There is a common expression still in use today that has been used for years: ‘look before you leap’ and as far as mountain biking is concerned that also covers ‘look before you head downhill.’ Some downward slopes can look pretty tame, but unless you scope them out first so you have a good idea of what lies ahead of you, you may just end up flat on your back with your ride mangled beside you after impacting with an unexpected object. The same applies to any piece of terrain that you haven’t ridden before, you need to check the lay of the land to make sure that you know what kind of obstacles lie in wait for your front tyre.
Scouting the Terrain
Once you are satisfied with the way the land lays you can begin your descent, albeit a controlled one, especially if this is a track that has rarely or never been used. For well used tracks you should easily be able to identify the best way down from the path of wear formed by the many mountain bikers before you; this is ‘the line’ and you should use it, the route travelled most often is generally the fastest and the safest. As you start the journey downhill make sure that you keep your feet level on the pedals, with your strongest foot to the fore. With the pedals in this position they are less likely to snag on any undergrowth or debris you encounter.
Remember to keep both your arms and your knees bent as they are going to serve as your shock absorbers as you travel downhill. Not only will you be better able to absorb the bumps and lumps of the track you will also find that this will allow you better manoeuvrability of your bike. Try and avoid tensing your muscles and gripping the handlebars too hard, this will place extra strain on your body and you will tire out faster. As you negotiate your way downhill you will need to be ready to operate both brakes at once should you need to, however for the most part it will generally be the rear brake that gets the most use, as this will prevent you from tipping forwards over your handlebars.
Position Your Body
The key to riding safely down even the steepest of slopes is about keeping your balance, the more the weight is spread to the rear of your bike the less chance you have of hurtling down the slope head first; not only is it an undignified way to follow the trail, it can also be very painful. Sit as far back on your seat as you can as this will ensure that your weight is distributed the right way to ensure best handling and overall balance. In this position rather than your seat holding the majority of your weight it is evenly distributed between both pedals. And remember to keep your head up and look where you are going!