Many feet of climbing has a payoff – descending! Yes, those hard-fought inches upward has the reward of a near supersonic descent on two wheels.
Peaks Coaching Group Founder and Coach, Hunter Allen shares tips to descend both fast and safe. Hunter has admittedly descended down the Peaks of Otter over 750 times in the last 30 years and knows every bump, turn, and pavement surface. He likes the Peaks of Otter climb and descent so much he named his coaching company after it!
Tire Pressure – The tire pressure that you like using is perfectly fine. Whatever you climb with and use on a daily basis will be fine for descending off of Thunder Ridge and the Peaks. The critical thing is to inspect your tires for wear BEFORE the event. Inspect the entire tire, including the sidewalls to make sure your tires are safe and up to the abuse!
LOOK FAR AHEAD – Your bike will go where your eyes are looking. Look as far down the road as you can, ever extending your gaze as you go through a turn. It’s important to you’re your vision up and looking ahead. Avoid riding the edges of fast, twisty roads. That’s typically where sand, gravel and broken glass collect; not to mention bumps and cracks in the pavement. Instead, try to stay in the portions of the road that vehicle tires track because its generally free of debris. Approach corners by moving to the outside of the curve, cut in across the apex, and then exit wide on the other side. Always watch for oncoming vehicular traffic that may “cut” corners. Be sure to practice safe riding and obey all traffic laws.
Riding Position – It’s important that you relax your grip on the bars, not being loose, but a nice firm grip, but also not clinching them. Shift your bottom towards the back of the saddle to place your weight over the rear wheel for traction. Your hands should be positioned in the drops (as long as you are comfortable) for stability, and with the brake levers within easy reach. Rotate your pedal position going into turns so that the outside foot is down. The leg should be locked and heel is dropped. The left pedal should be at 6 o’clock on right hand turns; conversely, the right pedal should be at 6 o’clock on left hand turns.
Control Your Speed – Use your brakes evenly, so pull on them simultaneously as you brake. This will stabilize your brake and help you to slow down even faster. The front brake is your main stopping brake, but you need to modulate it, so that you don’t go over the bars! It’s best to alternate braking; if you brake constantly, you’ll heat up your rims and risk blowing out your tire. For safety and efficiency, brake before going into turns to control your speed and release your brakes as you enter the curve to accelerate when you exit. Note that the descent on Route 43 from the Blue Ridge Parkway is extremely fast and has both right and left hands turns that are tight and sometimes bumpy – please use extra caution navigating this section!
Relax & Focus – Smooth is fast. The smoother you are with your inputs into the bike, the smoother you’ll go through the turns and exit them easily. Relax the arms and that will make a huge difference in your descending. Descending can be both exhilarating and scary. Your elbows should be bent so you can absorb any bumps in the road. Stay focused by keeping your head up to look ahead at the road or the cyclist in front of you to find your line and anticipate bumps and curves. Because you’ll be travelling fast, set your gaze farther than you typically do. Also, remember to periodically take quick looks over your shoulder (when it’s safe to do so) to be aware of the position of trailing cyclists and motorists.
Hunter reminds us that Storming of Thunder Ridge is not a race. No one from the TV will be there for interviews at the end of your adventure. So ride smart… Err on the side of caution. Give yourself and others plenty of room. And enjoy the ride!