How do you descend fast? It’s all in the curves

by Glenn Reeves on July 25, 2012

The burning in my thigh told me I had lost some skin. Tenderness under my helmet told me it had also made contact with the pavement. I glanced over towards my bike: it had come to a rest against the low wall. Lucky for that, otherwise it would be at the bottom of the ravine.

The left hand curve was tricky. It started off shallow but halfway through deepened sharply.

I had entered at a brisk pace, jamming down hard on the outside pedal, my torso low and parallel with the top tube. But the wall was coming at me faster than it seemed it should.

The dilemma was, brake and the bike would straighten; jam down harder on the pedal and lean even harder into the turn and risk sliding out or impacting the wall a lot harder than if I had not braked.

bicycle riding technique

Oops

I had squeezed the brake slightly and leaned harder. Instinctively wrong. Was there something on the road that might have helped the front wheel slip out? I did have a feeble search when I picked myself up. But nothing presented itself. The wheel slipped, the bike dropped delivering a sharp impact to the back of my shoulder—I slid to a stop.

It wasn’t until I began to feel a little nauseous that I noticed the shard of bone forming a sharp peak where the straight line of my collarbone would have normally been. And I had not brought my phone. There you go.

Rapid descents in straight lines are fine. You go as fast as you feel comfortable. That defines the upper limits there. Decision time comes with the corners.

Gently reducing speed on the entry to a curve had always worked well. Speed reduction is best done right before entry, brakes off through the corner leading to acceleration coming out of it.

just another Ordinary crash

Just another Ordinary crash

There’s nothing like knowing the road—like the back of your hand as the saying goes—to get this right of course. The more you go through a series of curves on a route you do often, the better to explore the optimal way of handling them.

You also get to know the road’s foibles. A pothole here. A depression there, although you have to be alert for the wildcard of debris or loose stones being where they normally aren’t.

I had clearly not done this particular route enough and seriously misundertood the curve that brought me unstruck.

I had plenty of time to think about it constantly in the 8 weeks it took for the three pieces of my formerly pristine clavicle to knit back into an awkward unity.

I had a lesson to learn, and the teacher had delivered.

PS.
Cyclists in Taichung will know this one: the second left-hander from the very top of the 136 on the descent into Guo Xing Xiang.

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