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Advice on descending for very small people

CakegirlCakegirl Posts: 66
Hi All

Would really like some ideas on improving my descending. I'm reasonably experienced, do sportives, race the odd crit, keep up fine with the clubrun BUT I'm 5' tall and 49 kg, and when it comes to proper descending I can't hold the pace or sweep of the 'average' competent male club rider. Yeah I know they are 75kg and 6', but a. I lack bottle b. they seem more planted on the road - I feel light and skippy. Have experienced this particularly on mountain descents e.g.Italian GFs where if I hit a windy section, everything gets nervous. I've noticed my smaller, lighter male riding companions also suffer more than the larger guys. Is it just a size/weight differential thing? I've done the bikefit, cornering techniques etc so I'm comfortable, not overstretched, in the drops, low and relaxed arms, decent bike (Spesh Amira which is equiv of Tarmac for us hobbits), not overdeep rims (about 26- 30mm), generally running Conti GP4000s at about 100 psi in the dry. What can I do better or different, or should I just eat more pies? thanks!
If everything's under control, you're obviously not going fast enough.
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  • dilatorydilatory Posts: 565
    Well 100psi at 50kg seems insane for a start. I run less than that at 70kg. And yes, you'll get beaten downhill by heavier guys, and blown about less than heavier guys. It's the trade off. Beat them up the hill! :-p
  • bob6397bob6397 Posts: 218
    If they are 25mm tyres then that is far too much pressure!! I am 56kg, 5'10", running 25mm tyres at 80 (front) 90 (rear) psi and I leave pretty much anyone else I ride with behind on the descents (and most of the ascents as well if I'm honest)...

    If they are 23mm tyres then that should be about right though.. :)

    Tips would be to pick your lines early, avoid bumpier sections (even if it means going down the wrong side of the road - as long as there is nothing else coming :) )... And then forget about your brakes - gravity will do the rest.. ;)

    bob6397
    Boardman HT Team - Hardtail
    Rose Pro-SL 2000 - Roadie
  • mamba80mamba80 Posts: 5,086
    My daughter is 50kg and 5ft 4, she can descend pretty well, but i d never put 100psi in a 23mm tire, 80 front f/r - so i'm 78kg and run 100/110 max - but a light rider always has to work harder as they just havent got gravity to help them.
    Also, 4000s are stiff tires, good for me, not so for you, Attack and Force if you stick with conti, perhaps Michelin pro4's in the Comp version? Veloflex corsa, Vittoria corsa CX, she's used all these with zero punctures, your lite and can use lighter tires and lower psi's
    but if your nervous descending, you ll be holding on to the bike too tightly and no matter what you weigh, you ll feel uncomfortable descending at speed, relax and let the bike move around a bit more but try it at slower speeds first and build up gradually.
  • DeVlaeminckDeVlaeminck Posts: 6,037
    I don't think size has got a lot to do with descending - it's primarily about bottle followed by technique - plenty of very light pro riders manage to descend well.
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  • CakegirlCakegirl Posts: 66
    Thanks everyone for all the quick replies! Tyres/pressures definitely the place to start, and I know I go worse if I get cold and stiffen up. Off to try it! Oh no, off to work :-(. Roll on next weekend.
    If everything's under control, you're obviously not going fast enough.
  • phreakphreak Posts: 2,147
    I'm light as well (~57kg) and like you have suffered on descents in granfondos. Obviously there aren't many places you can practice that kind of descent in Britain, but you mention you've done criteriums before. What are you like at cornering in those? Are you able to stay in the bunch going round bends or do you suffer similarly there too?
  • CakegirlCakegirl Posts: 66
    Thanks Phreak, yes I do have to get extra sprinting practice out of the corner in crits- even going in 3rd wheel or so and following the lines and speed of the 1st and 2nds as far as possible, I am slower on the exit. It's not a case of pickup on the pedalling because I'm watching out for that, I just don't seem to sling out of the corner as fast. Somehow I prefer long hilly sportives to crits!
    If everything's under control, you're obviously not going fast enough.
  • phreakphreak Posts: 2,147
    Thanks Phreak, yes I do have to get extra sprinting practice out of the corner in crits- even going in 3rd wheel or so and following the lines and speed of the 1st and 2nds as far as possible, I am slower on the exit. It's not a case of pickup on the pedalling because I'm watching out for that, I just don't seem to sling out of the corner as fast. Somehow I prefer long hilly sportives to crits!

    I'm much the same, but I have used them to try and improve my cornering, which in turn helped with my descending in the mountains. Being lighter will always make it a challenge, but if you can take the corners well and descend as well technically as you can then it does make a difference.

    I did the Maratona in 2013 and descended like a dogs dinner. It's incredibly disheartening when you work hard to drop people on the way up only to see them whizz past you on the way down. I worked on my cornering though and entered a few crit races (generally getting blown out by a lack of raw power), and last year I was generally able to stay with people on the way down the Stelvio.

    I figure that Nibali is only 65kg and is a super descender (and much better than, say, the heavier Basso), so it is possible. If I'm doing an event in Europe I also try and get out there a week before hand and get some mountains in, both for the ascent and the descent. Helps to get your eye in (and confidence up).
  • thegreatdividethegreatdivide Posts: 5,085
    And yes, you'll get beaten downhill by heavier guys, and blown about less than heavier guys. It's the trade off. Beat them up the hill! :-p

    I'm 170cm and 66kg but can descend faster than much bigger riders. Bike handling and confidence, frontal area and bike position, and to a lesser extent rolling resistance have a much bigger effect than being heavier.
  • DeVlaeminckDeVlaeminck Posts: 6,037
    In terms of technique I think the biggest thing is to look through the corner - you can look up vanishing points and what have you but basically if you look at the exit to the corner suddenly it all seems so much easier.
    That and taking the correct line are the big things - and braking/not braking I suppose. I'm not a great descender but if I make myself concentrate on those things I'm not bad - I actually prefer a fast technical descent to a fast straight one because if I'm thinking about the next corner I'm not thinking christ I'm doing 50mph on a 23mm tyre wearing lycra !
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  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    -Shift your weight back to counter the force of gravity loading up the front.
    -take a line that enables you to see the maximum around the bend and be ready to give up space for hazards.
    -try to do the braking before the bend on the straight bit (think slow in fast out).
    -stay light and relexed on the bars (think can I flap my elbows like a chicken) rigid arms just pushes the buzz in to your body.
    - plan how you are going to ride what you see in your head (rather than just follow), maybe cut the road in to 1/3rds (pedal, roll, slow).

    Lastly if you think you are going too fast and need to brake because you will lose grip, remember that braking, accelerating and cornering all compete for the same finite grip.
  • Dodger747Dodger747 Posts: 305
    Brake hard, brake late, hit the apex.

    You might not be at the front of the group, but you won't be too far off...
    VO2 Max - 79 ml/kg/min
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  • Remember, those entering the corners fastest don't necessarily exit the corners quicker
    I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles
  • fudgeyfudgey Posts: 859
    When cornering fast try to remember: Slow in, fast out. Fast in, never out.

    Get what braking you need to do while the bike is going straight and upright, ie before the corner.

    Practice counter steering: push the bar lightly in the direction you want to turn, the bike will lean over and you turn.
    Try to keep your body fluid and take the weight off the seat so you can move the bike around underneath you, extend you knees and elbows out slightly to make the bike more stable this also allows you to move the bike around under you.

    And when going in a straight line tuck right down, i am 76kgs and can catch up my mates on decents without pedalling, one mate is lighter by about half a stone, the other is a few stone heavier.

    Also try not think about what if... I came off my mtb a few years ago on a 90degree right hander i didnt know was coming while doing over 40mph.. I think i braked to about 30 before attempting the corner and it went horribly wrong. Resulted in braking my ankle in 2 places and using my face/knee as a brake. I was a bit of a mess after that one.
    Since then and getting a road bike i have seen over 50mph a few times, but to start with i had lost a lot of bottle, and a lot of it is in your head and building confidence.

    Start off slower and build up until you feel comfortable
    My winter bike is exactly the same as my summer bike,,, but dirty...
  • I came off my mtb a few years ago on a 90degree right hander i didnt know was coming while doing over 40mph.. I think i braked to about 30 before attempting the corner and it went horribly wrong. Resulted in braking my ankle in 2 places and using my face/knee as a brake. I was a bit of a mess after that one.

    HTH Cakegirl :D
    "You really think you can burn off sugar with exercise?" downhill paul
  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    You can tell those who ride motorbikes or who have had some motorbike training. There are a lot of parallels. However, I'm not convinced about active counter steering on a road bike. The rider:bike mass difference is in complete reverse. On a motorbike the rider is around 1/3rd or less of the total mass, on a bicycle, its around 90%. Hence if you actively counter steer, you will also need to counter lean, which would result in greater lean angles. I have no idea if the contact patch is uniform on a bike at specific angles of lean (unlike a motorbike), but I would assume the greater angle, the less grip. I.e. this pic

    BikeSteering.jpg
  • comsensecomsense Posts: 245
    Wasn't Pantani a great descender despite being very light? And if you ride crits I doubt you lack "bottle".
    So, all that is left is technique. I've mentioned this in posts before. I was a very poor descender and had accepted that I was. I've had serious spinal injuries but before that I was a relatively good climber but would lose all the gains as people whizzed past on the descents. One day I made a deliberate decision to improve. I read and took notes from articles on descending. I watched the online videos and made notes. I compiled a list of the key points from these notes and then set about doing drills on solo rides. I chose easy hills on quiet roads. I worked through the list skill by skill. After each session when I'd go out again I exaggerated each skill - for instance I'd consider apexs , lean over , drop the shoulder, stand on the outside pedal even on corners that it all wasn't strictly nescessary - just to fix these points in my minds. I found a hill and descended from a point I knew I could manage comfortably without braking. The next time I went down that hill I did from further up and so on until I was descending that hill from the very top without braking and getting faster and faster as I got the lines right. BTW, the very best descender in our group is the smallest and lightest by far but his technique is flawless. He has dropped ex pro's on training camps in Mallorca.
  • phreakphreak Posts: 2,147
    Wasn't Pantani a great descender despite being very light?

    Yes and no. He was certainly decent, but I watched his classic ascent of the Mortirolo on the turbo last week, and it's worth considering that all of the gains he made on Indurain going up he'd lost on the way down. He won the stage (and took ~3 mins from Indurain) on the final climb to Aprica.

    Even when he won the Tour at les Deux Alpes he was caught by a few riders that he'd dropped on the descent of the Galibier before pulling away on the final climb.

    Technique undoubtedly plays a major part in how well you descend (and lets face it, it's the only thing we can control), but weight can't be discounted either.

    Perhaps more relevant to Cakegirl is Emma Pooley? She was a famously nervy descender and shared some tips here http://totalwomenscycling.com/road-cycling/technique/overcome-fear-descending-bike-7-easy-steps-33223/
  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    That is a good read, particularly the look up bit. Moving your vision out and not at the bit of road directly in front, not only encourages you to relax, it also gives you more time to react. One note of caution though, racing lines are probably at the top of the list of dumb things you can do on bike, on a normal road with traffic flowing. Particularly on a right hander (UK roads).
  • lostboysaintlostboysaint Posts: 4,369
    You can tell those who ride motorbikes or who have had some motorbike training. There are a lot of parallels. However, I'm not convinced about active counter steering on a road bike. The rider:bike mass difference is in complete reverse. On a motorbike the rider is around 1/3rd or less of the total mass, on a bicycle, its around 90%. Hence if you actively counter steer, you will also need to counter lean, which would result in greater lean angles. I have no idea if the contact patch is uniform on a bike at specific angles of lean (unlike a motorbike), but I would assume the greater angle, the less grip. I.e. this pic

    BikeSteering.jpg

    That's because that graphic is a complete load of old bollocks. Counter steering has nothing to do with body and bike alignment, it's about lowering the inside shoulder, slightly pushing the inside handlebar and allowing the bike to then drop nicely into the corner. Try it on your pushbike and you'll be astounded to find that it works - not because it has anything to do with mass or contact patches or anything else - but because it's just one of those things that does!

    If in doubt have a good look at the countersteering done by MotoGP riders - who have their weight well and truly inside the bike's line, have little or no weight on the outside pedal and drop their inside shoulder and control the angle of the lean with the inside bar, shortly before winding on the power :)


    EDIT: I would add that I've compared to MotoGP riders and talked about dropping the shoulder and applying pressure on the inside bar like that because talking about riding road bikes on the drops, which is a very similar technique (get that front tyre loaded up :) ) Counter steering still works equally well on MTBs/moto-crossers with the upright seating position, although you just need to push the bar slightly.
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  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    I agree the terminology in that pic is wrong, in fact I nearly made a comment, but I didn't want to turn this in to a motorbike/counter-steering thread. It does however illustrate that the angle of lean increased with active counter-steering.

    BTW I'm an ex-advanced motorcycle instructor, so we are definitely on the same page with how active counter steering works.

    My comment was more a word of caution about increasing lean angles
  • davidofdavidof Posts: 2,357
    I'm a pretty quick descender. I only ride big mountains so don't know much about British roads and road surfaces but imagine things are similar but maybe you have less time to get into a flow.

    First thing, have confidence in your tires. If you are light then 23mm are fine but make sure you have boots that are known to be grippy, consistent and corner well. Second, have confidence in your brakes, at least your front brake and pads, the rear brake doesn't need to do so much work. If you don't have disks use aluminium rims.

    I don't know anything about understeer, countersteer etc. I think reading too much in the way of technical descriptions can be confusing and may lead you to do the wrong things. If you are already descending/cornering fairly fast you should be doing the basics (leaning into corners, not turning bars etc). I would suggest following someone who is a good descender, ask them to slow down a bit though.

    Don't take a perfect circle around the apex of a bend but turn tight and late into the bend to give yourself a shallow line coming out - you want to be sprinting at this point. This is the late-apex corner. It also makes it easy to avoid cars that are maybe too far over the road as you exit You really want to be riding curb to curb if there is not too much censored on the road. Practise lines around bends at a more leisurely pace at first.

    Descending fast is mentally tiring. You'll be looking up the road, over the edge to the road below etc scanning for obstacles, road surface, bends, junctions, places where kids or dogs might run out etc. Your brain needs to run like a supercomputer.

    When it straightens out get flat on the bike, present as little frontal area as possible.

    Stay in the middle of the road where the surface is better on straights.

    Be careful overtaking cars, at 60 - 70kph you don't have a lot of margin to get by and drivers tend to be unpredictable.
  • fudgeyfudgey Posts: 859
    I came off my mtb a few years ago on a 90degree right hander i didnt know was coming while doing over 40mph.. I think i braked to about 30 before attempting the corner and it went horribly wrong. Resulted in braking my ankle in 2 places and using my face/knee as a brake. I was a bit of a mess after that one.

    HTH Cakegirl :D

    maybe it would have helped more if you had also quoted the sentence directly after?
    My winter bike is exactly the same as my summer bike,,, but dirty...
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    If you can ride a bicycle without stabilisers then you're already countersteering, don't worry about it. On a heavy motorbike it seems to be a technique that you need to actively learn, but on a bicycle if you're able to steer it, you're already doing it.
    In order to turn left, you start by turning the handlebars to the right for a moment. This moves the front wheel out to the right of the center of gravity, so the bike will start to fall to the left. This is immediately followed by turning the handlebars to the left to cause the bike to remain in balance, which also creates the desired left turn. "Countersteering" refers to the momentary motion of the handlebars in the opposite direction of the desired turn. usually, this is accomplished through the normal slight weave of the bicycle to maintain balance.

    Some people, particularly motorcyclists, make a big deal out of this as if countersteering is some special advanced riding technique that you must learn to become an expert bike handler. It isn't. It's just a fancy sounding name for the normal process by which any two-wheeler (or even a unicycle) is controlled.
  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    That is a great explanation from the bicycle god SB. So many people think its to do with the gyroscopic effect of a spinning mass (they are there, but they are tiny) blah blah blah etc. His comment on advanced techniques is why instructors refer to active counter steering. IMO it really isn't needed on a bicycle due to the mass differences already mentioned. The reason motorcyclists make a "big deal" of it, is because you have to do it actively, particularly on bigger bikes at higher speed. Unless you are ridiculously fat, no amount of leaning will get a 200kg bike to turn at 60+mph without it.

    This video explains the physics quite well:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgUOOwnZcDU
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    The reason motorcyclists make a "big deal" of it, is because you have to do it actively, particularly on bigger bikes at higher speed.
    Yep - I don't doubt that it's a technique that you need to learn on a motorbike, but we all started learning how to countersteer on a pushbike the day the stabilisers came off.
  • DeVlaeminckDeVlaeminck Posts: 6,037
    That is a great explanation from the bicycle god SB. So many people think its to do with the gyroscopic effect of a spinning mass (they are there, but they are tiny) blah blah blah etc. His comment on advanced techniques is why instructors refer to active counter steering. IMO it really isn't needed on a bicycle due to the mass differences already mentioned. The reason motorcyclists make a "big deal" of it, is because you have to do it actively, particularly on bigger bikes at higher speed. Unless you are ridiculously fat, no amount of leaning will get a 200kg bike to turn at 60+mph without it.

    This video explains the physics quite well:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgUOOwnZcDU


    Yes something I noticed on a 500cc Kawasaki after many years riding Lambrettas and Vespas was on country lanes and tight corners I actually had to think about getting it to corner!
    AFC Mercia women - sign for us
  • diydiy Posts: 6,680
    The worse bike I ever road for cornering was a harley davidson electra glide - 365kg dry, two up with luggage 1/2 tonne - that needed written notice 2 days in advance ;)
  • DKayDKay Posts: 1,652
    At only 5' 4'' and 58kg, I'm one of the smallest in my club, but one of the fastest decenders when the doing get twisty. The single biggest difference, is that I always look way through the corner and the path I want to take, stay relaxed and let the bike do the work. Being small also means that you have less frontal area, which should make up for your lack of mass.

    Another misconception is that gravity is somehow responsible for making heavier riders to descend faster, it's not. The greater mass just means you have more momentum (momentum = mass x velocity) for wind resistance to act against. All else being equal, objects of different mass will fall at the same rate.
  • lostboysaintlostboysaint Posts: 4,369
    I agree the terminology in that pic is wrong, in fact I nearly made a comment, but I didn't want to turn this in to a motorbike/counter-steering thread. It does however illustrate that the angle of lean increased with active counter-steering.

    BTW I'm an ex-advanced motorcycle instructor, so we are definitely on the same page with how active counter steering works.

    My comment was more a word of caution about increasing lean angles

    Yep, we're on the same page there as well then. I do smile when I watch the whole "MX" style of weight on the outside pedal/bike cranked over/rider almost upright on the road. There's a very good reason to do it on the dirt (engaging the tyre edge grip) but absolutely nothing to be gained on the road.

    Fair play to you for riding an HD. I haven't dirtied myself with them and have no desire to.
    Trail fun - Transition Bandit
    Road - Wilier Izoard Centaur/Cube Agree C62 Disc
    Allround - Cotic Solaris
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