Cycling: how to ride downhill fast and safely

No matter how strong you are at riding uphill, if you’re descending skills aren’t up to scratch, you’re giving away free speed. Here’s how to get down safely at speed

Credit: Wagner Araujo

The only way to improve your downhill confidence and skills is to practice so, rather than treating descents just as a chance for recovery, focus on riding them as fast and safely as you can.


Follow all of the cornering advice for downhill bends but, at greater speeds, you need to think, look and act further ahead than on the flat.

Looking down the road is key to fast and safe descending, giving you more time to react and choose your best line. As with cornering, look where you want to go, not at things, such as a pothole, that you want to avoid.

Apart from very non-technical descents where you can see a long way down the road, you’re probably going to come off your aerobars.

On a road bike, you want to be on your drops when descending and getting your body as low as possible. There’s no need for any sitting-on- your-top-tube-type antics but staying low is both stable and aero. On straight downhills, if you’re not pedalling, keep your pedals level and, for added stability, especially when braking, drop your heels. As you brake and, as the gradient increases, move your weight further back on your saddle.

Braking should be done positively and when necessary. Avoid continuously dragging your brakes on long descents. This is a bad habit that not only reduces your overall descending speed but can cause excessive rim wear, overheating and, even with disc brakes, brake fade. If you think you might be dragging your brakes, consciously point your fingers so you know you’re not.

When you do need to scrub some speed, apply front and rear brakes at roughly the same time. Your front brake provides the bulk of your stopping power but don’t forget you’ll need to shift your weight further backwards the
more you’re using it.

Pulse your braking, rather than just grabbing and holding, as this makes locking up a wheel less likely. You can also adjust your speed by sitting up slightly and using your body as an ‘air-brake’.

If it’s wet, the clichéd advice is to stay relaxed but obviously that’s easier said than done when the road’s slippier than an eel covered in Vaseline. But if you keep in mind that everything should take at least two or three times the distance that it would in the dry and ride within your comfort zone, then you won’t feel as panicked to get down as quickly as humanly possible.

Favour your rear brake slightly more and, if you sense your wheels locking up, let the brakes go and then reapply.

Riding downhill: Top tip

The best way to improve your descending is to follow riders who you know are confident downhill. Follow their lines,
watch how they shift their body weight and try to copy them.

Find the right position

Position 1: Adopt this for riding on the drops, whether riding fast on the flat or on gradual uphills, or descents alone in a group.

Position 2: This is best when freewheeling on a long descent or when approaching a tight corner.

Position 3: Only for the most competent, on straight descents.