In the Tour de France, they descend mountains at between 50 and 75 mph. Yes, mph, not km/h. They freewheel a lot, but they also pedal, especially the good descenders, who can often make up a couple of minutes and rejoin the lead group of the race. Going downhill they have to contend with corners. Of course they have no worries about cars coming the other way, or unexpected bad patches in the road. Unless they haven’t scouted the course beforehand. “Bad” can mean irregular and broken road surface, melted asphalt, or areas of sand, gravel, or grit on the road. Any one of these factors on a curve can cause loss of control, and a high speed spill, often breaking a bone and sometimes ending a career. One unconfident touch of the brakes can lose a cyclist all the sconds he’s worked so hard to gain. One miscalculation can send the rider flying off the road, often in spots with no guard rails and long, long falls. A couple of years back a rider in the Tour went off the road and fell off his bike. The bike went on for 2000 feet down a steep slope of slag. In the 2003 Tour Josebo Beloki hit a patch of melted asphalt and had his tire roll off the wheel, resulting in one of the most sickening crashes ever seen. He lay ther screaming in pain, having broken several bones, and his career was essentially over.
So knowing how to go around a corner is a necessary skill for a cyclist. I practice it on these limited winter rides. It’s all about taking the right line through the curve. Of course I don’t have the luxury of no oncoming traffic, so the idea is to take the right line around the corner, omit braking, and avoid losing traction on the rear tire.
Coming into the curve, i am supposed to take the line that results in me cutting close to the curb at the apex of the curve. that way I maintain speed and don’t emerge from the curve way out in the middle of the street. I push down on the inside handlebar to increase the tilt of the bike as I go around, maintaining speed and adhering to the right-hand side of the road. I keep my inside knee up, to give a stronger center of gravity to the turn and to avoid my foot and pedal hitting the pavement, which can result in a nasty crash.
This sounds simple but is amazingly hard to do. Every season i have to work on it again to feel comfortable with going around curves at high speed and without braking. It’s hard to have that degree of confidence in your control and line. In my neighborhood there’s a great right-hand curve at the bottom of a descent as I turn right from McNeil onto Holt. I am always surprised how hard it is to train mysself not to hit the brakes, even though I know there’s no treacherous sand or potholes there. It’s a qiestion of confidence in my own judgment and physical ability to ontrol the bike as I approach the turn at about 23 mph. Maybe by June . . .
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.