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What Goes Up Gets to Come Down

Contrary to popular belief, this year’s ride has a fair bit of climbing. And since we’re doing a loop, the ride has a roughly equal amount of descending. For most people, descending is a reward for a long, hard climb, and the most fun part of the day. There are a few people, however, who take little pleasure in the downhill ride. In fact, they find it a bit frightening. Courteous riders will do what they can to help by not making a bad situation worse.

On any given hill during Cycle Oregon, both types of riders will be sharing the road, and it’s important that each take a moment to consider the other’s mindset.

For an accomplished rider, a fast downhill is something special. It’s a little bit like riding a motorcycle and a little bit like flying. Being in the zone and in control as the miles fly by is one of the best parts about riding in places that have long climbs and descents. Getting behind a slow, nervous rider is a lot like getting behind an RV in a national park: It’s a total buzzkill. If you’re a slow rider, be aware that others likely want to pass you; accommodate them as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. If you hear someone behind you calling “On your left” or “Passing,” acknowledge them with a nod or by giving them a little extra room.

Conversely, if you’re a fast rider, realize that there are some people who are terrified by going downhill and ripping by them at 50 mph in a tight, steep corner when they don’t even know you’re there is a pretty serious party foul that puts you both in unnecessary danger.

When you’re overtaking someone else, make sure they know you’re there, and hang back until you get to a spot where you can cruise by safely. Be particularly leery of passing two riders at once. It’s entirely possible that the second rider has just caught up to the first and is in the process of getting ready to pass as well. They might not be focused on uphill traffic (though they obviously should be).

As the faster rider, the onus is on you not to endanger your fellow rider or make a bad situation worse. You’ll have other opportunities to grip it and rip it, so if circumstances dictate, take a minute to enjoy the view.

For more on this topic, check the discussion about safe descents on the Cycle Oregon forums. And for those of you who are looking to improve your downhill skills, read on.

Tips for slow/tentative descenders:

  • Take your time. Don’t let the fact that you’re being passed persuade you to go faster than you should.
  • Be aware that you’re going to be passed; where it is safe and comfortable for you to do so, stay to the right and hold your line.
  • Conversely, when you don’t feel safe and comfortable staying to the right, use the whole lane. On a tight right-hand turn, for example, the left-hand part of the lane is the best and safest place to be – it gives you a bigger turning radius.
  • Take brake breaks. When/where it is safe to do so and traffic in both directions can clearly see you, pull over and chill out for a minute partway down. This will give you a chance to check out the scenery and gather yourself. It will also give your hands a rest. When someone crashes on a hill, they often feel is if their brakes “just went out.” The reality is that, short of a broken cable, brakes rarely “go out.” More often than not, the rider’s hands become fatigued from having a prolonged death grip on the brakes. Without realizing it, they pick up speed and then aren’t able to slow back down.

This video, from Lance Armstrong’s former coach, offers some additional tips. Give them a try, and before long you’ll be bombing hills with the best of ‘em.

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