You're descending into a rabbit hole for the brave.
The name of the game is 'riding a downhill mountain bike,' and you pay by taking risks. But what you'll receive in return is totally worth it.
The cold sweats, pounding chest, and rapid breathing you only get when you do something dangerous. Something fun. We bet you can almost feel it now, and you’re asking yourself if racing downhill on a two-wheeled vehicle will deliver that extraordinary thrill you crave. Trust us, it will.
But it takes a bit of work. If you're that determined and willing to do what it takes to get your adrenaline fix, you first need to get yourself ready for the discipline of downhill mountain biking.
Prepping for Downhill Discipline
Choosing downhill as your discipline will be an adrenaline-pumping experience. But if you're thinking it's going to be as easy as descending the road to your supermarket or pedaling down a relatively obstacle-free singletrack, you'll have to raise your bar way higher.
If you're serious about downhill, you'll have to anticipate, at the very least, challenging sections and sharp corners on the track. At best, expect a steep drop that'll leave your knees trembling during the freefall.
This is a whole new level of thrill, and if you plan on enjoying it, you have to be prepared with a few basic things before you hop on the saddle.
Get on that scale and weigh yourself. How heavy or light you are affects several factors of your downhill ride. Naturally, you'll have an internal debate whether packing the weight or shedding it is better. Let's settle that—heavyweights win. That doesn't mean you're going to binge and booze for the sake of 'carbo loading'. It's best if you pack more muscle mass than fat. Also, part of knowing your numbers is knowing your vitals and BMI. Measure these, then record them for benchmarking.
Knowing how to break and maneuver is not only essential, it will be your first line of safety and defense when you're still learning the downhill discipline. Stance and body positioning comes as a close second. These skills and techniques will keep you from the dreaded face plant scenario.
Braking Skills – Practice using your brakes. Remember: front brake for stop, rear brake for slow. You don't use just one, you use both. You also have to practice using just your index finger on the brake levers to test the brake intensity so you can maintain a firm hold of the handle's grip. The last thing you want is your arms flailing and your handlebar going out of control.
Maneuvering Skills – Practice leveling your pedals when freewheeling. Your muscles will register the consistent pattern of movement. By the time you encounter jump scenarios, you'll default to the three-and-nine o’ clock pedal position on drops. Practice hard and bond well with your rig, so get a deep (and intuitive) connection with your bike's bottom bracket. This is useful when pivoting tight corners and jumping. This will also help you out when drawing a line when attacking banked corners.
Body Positioning Techniques – This is where you'll see your weight, optimum BMI, and vitals pay off. If you've maintained a decent or even an athletic weight, it will keep you agile when you practice body positioning. Shifting your weight and balance on the bike is crucial if you want to go fast downhill. If you know how to distribute your weight optimally, you can capitalize on the gravitational force for speed.
You also have to know your bike like it's a part of you—it’s an extension of yourself. The only way to do that is to ride it consistently and be mindful of the moving parts. Give it your best to get a feel of the brakes, suspensions, tires, and handlebar. Find out how they behave so you know what works for you and what doesn't. At the end of the day it's you and your bicycle who's going to conquer the downhill course.
Before you get to know your bike, you first have to choose one, and the options are broader than ever. You're not only choosing different types of mountain bikes (MTB) for downhill, you'll also choose whether you want it to be analog or electric.
Let's settle that below.
Analog or Electric: What's The Best Downhill Mountain Bike?
If you're approaching this question as a novice, the primary question to answer is if you can afford a downhill MTB rig. If you're used to breezing through MTBs with $500 tags, the $2,000 to $2,500 starter downhill rig might make you shed some tears. That's only for analogs too. If you're salivating over an eMTB, you’ll be looking at prices as high as $9,000. That's not even accounting for after-sales costs.
We're not dissuading you, though. Desire to have a downhill MTB is all you need. You can figure out the rest. When you do have the money to spend, here's what you have to consider before you buy one.
This classic, non-motorized downhill MTB version gives a more purist approach compared to its motorized rival. A great investment if you still have the energy and bravado to spare. This rig will test your stamina and strength uphill (because you still need to climb before you come down), yet will challenge your agility and skill on the downhill track.
As part of the climb, you may have to carry your MTB on your shoulder when you encounter tricky parts. The analog gains a point in this situation because it's lighter than the electronic MTB.
Overall, this is a great rig if you're keen on dragging out your downhill training for hours and if you're looking for some physical workout on and off the trails. The analog makes for a good companion for practicing.
Did we also mention it's cheaper?
There shouldn't be any competition between the analog and the electric downhill MTBs because the latter is in a category of its own. It's faster and delivers the same (if not better) performance than analog. With just the minor addition of weight and motor, you get an electric-assisted pedal bike that packs serious speed and power. The electric downhill MTB is definitely for the biker looking to up their game.
What's cool about the electric bike is the versatility. You can go full manual on this bike and still practice your DH skills and techniques. It also makes it convenient to climb up the hill because of the motorized assistance.
On the other hand, electric downhill MTBs are still heavier than analogs, even with the lighter versions. You'll also have to worry about battery life being sufficient to assist you until you go home. Finally, it requires more upkeep because of the added parts.
Closing Take on The Downhill Mountain Bike Sport
If you've decided to get into the sport, start small. Downhill mountain biking has a relatively high barrier to entry. The cost of acquiring a bike specific for downhill (analog or electric) is high, and the sport requires a different skill set than trail biking or cross country racing.
So, if you're coming in hot as a complete newbie, you'll need to have the dedication to practice and prepare. With that being said, it’s still much less intimidating if you at least transition from trail mountain biking or any other off-road biking disciplines.
But whichever starting point you come from, in the end, It's all about the desire to get a different kind of rush. That'll be enough to get yourself up and over the barriers to entry and slide down the gaping hole of adrenaline.