Wednesday, June 07, 2006

North Fork

Date: 6-6-6
Combined mileage: 65.4 (inc. June 5)
June mileage: 170.2
Temperature upon departure: 57

A loop ride is always a bigger commitment to make than an out-and-back ... Especially when you don't quite remember the mileage, and it's a Tuesday evening, and you think you're embarking on a sort-of "before dinner" ride. As it turned out, 40 miles on the mountain bike was a little more than I bargained for.

But, really, what's the harm in a 10 p.m. dinner and a few quiet grumblings about the four long months in which I lazily neglected to re-install Sugar's pedal cages and water-bottle holder? Small price to pay for three hours of free-rolling by fireweed blooms, coasting an uphill tailwind and cresting near the point where a local man was mauled by a grizzly last weekend. That's the kind of eyes-wide-open excitement that money can't buy and ski lift-served downhill rides can't replace. Never mind that downhill was almost slower, what with the headwind and my lamentable habit of white-knuckling the brakes on the narrower trails.

I've been thinking more about downhill since summer threw me back into this technical groove. What I thought was a great winter of skill-building snow riding turns out to not be sufficient experience for mud, streams and root-studded trails. What's the secret to downhill? (I mean, besides "Better Off Dead" sage advice of "Go that way ... Really fast ... If something gets in your way ... Turn.") Do I practice my bunny hops? Hold my butt over the back wheel and hope for the best? Buy a BMX helmet? Honestly, I'm new enough to this that I still get a big kick out of surmounting a crazy steep climb without putting my foot down. But often I dread the descent. I think it started with the endo I did on a tiny 20-foot-high roller that left me essentially crippled with blood clotting for six weeks. Gravity and I have never gotten along all that great, and adding wheels just seems to aggravate the tension. Has anyone else dealt with downhill-phobia? What did you do about it?


  1. You must work into it. I remember the first time I broke 30mph was going down a hill, and I thought it was insanely fast. I sought out hills and mountians and it wasn't long before 40mph was normal down a hill. Now I hit close to 70mph on a few mountains around here in the Catskills, but alas, in 2 more days I start my move to Austin, TX.
    Just go and ride the hills, try to be smooth, like riding on ice when you descend. Feather the rear brake slightly if you need to, and lean your bike more than you think possible. You'll end up going way faster. But practice is what's needed.

  2. What's your escape plan if you're pursued by a grizzly?

  3. Practica, Practice, Pratice that's the secret. Your limits will expand, you'll lose the fear.

  4. Tuck down tight, get a firm but not white knuckle grip, conciously relax the upper body to keep from overcontrolling and just go for it and enjoy the roller coaster. Yes, you could crash, but you can't dwell on it, or you can't get that peak performance. By the way, never do this on an unfamiliar trail or road! :D

    By the way, I head for the West Coast Friday Morning!

  5. Further proof that cars are evil... I was leaving work on 6-6-2006 and my odometer read 666.6 miles and the temp showed 66 degrees. I was waiting for the car to explode into a fiery ball.

  6. I think it's easy to get used to road downhills--you tuck, lean more on the front wheel and try to flatten your back. But mtb downhills are a different story. I finally settled on a position where my rear hangs behind the seat and my legs take the place of the rear shock. It wasn't easy, but I'm pretty sure I could've gotten some good speed and control out of it if I wasn't wussily grabbing the brakes through the twists.
    Mtb descents seem like they're more about picking the right line. Just keep your eyes on the trail, try not to grab the brakes too much and keep out of the ruts. Oh, and be ready to pull your front wheel up when the technical stuff gets in the way.
    But yes, I'm still downhill-phobic.

  7. Oh, and when I'm doing the rear-hanging thing, I'll usually rest my thigh more or less on my seat.
    My buddies who are downhilling nuts, complain of leg strain after downhills, even when they haven't been pedaling, so that tells you that they're not just rolling down with their rears taking the brunt.
    Sorry, long-winded today.

  8. Feather your brakes, don't grab and hold. Eventually you'll get to the point where it's psychological and you just tap them without engaging them.

    Get back off the seat for all descents, farther back the steeper they are.

    Walk a technical descent the first time, rolling your bike to assess the "line". Then walk back up and try riding that line.

    Ride over the stuff. You can get in more trouble trying to swoop around obstacles, especially if your speed it picking up, than you will if you slowly roll over the roots or rocks. Granted some obstacles are too big for a HT...but you get the drift.


Feedback is always appreciated!