The beginner's guide to downhill MTB


With pro suspensions, massive frames and hydraulic brakes, downhill mountain bikes have more in common with rally cars than bikes. Forget the 'lazy' stroll of trail riding on a Sunday, if you are getting into Downhill, be ready to turn into an adrenaline junkie!

Everything you need to know about Downhill Mountain Biking

Generally speaking, Downhill bikes are an awful lot of fun. For the adventurous riders, who like to get in the saddle and seek out the most challenging and technical terrain they can, these MTB's might just be what you're looking for. Built for the primary objective of powering down mountain climbs as quickly as possible, these are machines that mean business when they're on the woodland track.

Downhill bikes have been described as the 'F1 cars' of the mountain bike world. These are specialist bikes, which can be upgraded and customised to your preferences but can be very expensive. Recent developments around the geometry and suspension of Downhill or 'DH' bikes as they are commonly known, mean that this particular form of mountain bike shows no signs of slowing down.

How to ride a Downhill MTB

Downhill mountain bike riding, like most things in life, is all about preparation. While you might have the perfect downhill mountain bike, there is a core element to riding downhill well...you! If you don't ride right you'll end up in a tree or on a rock, with more than a few scratches. You'll need master body position, braking, drop offs and cornering, though gravity does some of the hard work for you.

Perfect your body position

Whether you are setting off on a flat or leaning into a corner, you'll notice pro mountain bikers lean forward with their main body weight to the back of the bike. Essentially you have to keep your hips over the back bottom bracket, which accentuates your reach to the handlebars.

Master braking downhill

Braking is a bit different from the norm, rather than squeezing the brakes to avoid crashing, you need to think like a motor racing driver. Actively use your brakes to prepare for what is coming, think of braking before a corner and accelerating through. You'll want to ensure you don't lock any wheels and skid, to get the line right before you hit any obstacles by double checking your body position.

Drop off like a pro

'Getting Air' is great on the way up, but can be ruined on the way down with a bad landing. The key here is to prepare to land aligned with the ground below so both wheels alight at the same time and absorb the impact. You need to push your weight back as far as possible and put your feet in a 'heel to ground' position on the pedals. This prevents you falling forward and relaxes your arms and legs to avoid a rigid frame when landing. The other thing to consider here is speed: too slow and you'll fall forward, too fast and you might overshoot and collide with an obstacle. Always look ahead and not in front of the wheel and you'll be prepared.

Practice your cornering technique

Come in wide, keep your weight low, lean in and push push push. Simple eh?! Again it's all about preparing the approach seeing the corner, judging the speed and braking prior to hitting the beginning of the bend. Then using your weight to lean and accelerate through by thrusting or pushing the bike. By the time you are half way through you'll be preparing to pedal to deal with the next challenge. Come out slightly wide just as you went in, right on the edge to keep any gained speed in the wheels.

Prepare for a bumpy ride

The final word of advice about your body when cycling downhill. Cover up, protect yourself from the elements and be ready for some inevitable tumbles. Long sleeve tops to protect yourself from thorns, full gloves, foam based pads for knees and elbows, comfortable tough long shorts that cover the knees, body armour if that is your preference, clip or flat shoes, but above all a full face helmet. No one wants a skinned face or cracked head.

There are a huge range of downhill bikes and kit. Make sure you get the settings on your bike and positioning right. Downhill mountain bike riding can be super fun but as long as you're ready for anything mother nature can throw at you (or you can throw at her) on two wheels.

Downhill MTB v Enduro Bike: what's the difference?

The enduro bike can tackle steep climbs and, with the introduction of slacker head tube angles, has the geometry to compete with some of the most exhilarating downhill MTB's on the market. However, if it's pure adrenaline-pumping, gravity-assisted riding you're after than it might be worth sticking to the specialist. The sight of a Downhill MTB in full-flight is almost like seeing a downhill skier hurtling to the finish line. The longer rear and front travels, as well as the added weight mean that while Downhill MTB's may struggle getting uphill, they are experts when it comes to descending at high-speed.

Of course, which comes out on top in the battle of the mountain bikes depends on your own personal preference and what kind of rider you are. The Downhill class of MTB is an expert speed-machine which can be upgraded and modified according to a specific course but can be quite costly. The Enduro on the other hand, is a versatile machine which can get you up and downhill quickly. The choice really is yours!

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