads are too rough and narrow, the consequences of cocking it up too dire (a choice between, hitting a gum tree, going over a cliff, or, best case, being cushioned by a barbed-wire stock fence), the local drivers are too bad, and mostly, I’m spoilt by years of riding Ducatis.  On a motorbike, there are these huge fat tyres, and amazing suspensions, and brakes that actually work.  On a carbon race bike, there are none of those things.  Call me a sook,if you will.  There is one great local descent, where the road is smooth and wide, and I tap it open and leave the brakes alone though.   I do crack on a bit on other hills, but  by and large, prefer to arrive at my destination, not in an ambulance.

  37. @8-0 – In my experience, flipping your stem from positive to negative moves your bars ~1cm forward as well as dropping them lower.  Unless you’re young and flexible, take your time with this; change one thing at a time, no more than a cm at a time, and give yourself time to get used to it.  It works – I’ve gone from a 10cm stem flipped up on top of 3cm of spacers to an 11cm stem flipped down and slammed, and will probably switch to a 12cm stem soon.  It took almost a year to make the metamorphosis.

    Oh, and re:  descending – I suck, largely due to the fact that I can do a 100km ride and not get 100m of elevation change where I live (south Louisiana).

  38. @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

  39. On long descents I always find my arms tiring.  It’s hard work keeping things upright once you have spun out you largest gear.  The end result is that at least my legs get some recovery time.

  40. I’m a barely average descender.

    Descending is one thing where a bike you ride can make a big difference. Around here, the roads are shocking, and having a bit of flex in your bike makes the wheels stay on the ground more, which is a good thing. My current bike is STIFF, and I can feel the back wheel jump around.

    I imagine a titanium bike would be perfect.

  41. I HAVE to descend quickly, its a simple mathematical equation which states that as Im so shit at going up, i need to make up for it going down.

    Ive even begun to slacken off the front and rear brakes so that there is no possible chance of slowing down!

    Battling going up makes for the ecstasy of going down ! (so to speak)

  42. @The Grande Fondue

    I’m a barely average descender.

    Descending is one thing where a bike you ride can make a big difference. Around here, the roads are shocking, and having a bit of flex in your bike makes the wheels stay on the ground more, which is a good thing. My current bike is STIFF, and I can feel the back wheel jump around.

    I imagine a titanium bike would be perfect.

    What roads you riding on?  South Oz ?

  43. I loves me a good descent, and am just about back at the point where I’m actually confident that the wheels will do what I want them to & keep me upright. Those who took part in this year’s Adelaide Cogal should regognise the following descent, this footage is from the last ride before I got a very painful reminder of the limits of Rule #64!

    <a href="http://vimeo.com/49375421“>Greenhill Rd Descent from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user11348985“>Mikael Liddy on <a href="https://vimeo.com“>Vimeo.>

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