Mountain Bike Downhill Safety Guide
Mountain bike beginners often find downhill riding scary. Relaxed body positioning, good weight distribution, and correct braking are key to a safe confident descent.
First-time mountain bikers are often terrified by downhill riding even on relatively gentle gradients. They often grip the handlebars tightly, making their arms tense and sore, and sharp braking is common due to fear of going over the handlebars. Watching footage of experienced downhill MTBers racing at speed wearing full-face helmets and body armor is also enough to scare beginners to death.
This article offers advice for mountain biking beginners on how to negotiate descents for the first time safely, building confidence for faster downhill mountain biking.
Correct Technique for Mountain Biking Descents
Downhill sections on a mountain bike can be tackled with confidence using the following tips for correct technique remembering to start with a shallow, less scary gradient:
- Move bodyweight back by moving towards the back of the saddle staying as low as possible and grip the saddle with the inner thighs.
- Keep the arms and legs as relaxed as possible to absorb the jolts from a bumpy surface.
- Try not to grip the handlebars tightly to avoid tensing up during the descent.
- Keep the feet level on the pedals in a 9 and 3 o’clock position; this helps with balance if hitting an obstacle as otherwise, weight on one side or the other can make the bike lean to one side.
- Gravity will do most of the speed work but don’t brake hard as speed increases; apply pressure on both brakes evenly and avoid pulling hard on the front brake only, the most common reason for riders going over the handlebars.
- Look well ahead rather than straight at obstacles directly in front to allow plenty of time to steer around any hazards or, once experienced, to give time for bunny hopping over them. It is a well-known fact that staring straight at an object will cause the rider to hit it!
Tips for Downhill Mountain Biking
A key tip for beginner riders is not to go out with experienced mountain bikers on a technical rocky trail for a first downhill ride. The pressure to keep up and try something beyond a rider’s capability can often lead to tears. Instead, practice alone or with riders of a similar experience level or, if particularly apprehensive, consider a basic mountain biking skills course that will allow riders to tackle trails appropriate to their ability.
Frightened by an especially steep descent? A good rule of thumb is if the slope can be negotiated safely on foot without slipping and sliding, it can also be biked down, but don’t try to tackle anything too difficult until the correct technique has been mastered.
Full Suspension Mountain Bikes Help Build Confidence
After riding for several months, if riders are still tense on downhill sections, consider test riding a full-suspension mountain bike. It is amazing the difference that a bike with full suspension can make to a person used to hold the handlebars in a death-grip for fear of riding over rocks. A comfortable ride makes a rider relax and this in turn builds confidence.
Note however that as confidences increases, so does the desire to increase speed. Remember to brake evenly and look ahead to avoid sharp braking on tight corners which could cause a rider to fall off. Small falls are inevitable when learning but a big crash can knock a rider’s confidence so take things easy and build up to more technical trails gradually.
Build Confidence Riding a Mountain Bike Downhill
Gain confidence riding downhill on a mountain bike by keeping the body relaxed and well balanced, bodyweight back over the saddle, and by looking well ahead to spot potential obstacles. Only increase speed when the correct technique has been learned so that the adrenalin rush of descending at speed is matched with safe bike control.