Sure, almost everybody can ride a bike–even a mountain bike–to grab groceries in a convenience store or round the block as a form of exercise, but not all of them can journey on the slopes of a mountain–and downhill, at that.
Downhill mountain biking is an extreme sport in itself, a game separate from free-riding or BMX, and playing it requires the full regalia: an up-to-7-speed mountain bike (with hydraulic disc brakes–more on this later), a downhill riding helmet (yes, it gets that specific–more on that later, too), and body pads, among others.
One must need advanced or intermediate riding skills and an experience in riding single-track (little narrow paths rather than wide dirt-roads) in order to enjoy downhill mountain biking as it is a dangerous sport. While not exactly going against gravity but with it, an impeccable sense of balance is needed to navigate through downhill, semi-rough terrain (and even jump off cliffs, if you wish to go that extreme).
Because of this, a mountain bike should be equipped with a set of reliable brakes, and hydraulic disc brakes should do the trick with downhill rides. Rain, snow, dust, mud–with an almost-effortless one-finger command the bike will stop smoothly (but be sure to warm up your brakes prior to riding. Hydraulic disc brakes tend to jerk the bike to a stop when not warmed up properly the first few times).
For first-time downhill mountain riders, here are a few general guidelines to remember to help you get started:
- When descending through loose rock gardens, stand on your bike and stay flexible. It is not the time to grab the bike as hard as you can and fight its movement. Be gentle on the brakes as a sudden stop can throw you over the bars. Let the rocks just slide past.
- When downhill riding on embedded rocks, find the straightest path with the least bumps and go for it. Speed and a straight front wheel are advised. Going slow can knock you off balance.
- On long rock sections, you have to sit and pedal with a regular cadence. Let the bike move underneath you as you pedal smoothly, avoiding any changes in your movement such as sudden bursts.
Taking into consideration the dangers of this sport, downhill mountain biking gear and apparel are all about protection. The helmet looks like a motorcycle helmet, with full-face protection and a glass shield to cover the face from dirt or bushes. You also need knee, shin, and elbow guards and a chest, shoulder, and back protector. They should snugly fit but not be too restricting.
The nice thing about this extreme activity is that the skills begin with simple bike-riding–one that most people have, and can potentially develop. As your skills improve you would want a better bike, a harder course, and a more challenging ride–and how far you take it down is entirely up to you.
Downhill Mountain Bike Racing
For those who like to take on more difficult challenges, there’s Downhill Mountain Bike Racing. It requires full concentration to ride your Mountain Bike downhill as fast as possible. It is clear what the sport is about: timed runs from an elevated starting point and finish at a lower point of elevation.
Normally, the courses are very challenging. During timed runs, the faster of two runs is recorded as the official time. The first run is qualifying which determines starting positions. Slower riders go first, then the fastest during qualifying goes last. Races are won with milliseconds to spare.
During these Downhill Mountain Bike Races, full-suspension Mountain Bikes are the choice of most riders. With specialized DH Mountain Bikes, all parts have been specialized to some degree if not changed outright. Disc brakes have increased stopping force over the v-brakes dramatically which allow faster speeds. This in turn creates a demand for better suspension and protective gear. Then comes a better Mountain Bike frame. In essence, the improvements in technology definitely correlate with an increase in adrenaline. DH Mountain Bikes also tend to be very heavy (40lbs.) and have a lot of suspension travel. They are very strong and in most cases, they are suitable only for downhill trails.
So choose your adventure. Whether it’s plain Downhill Mountain Biking or racing downhill, the adrenalin rush is a great reward in itself. So grab your bike now and hit those rough roads!