Descendeur

Photo Pedale.Forchetta
Photo Pedale.Forchetta

We close out the 6 Days of the Giro with our sixth and final installment.

A body at rest, stays at rest. A body in motion, stays in motion. Things get a bit more ambiguous when it comes to a body on a bicycle tearing down a twisty mountain descent at speed, particularly in the rain. But it is here, on the boundary between clarity and ambiguity, where things get interesting.

Cornering feels a bit like you’re stealing from Physics, as if you’re getting away with something. Momentum, as fundamental as it is, doesn’t know what’s good for us and stubbornly wants to carry us on its merry path. The faster we go, the bigger its influence becomes and the harder we push against it, balancing on the knife’s edge between our body’s lean and the bike’s pull. For those skilled in this craft, the bicycle and rider carve through the bend in perfect harmony.

I’m not particularly good at cornering, which is to say I’m not particularly good at descending. Its a shame, too, because given my size I’m not very good at climbing, either. The way to get better is to practice, and not to give Rule #64 too much thought. You will crash if you want to get better, but you mustn’t lose your nerve. A nervous descender is a bad descender and everyone knows where to find bad descenders.

The riders getting the most practice in this discipline must surely be les grimpeurs for it seems they would be riding down all those mountains they’re riding up. The surprising truth is that this does not always appear to be the case; one need look no farther than Andy Schleck to find evidence of that particular postulate. Furthermore, one would think that a professional, who by the very nature of their occupation is quite used to finding themselves on the tarmac, would be most able to come off and not lose their nerve. This, also, doest not always appear to be the case.

The Giro, known for its narrow mountain roads, is won as much on the descents as it is on the climbs. Who can forget the 1988 Giro, which was won on the descent of the Gavia, not its climb. Or the 2002 and 2005 editions when Il Falco used every millimeter of road as he swept through the hairpin bends to distance his rivals. This year, Brad Wiggins had already put himself on the back foot on GC when he came off on a slow bend and spent the rest of the stage riding like his tires were made of glass. On the same stage, Nibali attacked and came off on a high speed corner before jumping back on his machine and rejoining the leaders moments later. The difference is a question of not only skill, but fearlessness.

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168 Replies to “Descendeur”

  1. @frank He looks great in the Coors Classic jersey – cool how it matches the standard (?) 7-Eleven Huffy colours!

    @PT Thanks! Sounds a bit like gargling then?!!

  2. Thought you might like this one, not specifically on topic.

    http://le-grimpeur.net/blog/archives/20

    If you make it to the bottom, you will get this gem:

    “Lapize finished stage 10 of the 1910 Tour in 14 hours and 10 minutes. For 326 kilometres, that is an average speed of just over 22 kph.”

    That’s some serious V.

    Tom

  3. Here’s a news flash for all you aspiring photographers. You know what kind of fancy-dancy high tech camera Pedale used for the cover shot?

    No?

    Oh, HIS FUCKING iPHONE.

  4. I was reminded of another reason to weight the outside foot: it unweights your saddle so you’re not a sack of potatoes when you hit a bump you don’t see mid-corner.

    Its the same principle as riding cobbles or riding a cross bike or a hard-tail MTB: unweight the saddle so the bike can move under you without being burdened by your full weight. If you’re 100% on the saddle when you hit a bump, you’ll have a hard time to correct; if you’re light in the saddle, the bike can come up to you with no problem.

  5. @frank

    Here’s a news flash for all you aspiring photographers. You know what kind of fancy-dancy high tech camera Pedale used for the cover shot?

    No?

    Oh, HIS FUCKING iPHONE.

    Mobile phone was a first guess. Or there was time to create an expressionist rendering (charcoal). Lo-res images can be tested in Photoshop pushing them to 1200 dpi to find these types of “interesting” results.

  6. @frank

    iPhone you say?  No wonder it is blurry as shit…

    Kidding of course, really captures the speed involved, great photo indeed.

  7. @frank

    Its the same principle as riding cobbles or riding a cross bike or a hard-tail MTB: unweight the saddle so the bike can move under you without being burdened by your full weight. If you’re 100% on the saddle when you hit a bump, you’ll have a hard time to correct; if you’re light in the saddle, the bike can come up to you with no problem.

    yup, you have so much more control bombing down some single track if you get out of the saddle and let the bike move around. Keep the front tire aimed in the right direction and the rest will follow. I find it amazing how fast my hard tail can get going on even a short descent, so much fun.

  8. @PT

     

    @Patrick: I’m pretty sure its pronounced: Har-ley-ark-a-lar.

    @Patrick

    Actually, and @Gianni will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, there is no ‘R’ sound in the Hawai’ian language.  While there in 2002 (O’ahu) I got a fun book called Hawai’ian for Haoles.  Haole being the local word for white folks or outsiders.

    So I reckon it’s:  ha lay ah KAY la or ha lay ah KAH la.


    Caps for the stress.

  9. @PT

    @frank

    @PT

    I used to be a fearless descendeur until I developed a propensity for speed wobbles. Not just a mild vibration either; massive tank-slappers where the frame feels like its made of rubber. Has happened on different bikes under different conditions but always over 65kmh. I’ve tried all the tricks I know and have even changed bikes a few times too. Hasn’t happened with the current steed (Pinarello FPQuattro) which is promising However, I suspect its me and related to speed, not the descent. As I once read a pro-mechanic being quoted: elite bike riders don’t get the wobbles.

    Great topic and article.

    Is it your wheels? On lightweight wheels the valve stem can throw the balance of the wheel off significantly. I’ve been considering adding a counter-weight to my Haleakalas for that reason; they’re so fucking light they wobble a bit at speed.

    Thanks Frank; I’ve been thinking that too.

    My wheels are Campagnolo Eurus which are light for alloy but not crazy. It also happened with my Shimano DA 24s that my last bike had – also light alloy but not super light. The only thing I can think of is that until recently I had not one but two magnetic sensors (two different computers……don’t start..) on the spokes of the front wheel. Although placed opposite each other, I did notice (after my most recent Code Brown experience at 70kmh) that when I spun the wheel while holding it off the ground I could feel a pulse come through the bars & frame. I took them off and it disappeared. Their now permanently off and the computers are gone too, you may be pleased to hear. Hopefully this has solved it.

    As an aside; my bike was a Cervelo S5 which I loved but found to be nervous handling and being a larger chap (187cm/100kg) I wondered if I was just too big to be on such a racey bike. Thus, the change to the Pinarello which is great so far.

    @Patrick: I’m pretty sure its pronounced: Har-ley-ark-a-lar.

    L .Zinn has addressed high speed wobble with larger riders. I believe most of it is a function of frame stiffness. Larger frames get floppier unless they increase the tubing diameter which they never did in the old days. Your carbone frame should be much better for HSW. I have a 63cm merlin extralight. It has large diameter tubing and it is a bombproof descender. One way to stop it is to grip the top tube with your knees as soon as it starts. Before you shiet yourself.

    I’ve experienced it a few times but it was induced by my arms and torso shaking from being cold. I am a big pussy.

  10. @snoov

    @PT

    @Patrick: I’m pretty sure its pronounced: Har-ley-ark-a-lar.

    @Patrick

    Actually, and @Gianni will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, there is no ‘R’ sound in the Hawai’ian language. While there in 2002 (O’ahu) I got a fun book called Hawai’ian for Haoles. Haole being the local word for white folks or outsiders.

    So I reckon it’s: ha lay ah KAY la or ha lay ah KAH la.


    Caps for the stress.

    Let’s see. You are right, no R sounds.

    It means house of the sun. In Hawaiian the word Hale is house. And the accent/elongation is on the last syllable so it might sound like Ha lay a ka laaa. One would only know that when the word is written correctly, there is a “kahako” over the last letter A, telling one to elongate that A. Do I write it like that? No. Too lazy to find the keystroke combo.  Haleakalā is what it should look like. Now go to bed.

  11. @Gianni Ha, I just got up, can’t lie too long or my back gets stiff.  VMH will be sleeping for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games next year so I have to amuse myself here until I can go and wake her up.

  12. I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

  13. I’ve been amazed at how much the tuck whilst sitting on the top tube increases descending speed. It’s more stable than I expected, but definitely for the straighter sections only.

  14. @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    Did I ever mention I once drafted behind a car downhill with Johann Musseuw ?

  15. @strathlubnaig

    @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    Did I ever mention I once drafted behind a car downhill with Johann Musseuw ?

    Once or twice. We can only aspire…

  16. @snoov

    @Gianni Ha, I just got up, can’t lie too long or my back gets stiff. VMH will be sleeping for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games next year so I have to amuse myself here until I can go and wake her up.

    I had the same dodgy back issue. Sorted overnight with a new mattress. I’ll not bore with technical details. The money I spent on it got the same reaction as if I’d bought a new set of wheels for the n1. The final selection process went into just as much detail too.  Worth every penny.

  17. @Gianni

    @snoov

    @PT

    @Patrick: I’m pretty sure its pronounced: Har-ley-ark-a-lar.

    @Patrick

    Actually, and @Gianni will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, there is no ‘R’ sound in the Hawai’ian language. While there in 2002 (O’ahu) I got a fun book called Hawai’ian for Haoles. Haole being the local word for white folks or outsiders.

    So I reckon it’s: ha lay ah KAY la or ha lay ah KAH la.


    Caps for the stress.

    Let’s see. You are right, no R sounds.

    It means house of the sun. In Hawaiian the word Hale is house. And the accent/elongation is on the last syllable so it might sound like Ha lay a ka laaa. One would only know that when the word is written correctly, there is a “kahako” over the last letter A, telling one to elongate that A. Do I write it like that? No. Too lazy to find the keystroke combo. Haleakalā is what it should look like. Now go to bed.

    You guys are right…but I should add that I was thinking phonetically with my Australian accent ; which means no hard R sound Even when written Har. Whatever we Haoles think,  its a great word from a great language.

  18. @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    I just spent a cupla weeks in Tenerife, my downhill skills really came on and I managed to overtake a few cars between the hairpins on my last day. It’s a wee bit dangerous but terrific fun. Thankfully I had to fly home before the inevitable conclusion of Rule #64.

  19. @PT @Gianni  @snoov  Thanks for the lesson folks – much appreciated.  That really is a beautiful translation – not something us Geordies (folk from the North East of England) are used to!  I’m sure our imaginatevely named local hills would roughly translate as something like: grassed over former slagheap.

  20. @Gianni

    @PT

    @frank

    @PT

    I used to be a fearless descendeur until I developed a propensity for speed wobbles. Not just a mild vibration either; massive tank-slappers where the frame feels like its made of rubber. Has happened on different bikes under different conditions but always over 65kmh. I’ve tried all the tricks I know and have even changed bikes a few times too. Hasn’t happened with the current steed (Pinarello FPQuattro) which is promising However, I suspect its me and related to speed, not the descent. As I once read a pro-mechanic being quoted: elite bike riders don’t get the wobbles.

    Great topic and article.

    Is it your wheels? On lightweight wheels the valve stem can throw the balance of the wheel off significantly. I’ve been considering adding a counter-weight to my Haleakalas for that reason; they’re so fucking light they wobble a bit at speed.

    Thanks Frank; I’ve been thinking that too.

    My wheels are Campagnolo Eurus which are light for alloy but not crazy. It also happened with my Shimano DA 24s that my last bike had – also light alloy but not super light. The only thing I can think of is that until recently I had not one but two magnetic sensors (two different computers……don’t start..) on the spokes of the front wheel. Although placed opposite each other, I did notice (after my most recent Code Brown experience at 70kmh) that when I spun the wheel while holding it off the ground I could feel a pulse come through the bars & frame. I took them off and it disappeared. Their now permanently off and the computers are gone too, you may be pleased to hear. Hopefully this has solved it.

    As an aside; my bike was a Cervelo S5 which I loved but found to be nervous handling and being a larger chap (187cm/100kg) I wondered if I was just too big to be on such a racey bike. Thus, the change to the Pinarello which is great so far.

    @Patrick: I’m pretty sure its pronounced: Har-ley-ark-a-lar.

    L .Zinn has addressed high speed wobble with larger riders. I believe most of it is a function of frame stiffness. Larger frames get floppier unless they increase the tubing diameter which they never did in the old days. Your Carbone frame should be much better for HSW. I have a 63cm merlin extralight. It has large diameter tubing and it is a bombproof descender. One way to stop it is to grip the top tube with your knees as soon as it starts. Before you shiet yourself.

    I’ve experienced it a few times but it was induced by my arms and torso shaking from being cold. I am a big pussy.

    while I’m not as tall as you(I ride a 58 or 59 frame) It sounds like we’re cut from similar cloth.  Last time I had a tankslapper I used the  knee on top tube plus every other trick I could think of to just pull up before taking out a car in front of me.

    Slightly off-topic; just saw that vanSummeren apparently is 6’6″ and rides a 56 Cervelo R5. Hesjedal too I think.  I would find that too twitchy and small but I guess they are working with a different guide book.

  21. @frank

    @Patrick

    That’s pretty much how you pronounce it!

    Raul was a right stud, too. His win into Spa was one of my favorites.

     
     

    1 / 3
     
     
     
     
    Slideshow:
    Fullscreen:
    Download:
     

    @G’rilla, there he is riding that Coors Classic jersey you like.

    Most fricken awesome.

    I have a set of stealth Haleakalas on my bike right now. I have short but quick descent coming out of my neighborhood, which I can hit about 70ish on. So as I am heading down, I hear a tremendous “PING” and I am think. Pele you have undone me for my hubris for allowing the Haleakala nickname to continue. Alas, I was good to go. It was just my magnet flying off into the unknown.

  22. @PT

    Slightly off-topic; just saw that vanSummeren apparently is 6’6″³ and rides a 56 Cervelo R5. Hesjedal too I think. I would find that too twitchy and small but I guess they are working with a different guide book.

    Do you know where you found that? Modern tall Pros do ride relatively smaller frames for reasons I’ve written about many times, but Hesj is closer to 6’2 and might ride a 56; JVS rides a 61cm, as far as I know.

    That ain’t no 56.

  23. @RedRanger

    Yeah, that’s Ryder’s bike – I was wondering about a source for JVS riding a 56.

    But talk about slammed – no head set top cap to get the bars low enough!

  24. I must be more flexible than I think. My Niner is a large with a 110 cm stem in the -6 degree position. I find it pretty comfy and helps get my back in a good position. I like being stretched out on the bike.

  25. @PT

    Best not to mess with Madam Pele. That’ll be the end of the computer will it?

    Yup. I stopped trying to find the HR strap a few weeks ago and I am not concerned about my speed. I do like to know my cadence on climbs as that is a better indicator of my effort – for me at least, so the cadence magnet and computer have stayed. Although, I need to keep turning it on when it automatically shuts down as it is not registering speed.

  26. @frank

    @RedRanger

    Yeah, that’s Ryder’s bike – I was wondering about a source for JVS riding a 56.

    But talk about slammed – no head set top cap to get the bars low enough!

    Monster slam!

  27. @frank

    @PT

    Slightly off-topic; just saw that vanSummeren apparently is 6’6″³ and rides a 56 Cervelo R5. Hesjedal too I think. I would find that too twitchy and small but I guess they are working with a different guide book.

    Do you know where you found that? Modern tall Pros do ride relatively smaller frames for reasons I’ve written about many times, but Hesj is closer to 6’2 and might ride a 56; JVS rides a 61cm, as far as I know.

    That ain’t no 56.

    @frank – It was a writers comment I saw in one of the VeloNews photo galleries from the ATOC.  Surprised me too.  Just had a quick look but can’t find the comment – sorry.  Will repost if I can.  It may have been the TT gallery.  Perhaps he rides different sizes for different races. Or it was just an erroneous comment.

  28. @PT

    Sorry to seem obsessive, but tall guys is my specialty and I’m hugely invested in understanding what/how they ride. I am only about 6’4″ but have the inseam of a guy much taller. We tall guys are fucked as far as center of mass goes, and we have completely different issues to deal with than smaller folk, who are really just worried about reach and saddle height. We, on the other hand, need to get our mass down low and have to figure the best way to do it. I used to suffer from severe back pains when I rode the way a multitude of experts said I should. Then I started dropping my stem and my back pain went away. My theory: I was riding too high and my back was being used to stabilize my bike and body, not to emit The V. The lower I go, the better I feel.

    Johan rides a 61 in every photo I can find – whoever said he was on a 56 was confused. Or, you might have been mixed up because they often quote the weight of a bike based on a 56, so they’ll show the number 56 in the text around the photo of their frame on Google Images, even though that’s not the frame they ride. (Google is clever, but not that clever.)

    [dmalbum: path=”/velominati.com/wp-content/uploads/readers/frank/2013.05.20.01.38.01/1/”/]

    And lets not forget the best-ever JVS photo:

  29. @ Frank.

    I’ve found the link:

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/05/gallery/gallery-tt-tech-decisions-at-the-amgen-tour_287312

    Its his P5 TT bike, not his road bike. Its definitely a 56 which is pretty small for a very tall guy. I’ve also seen a Cervelo ad (last year after the Giro) with Ryder on a 54 P5 so it seems that they all go pretty small on that frame.  Nevertheless, apologies for the confusion and hop its still interesting.  No need for you to apologies for obsessing – I’m a bit OCD in this area myself anyway.

    pete

  30. @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    As in Fucking annoying, you mean?

  31. @mouse

    @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    As in Fucking annoying, you mean?

    I’ll wait at the top of a good descent if I think there’s a car within reach on the way down. A motorcycle I can follow, a car? No fucking way. Especially in the PNW, where we have drivers from British Columbia and Oregon fighting it out for the nation’s worst car-handler award, with Washington state coming in a clear third.

    Yes, that means all you geniuses I passed sitting in the ditch like a deck of cards after playing 52 Card Pickup in North Carolina every time it snowed are better drivers than this lot.

  32. @frank

    @mouse

    @Beers

    I’m no pro, but there is nothing quite like getting passed by a car at the top of a climb, then riding its arse through the twisties down the other side.

    As in Fucking annoying, you mean?

    I’ll wait at the top of a good descent if I think there’s a car within reach on the way down. A motorcycle I can follow, a car? No fucking way. Especially in the PNW, where we have drivers from British Columbia and Oregon fighting it out for the nation’s worst car-handler award, with Washington state coming in a clear third.

    Yes, that means all you geniuses I passed sitting in the ditch like a deck of cards after playing 52 Card Pickup in North Carolina every time it snowed are better drivers than this lot.

    As @frank says, better to just pass the fucker.  I did that this weekend at 70 kph.  The look on the driver’s face was priceless.  Also, keeping that car behind you over the top of the climb is a great Sur la Plaque training technique.

  33. @Beers

    @mouse Sorry seem to have pushed your buttons somehow…

    Nah, don’t worry.  My gripe wasn’t pointed your way.
    I’ll pass on my tale of woe to make it all clear. 

    A few months ago, I was riding in the Dandenongs (Melbs – Great climbing, etc) and after a great session of climbing, thought that i’d descend Belgrave Ferny Creek Road.  This has a sustained section of 12+%, levels off, then finishes off with a section that’s more than 20%.  Suffice it to say that when it’s dry and your balls are feeling particularly turgid, you can get up a significant head of speed.  As I was feeling particularly turgid on this day, I was looking forward to seeing how close I could nudge 100.  Problem was, at the top of the hill, i was passed by a complete cuznor in a red ute who thought it would be good fun to fuck with me.  He passed me, then slowed to 40 km/h.  This meant that I was having to ride the brakes quite heavily on the steep grade.  So I decided that I’d had enough and got out of the saddle to pass.  This resulted in a quick acceleration and swerve to keep me behind.  We did this for a while, then he turned off at the bottom with finger raised.  Did I mention that he was a Cu* – cuznor?

    Anyhoo, I got past the level off section and proceeded to the 20+% descent. Having to check my speed as there’s an intersection at the bottom, I ended up melting the braking track on my carbon front wheel.

    My life lesson is to let them go. Get a gap, then try to catch em.  Problem is, if they’re just being arseholes, there’s not much you can do.

  34. @RedRanger

    Looks like a very nice mountain. We should get in some good descending on the Seattle Summer Cogal. I haven’t been up from the east side of Spirit Lake, hoping the road surface is good.

  35. @mouse

    Did I mention that he was a Cu* – cuznor?

    Did you know that word is derived from the Dutch work for butt, kont?

    You’re welcome.

    @RedRanger

    @piwakawaka no. It’s 2 hour climb for the very fit rider. 21 miles at 5%.

    Wow, that kind of climb is right up my alley.

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