How to Descent Faster and Safer on a Road Bike?

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Descending faster and on a road bike saves you time and energy by covering more ground in less time by letting gravity do some of the work for you. However, it’s essential to recognize the challenges and risks associated with descending, such as the possibility of losing control, crashing, or causing injury to yourself or others. 

This article aims to provide tips and techniques to help you improve your descending skills and make your ride safer and more enjoyable.  

We will cover various sections in this blog post, such as steps to descending faster and safer, eight essential tips, and common cycling hazards when descending. Understanding these techniques and possible challenges allows you to descend on your road bike while minimizing potential risks.  

Steps To Descend On A Roadbike Faster & Safer
9 Essential Tips to Descend Safer and Faster
Common Cycling Hazards When Descending

Steps To Descend On A Roadbike Faster & Safer:

1. Get into a comfortable and stable position on your bike:

You must ensure a firm grip on the handlebars without gripping too tightly to steer and maneuver your bike effectively while descending. 

Then, focus on your body position. You want to achieve a balanced posture on the bike. Keep your weight centered and distributed evenly between the front and rear wheels. 

Avoid leaning too far forward or backward because leaning too far forward shifts your center of gravity toward the front, making it harder to maintain stability. It also puts more strain on your back, causing your hips to rock from side to side. On the other hand, leaning too far backward can throw you off your balance due to improper weight distribution. 

A good starting point is to keep your torso slightly tilted forward, with your back straight and relaxed. This position helps optimize power transfer and aerodynamics while maintaining comfort.   

2. Look ahead to anticipate obstacles or changes in the road:

It is of utmost importance to keep your eyes focused on where you want to go when descending on a road bike. Whether you’re approaching a corner or riding in a straight line while descending, look ahead to where you want to exit the corner or about 30 meters up the road. 

For example, suppose you see a pothole or an obstacle in the distance; you can plan and choose a different path to avoid it or adjust your riding position by lifting your body slightly off the saddle and using your arms and legs to absorb any impact as you pass over it.

Remember that your eyes play a big role in guiding your bike. If you’re staring at an obstacle or something you want to avoid, you might end up hitting it. So, instead of fixating on the obstacle, keep your gaze on the path you want to take while descending.

3. Shift your weight back slightly to maintain balance:

As you descend, position your body in a way that keeps you stable and in control. 

Begin by shifting your weight towards the back of the bike by slightly pushing your hips back and bringing your chest closer to the handlebars so that your backside is higher than your shoulders. Doing this ensures that your center of gravity is positioned towards the rear, allowing for better stability.

4. Keep your hands on the drops of the handlebars for better control:

The drops are the lower part of the handlebars, where they curve downward. Placing your hands on the drops has handling advantages. 

Getting closer to the bike’s frame and having your hands on the drops lowers your center of gravity. This lower position helps you maintain stability and control, especially at higher speeds during fast descents when it might be hard to maintain balance. 

When your hands are on the drops, you have a better grip and less chance of slipping if you encounter a pothole or bump in the road. Plus, it improves your braking efficiency because hands in the drops give you a stronger grip on the handlebars, which provides increased leverage to apply force to the brake levers with quicker and more precise braking.

You must ensure your hands hold the bars firmly without clenching too tightly. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your head looking up the road. It’s essential to distribute your weight correctly and aim to have about 60% of your weight on the back wheel and 40% on the front as you navigate those descents. 

You must also keep your elbows bent, relaxed, and flexible to create a natural suspension system that will help cushion the impact of uneven surfaces.

5. Maintain a smooth pedal stroke and avoid sudden movements:

Smooth pedaling allows you to transfer power to the pedals more effectively, maximizing your energy output and making your ride more efficient during descending. 

You must aim for a cadence of around 80-100 revolutions per minute (RPM). RPM stands for Revolutions Per Minute, which tells how fast the engine’s crankshaft spins. This spinning motion generates power and sends it to the rear wheels through the gearbox. You must complete 80 to 100 full pedal revolutions in one minute.

So, to maintain a smooth pedal stroke, make a circular motion with your feet instead of just pushing down on the pedals. Apply pressure throughout the pedal stroke, from the top to the bottom. 

6. Gradually increase your speed as you descend, but not too fast:

Letting gravity take over and go full speed can be tempting when descending. However, riding safely is crucial because you are more prone to accidents at such times.

Begin by finding a comfortable speed that allows you to maintain control and react to any obstacles or changes in the road. Start at a moderate speed of around 15-20 miles per hour (average riding speed)  and gradually increase.

For reference, the average riding speed on declines is about 30-50 miles per hour, and riders in the downhill sections of the Tour de France could reach speeds up to 65 mph or 110 km/h.

To gradually increase your speed, lightly apply pressure to the pedals and progressively increase the force of the pedal pressure as you gain confidence. Focus on maintaining a smooth and steady cadence rather than sudden acceleration bursts. 

7. Use both brakes evenly to control your speed:

It’s important to use your brakes in a controlled manner rather than jamming them on suddenly.  Use a technique called “feathering” the brakes, where you apply gentle and gradual pressure to the brake levers, allowing you to modulate your speed smoothly without abrupt stops. 

Remember to use both brakes simultaneously to prevent the front wheel from locking up and maintain a consistent speed during descents. As you descend, apply gentle pressure to both brakes—you must use about 60% of your braking power on the front and 40% on the rear.

When we talk about applying 60% to the front and 40% to the rear, we are not referring to the total brake capacity of each. Instead, we are talking about when braking a certain amount, you must split it accordingly (60:40) while still applying both brakes simultaneously.  

9 Essential Tips to Descend Safer and Faster

1. Reduce Speed When Descending On Wet Roads

Lowering your speed when descending on wet roads is essential for multiple reasons. 

It gives you more time to react to obstacles and increases the margin of error because you cannot brake as fast as you would on a dry road. Aim to decrease your descending speed by around 20% as a rough guide.

Tire pressure is also essential when descending on wet roads—you must aim for a lower tire pressure range for better traction and grip on slippery surfaces. This is because water creates a thin layer between your tires and the road, reducing the friction and making it easier for your tires to lose grip compared to dry roads, where the friction between the tires and road surface is higher, providing better traction. 

For a standard 700×25 tire, add your weight in kilograms to 10 psi. So, if you weigh around 70 kilograms (about 154 pounds), maintain a tire pressure of at least 80 psi. 

2. Cornering Tips While Descending

When cornering in a decent, we must remember the following tips:

Look Through the Corner

When descending at high speeds, you must guide your bike in the direction you want to go and keep your eyes on the exit point. You must also turn your head slightly toward the turn. This helps align your body with the direction you want to take, making it easier to follow a smooth path through the corner.    

Also, keep your eyes level with the horizon—looking straight ahead at a point about 30 meters in front of you, whether it’s the exit of a corner or a point on a straight road, you’ll notice that your body and bike naturally adjust to the ideal position.

Brake Late, But Before the Corners

Braking before the corners helps your tires grip the road surface as it transfers some of the weight from the tires to the front of the bike, reducing its weight on the tires. This shift in weight distribution as you enter the turn increases the tire’s traction and contact on the road due to the lightened load. 

When brakes are engaged while turning, it can force the tires excessively, making them more prone to losing grip and skidding. By releasing the brakes, the weight distribution on the tires becomes more balanced, allowing them to maintain better contact with the road and reducing the likelihood of skidding.

For a balanced deceleration, you must squeeze both brake levers evenly to engage the brakes and distribute the braking force between the front and rear wheels. 

Descending During Reducing-Radius Turns

Reducing radius turns tend to get tighter or sharper as you go through them. You must approach these turns with caution. Pay close attention to the road markings, signs, and terrain, as these can give you valuable hints on the turn’s progression.

If you see a sharp turn sign ahead, it’s a hint that you need to slow down and prepare for the turn. Similarly, road markings like arrows guide you toward the turn. And when it comes to the terrain,  pay attention to the banking or tilt of the road. If the road is banked or tilted towards the inside of the turn, you can use this to your advantage by leaning into the turn and letting the road guide you. 

Descending hills with sharp turns while maintaining speed is understanding the physics of your bike. Consider three key points when turning: entry, apex, and exit. 

  • Point 1: When starting a turn, you’ll want to position your bike as far out in your bike lane as possible (or in the traffic lane going the same direction). This creates a wider turning arc and allows you to navigate the turn smoothly.
  • Point 2: When you reach the apex of the turn, it’s ideal to position your bike as close to the inside of the lane as possible. This helps you maintain a smooth line throughout the turn.
  • Point 3: Once you reach the farthest point of the turn and begin to straighten out, position your bike as far out in the lane as possible. This allows a smooth transition back to your desired path and helps you maintain a steady line. 

3. Plant Your Weight on Your Outside Foot

Planting your weight on your outside foot transfers your weight to the lower side of the bike, increasing your traction while counteracting the centrifugal force that pushes you outwards while descending in turn. It’s a neat trick to help you descend faster and safer. 

First, keep your pedals level with the ground when you turn. Once your pedals are level, press down firmly on your outside pedal (the pedal on the opposite side of the turn). 

To simplify, you can imagine a clock to prevent your inside pedal from scraping the ground while turning. When making a right turn, your left foot should be down at 6 o’clock, and your right foot should be up at 12 o’clock. This positioning helps prevent any unwanted pedal strikes. Also, keep your inside leg relaxed as the outside leg does the heavy lifting here. 

You must also lean your bike more than your body to reduce your lean angle, increase your contact patch with the road, and minimize drag.

Start by keeping your body upright or slightly leaning outwards to maintain a lower center of gravity. Then, move your hips a little towards the inside of the turn and shift your handlebars a little towards the outside of the turn. 

This results in the inside bar end being angled at about 45 degrees between straight down and straight forward. However, bring your pedal to the 12 o’clock position to ensure it doesn’t meet the pavement.

4. Don’t Grip the Bars Too Firmly

Refrain from gripping the handlebars too firmly. A tight grip may cause tension, cramping, and fatigue in your arms and hands, reducing flexibility and responsiveness in your steering. 

A lighter grip enhances your feel and feedback from the road (sensations you feel through your bike), allowing for better steering. It also helps to avoid numbness or pain in your fingers or palms.

Start by holding the bars lightly but securely. Have enough grip to maintain control without restricting movement. Since tense muscles contribute to a firm grip, you must relax your shoulders and wrists. It’s also helpful to occasionally shake or stretch your arms and hands to keep them tension-free and flexible. 

5. Keep Your Cranks Horizontal

Keeping your cranks horizontal prevents your pedals from hitting the ground while descending. When descending, you must keep your pedals in a neutral position, parallel to the road, at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.

Keeping your cranks horizontal has several benefits. For instance, you’ll avoid damaging your bike or injuring yourself due to pedal strikes, which occur when the pedals of a bike hit the ground or an obstacle while riding. Also, maintaining a consistent and efficient pedal stroke improves your power output, helping you gain speed. 

6. Don’t Drag The Brakes

Have you ever descended a hill on your road bike and felt the urge to hold onto your brakes for dear life? Well, it’s time to rethink that strategy. Dragging your brakes reduces your speed and momentum and overheats your rims and brake pads, reducing their performance or even causing them to fail. It can also wear out your brakes faster. 

To avoid dragging your brakes, you must brake only when needed. Instead of continuously applying pressure, use short and sharp bursts of braking, followed by releasing and allowing your bike to regain speed. This will help you maintain momentum while preventing your brakes from overheating. 

On the other hand, to cool down your brakes during long descents, release them periodically, allowing airflow to help dissipate heat. By doing so, you ensure reliable and effective braking when needed, and you’ll extend the lifespan of your brakes in the process. It is recommended to do this every few minutes or whenever your brakes get hot. 

7. Your Upper Body = Air Brake

An air brake is a device that uses air resistance to slow down a vehicle or object. In cycling, your body shape and position can increase or decrease air resistance or drag by using your upper body as an air brake.

Using your upper body as air brakes allows you to control the speed without over-relying on your brakes. It helps reduce wear and tear of your brakes, rims, and tires and helps prevent overheating or fading of your brakes.

To use your upper body as an air brake, sit upright on your bike with your hands on the handlebars and open your chest by extending your arms slightly outward, creating a wider profile. You could even lift your head slightly or open your jacket (if you’re wearing one) to catch more wind and create drag. 

These actions increase your surface area and create more resistance against the air, effectively slowing you down.

Also, remember that spreading your arms and legs can affect your frontal area as you create a larger surface area that the wind can push against, increasing drag and slowing you down. On the other hand, tucking in your arms and legs reduces your frontal area, allowing you to cut through the wind more efficiently and maintain a higher speed. 

Common Cycling Hazards When Descending

As a cyclist, you should know the various hazards when descending. We will discuss common cycling hazards like gravel, potholes, wet roads, and traffic and how to handle them.

1. Gravel or sand:

 Gravel and sand are dangerous because they reduce traction, increasing the risk of sliding or crashing. 

Start by maintaining a firm grip on the handlebars, but not too tightly, and keep your upper body relaxed to absorb the vibrations and bumps. Then, shift your body weight slightly towards the rear wheel to increase traction on the back wheel and prevent it from sliding out. 

Keep your body centered and your weight distributed evenly to enhance stability. Also, look for the smoothest path possible and avoid loose gravel or deep sand patches. Instead, aim for a more compact or flatter road surface.

2. Potholes or cracks:

 These road imperfections can damage your wheels, tires, and frame or cause a puncture or a blowout. 

You must spot potholes or cracks early by keeping a vigilant eye on the road ahead. Once you spot the hazard, carefully steer around it by aiming to go around the obstacle—giving it a wide berth. 

However, if you can’t steer around the obstacle and have to bike over it, lift your weight off the saddle to absorb any impact on the road. Keep your arms and legs loose for proper steering.

3. Traffic or pedestrians:

 Collisions with other vehicles or people can lead to serious accidents when descending. So, always signal your intentions using hand signals or verbal communication to other road users or fellow riders. 

Also, follow the rules of the road, such as traffic laws and signals, along with signs like red lights and yielding when necessary. Use designated bike lanes when available.

Finally, remember to treat other road users with kindness and respect. Be courteous and respectful by giving pedestrians the right of way and leaving enough space when passing other cyclists or vehicles. 

4. Crosswinds:

 Wind can be a significant factor when descending, especially on open roads or exposed areas. Crosswinds can affect your balance and steering, so keep a firm but relaxed grip on the handlebars to allow for subtle adjustments in response to the wind. 

Lean into the direction of the wind. If the crosswind is coming from one side, lean your body slightly in the opposite direction to counterbalance the force of the wind. This counteracts the force of the wind pushing against you, making steering and maneuverability easier.


Descending safely is all about finding the balance between control and speed. Resist the urge to slam the brakes, which could lead to skidding or losing control while descending. 

You’ll feel more at ease as you practice and gain more experience. Descending safely is a skill that takes time and practice to master. 

By following these simple guidelines and maintaining a steady commitment to improvement, you’ll be well on your way to conquering steep descents with greater speed, control, and safety.

Happy descending!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often will I encounter descents on my ride?

It depends on the route you choose for your ride. If riding on hilly or mountainous terrain, you will likely encounter descents more frequently. However, descents may be less common when riding on flatter terrain. The frequency of descents will also depend on the specific roads or trails you ride. 

2. What should I do if I feel like I’m going too fast while descending?

If you feel like you’re going too fast, don’t panic. Stay calm and focused. To control your speed, try to gradually apply your front and rear brakes simultaneously. Shift your weight back slightly to improve stability. Remember to avoid sudden or excessive braking, as it can cause skidding or loss of control. 

3. How can riding from the hoods improve braking efficiency?

Riding from the hoods can improve braking efficiency by giving you better control and easier access to the brake levers. When you ride from the hoods, your hands are positioned near the brake levers, making engaging the brakes quicker and more convenient when needed. This can be especially helpful during descents or when you must react quickly to unexpected situations on the road.   

4. How can I find a comfortable speed for descending?

Finding a comfortable speed for descending is a personal preference. It can depend on factors like your riding experience and confidence. Start by gradually increasing your speed and getting familiar with the descent. Listen to your instincts and gradually push your limits while remaining in control.

As you gain more experience and become more attuned to your skills, you’ll understand what speed feels comfortable for you. Remember to prioritize safety and always ride within your skill level.

5. How can I improve my bike handling skills?

Improving your bike handling skills is practicing, building experience, and learning from others. Spend time on varied terrain to gain confidence, join group rides, or attend coaching sessions to learn new techniques. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice; remember that every descent is an opportunity to develop your skills. Keep practicing and, above all, enjoy the ride!