I have vivid memories of that day—my first ever experience of open-road cycling and the day I developed a crippling fear of riding downhill. I enjoyed riding the flats and was surprised when climbing didn’t feel as difficult as I expected it to. I reached the top of the hill and felt so accomplished, but only a few meters away, I saw steep downhill just waiting to devour me.
I remember hesitating to pedal further and slowing down to almost a halt.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
My partner, who was riding behind me, asks.
“It looks really steep. I don’t think I want to descend this slope,” I say, and I’m sure my voice was slightly shaking.
“You won’t know what you can and can’t do unless you try,” he replies. So I descend.
It was an abrupt slope, just less than a kilometer, but the drop was so sudden, I thought it felt terrible! It didn’t help that the wind—strong, cold, and crisp—was testing my balance to the point where I thought I was absolutely going to crash before I reached the end… or so I thought it was the end of that frightening experience. As much as I despised that first time, I was faced with another descent immediately after, and this time, I stopped at the top and cried in front of my friends. I was so sure that wanted to just walk the whole way down, but at that moment when I wanted to give up, I remembered that I was training for a race—THE race that was going to be my FIRST EVER DUATHLON.
Could I really just slack off and not try to be braver?
From where I live, there is a rare chance that bike courses won’t include at least one or two slopes. If I couldn’t handle those, should I just give up my dream? Then, it hit me. I was scared, but I DID NOT want to give up.
Most of us have probably shared the same dread of descending at least once or twice in our life. Perhaps you’ve had a bad crash on your way down one time or you chanced upon an accident, or maybe, just like me, the notion of steep descents sends your stomach into knots. It’s totally fine and understandable. Like they say, acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step to finding a solution.
I scoured the internet for tips and tricks, and I found out that millions of cyclists all over the world suffer from their fear of riding downhill, including former professional cyclist, Emma Pooley.
Get the picture? We’re not alone and it’s totally possible to overcome this fear! Below, I’m sharing some of the tips that have helped me get through one of my worst fears:
1. Brake it…gently!
I realized that one of the main reasons I was scared to descend was that I didn’t trust my brakes. The hoods on my bike were way too large for my hands and I couldn’t press the brakes comfortably when I wanted to slow down. A simple upgrade on my bike’s STI did the trick for me! Also, shifting your weight from the handlebars to the saddle may help avoid the feeling of jolting forward, thus giving you more control and balance.
2. Look up!
Most of the time, your bike goes in the direction of where you’re looking, so eyes on the prize and avoid looking down to avoid feeling panicked!
3. Ease on the speed
If you’re aware that you still need improvement on your descending technique, don’t go for speed right away. Avoid crashing by pressing on your brakes before you hit the corner.
4. Practice, practice!
Getting familiar with different slopes will build your confidence on race day. Try adding hill repeats to your training schedule if you have access to roads where you can safely practice descending.
5. Have a positive mental attitude
Emma Pooley shares that one important component of successful descents is a positive mental attitude. “There is no magic bullet to kill your fear. Confidence will take a lot of time to build back up, so be patient and don’t get frustrated with your progress,” she says.
The day before my first duathlon, I did a route reconnaissance and discovered that there were three downhills within the 15-kilometer course I was going to ride—two were steep and one was long and winding with narrow turns. Although I was taken by surprise, I finally allowed myself to feel the excitement of descending. I kept telling myself that after climbing gruesome hills, the descents are my reward.
And you know what, on race day, I couldn’t believe how much I was begging for the descents to arrive. Thankfully, I finished the bike course with a smile on my face and so much pride. I know that I’m far from perfecting my technique in descending or even cycling in general (I’m not even wearing cycling shoes yet!), but what’s important is that I finally feel free.
Written by Macee Rosimo, Siren Luminary
Follow Macee on Instagram @itsamaceeday