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Beginners Guide To Downhill Mountain Biking

It’s impossible to head out on a mountain bike, through trail parks, forestry or moorland - and not head down a hill. Riding downhill is incredibly good fun, whether that’s reaching high speeds on a fire road - or negotiating and jumping down obstacles on a purpose built singletrack. As you begin to become more comfortable and confident in heading downhill, you can begin to enjoy adrenaline fuelled downhill trails more and more.

To accommodate the extreme nature of downhill mountain biking, downhill mountain bikes are engineered to perfection - and have more in common with a motorbike than they do with a road bike - hydraulic brakes, front and rear suspension and massive tough frames - all mean that they can stand up to the punishment of being chucked downhill.

In this post, we look at downhill mountain biking in a little bit more detail - as well as running through some of the things you can do, to make the most of your time on the trails.

Body Position

To gain the maximum control over your bike - lean forward with your body weight but always keep your hips and main body weight at the back of the bike. Aim to keep your hips over the bottom bracket, and have a longer reach over the handlebars.

Whatever the gradient of the descent - keep the weight over the bottom bracket, to make sure you are always in the best position.

Downhill Mountain Bike Braking

Braking is one of the areas where the good and bad downhill mountain bike riders are separated. The main split here is newer downhill mountain bike riders using the brakes to correct their speed, after going too fast down the trails. A more experienced rider uses the brakes in a proactive way - to reduce the speed of the bike before a corner or obstacle.

If possible, brake when you are travelling in a straight line - and remember that forces of braking may move your body position - which will need correcting into the position outlined above.

Roots on Downhill Trails

Downhill trails usually run through woodland, so encountering roots on a trail is likely. Roots are not too hard to ride over and across, but they do leave many riders worried. The trick is to focus on the roots in the distance, so you are not staring at them as you ride over them. Take the roots in a straight line and keep your wheel pointing up the slope VS riding and sliding down the trail and the roots. Try also to brake in advance of roots, as braking on slippery roofs can ruin your control.

Drop Offs on Downhill Trails

Drop Offs are incredibly exciting, if the landing is set up correctly. Ensure that you align the bike with what you see as the land below the drop off - so both wheels land at the same time, and both the front and rear suspension can work in conjunction with each other. Lean your weight over the back of the bike and try to keep your limbs flexible, to further soak up the drop. Try and get the speed just right as well - too fast and you can overshoot, too slow and you can fall forward and over the handlebars. A lot of this is practice but bear the above in mind to get you off to the best possible start.

Cornering on Downhill Trails

Approach corners on downhill trails nice and wide - lean in and push the bike round. Look forward and prepare for the corner and you will naturally adjust brakes and speed before the bend. Leverage your weight to lean through the corner and as soon as you are halfway round - you will be back looking up to the next part of the trail.

Protect Yourself

Downhill mountain biking is tough and is full of things which can hurt you - which is part of the fun. As well as the risks associated with coming off the bike, you should also think about brambles, twigs and branches on poorly maintained tracks which can scratch and hit you as you travel down.

Look at downhill MTB body armour to protect you and ensure that you wear jerseys and long shorts to protect you body from scratches and abrasions.

Downhill MTB or Enduro Mountain Bike

Choosing between an Enduro Mountain bike and a dedicated downhill mountain bike is becoming a much tricker choice. The enduro bike can do most things that a downhill bike can, but can also ride up hills and cross country easier. If however, you are a downhill specialist - nothing can compete with a bike designed to exclusively rip up downhill trails. Although it’s tough work getting downhill mountain bikes uphill, nothing can beat them at their own game.

Downhill MTB  Setup & Components

Downhill MTB Brake Setup

Adjust your levers if possible, so you have just one finger over the brake levers - allowing the rest of your hand to hold the bars - giving you maximum grip and control down the trails.

Downhill Mountain Bike Suspension

Use low compression for smooth rides down gentle trails, and harder compression settings if you are taking big hits. Manufacturers recommend different settings, which you can adjust and experiment with.

Downhill Mountain Bike Tyres

Downhill MTB tyres use a soft compound to provide maximum grip across all surfaces. These tyres make the maximum amount of contact with the trail.

Downhill MTB Clothing & Protection

Downhill MTB Gloves

If you come off, it’s your hands which take the first impact - so protect your skin and get them covered up. Gloves also protect your hands from getting whipped from branches and brambles down trails - so again, are important.

Elbow & Knee Pads

Elbow & Knee pads protect some of the most vulnerable bones on your body in the event of a crash - more comfortable than ever, they provide great levels of protection.

Full Face MTB Helmet

Full face helmets not only protect your head, but also your face, jaw and teeth - things you want to be OK if you crash.

Jersey & Shorts

MTB jerseys and shorts not only look really cool, they are designed to be comfortable - and again, provide excellent levels of protection from branches, brambles and bushes when travelling down trails.

Downhill MTB Shoes

Proper riding shoes are essential bits of kit, protection in the shoes covers toes and heels - and MTB Shoes can either be flat or clipless.

Downhill MTB Racing Guide

If you have gotten yourself to a level where you are ready to compete in downhill mountain bike racing - there are plenty of things you can do to get yourself as prepared as possible. Below are some of the tips and findings from the team here at Westbrook which race:

Avoid Niggling Injuries

Pad up, especially during practice sessions - a wayward branch can cause a cut to your body which can prevent you from even entering the race. Knee pads, elbow pads and gloves protect the body from such risks.

Downhill MTB Race Setup

Now that we have covered protecting yourself, turn your attention to sorting yourself and the bike out for the race. Start with a pretty routine and simple nuts & bolts check - make sure nothing is loose. Check the brakes, ensure the wheels spin freely and the pads have plenty of life left in them. Gearing checks include checking cables and shifters - drivetrain wise, clean and lube up the chain - and make any final suspension adjustments. Remember to pack up all the spares you need as well - shock pumps, Allen keys, tyre pump and any spares and consumables.

Once at the race location, sign on and get the number on your bike - make sure your number does not get in the way of any cables/moving parts on the bike. Whenever possible you should always walk the track, inspecting it and figuring out the best lines to take. Be flexible here and think of a couple of options per area - in case you have to switch to plan B when out on the track.

When practice begins, concentrate on the lines and sections that you looked at on your walk - if possible, also practice the second option for a section - to make sure you are repeated for any eventuality. Build speed up as practice sessions continue, and also take some time to spectate and see how other riders are handling the circuit.

As the days progress, make sure that you remain hydrated and eat enough good to keep you alert as possible - also make sure that you stick to any timings, so you do not end up missing your run.

Once at the race start line, forget about all distractions - and most importantly, enjoy it!