The art of downhill mountain biking

The Merlin Cycles team put together this comprehensive guide to downhill cycling, detailing everything you need to think about before careening down the slopesUpon opening this post, you may be thinking to yourself: “What’s so special about going downhill on a bike?”

You’ve probably freewheeled down a steep hill or two in your time, and had a great time doing so, but trust us when we say, true downhill mountain biking is much more extreme, and tonnes more fun.

Take a look at the video below to get a good idea of what exactly we mean

Sadly, mastering this art properly is a slightly more complicated than just pedalling up a steep incline and then letting gravity do the rest of the work. For a start, there’s a lot more to think about including terrain, positioning and attire.

But never fear, as the Merlin Cycles team have put together this comprehensive guide to downhill cycling, detailing everything you need to think about before careening down those slopes. Read on, and we’ll have you drifting round edges and dropping off ledges in no time.

The Gear

Travelling at speeds through wet dirt, shrubbery and branches is bound to leave a few scratches and bruises, and coming off your bike at such speeds can do severe damage.  So before you ride, it’s important to ensure you’re equipped with the proper protection.

Keeping your body covered with gloves, pads and long clothing, like a lightweight jersey and border shorts, will help keep you from the majority of scrapes and cuts, but it’s the full face helmet that can really absorb any potential damage. Investing in protection that’s specifically designed to protect your face whilst offering you optimum visibility is a complete no brainer.

The Terrain

Mountain biking is nothing without the aforementioned mountain, or hill, or any particularly vertical elevation. Finding the right spot to test your skills will depend on a number of variables.

There are plenty of pro riding routes all over the country, both manmade and natural. From the challenging peaks of Scotland’s Fort William, to the luscious hidden trails of Holmbury Hill in Surrey; these have been crafted from years of experience, carved out of nature by pioneering cyclists and shaped and moulded in order to deliver the best riding experience.

Some may charge for entry, others will be free for you to enjoy, but ensure you check the rules before riding. The same goes for if you’re finding your own routes. Check the trail to be sure you’re not trespassing on anyone’s land, or endangering any hikers, before you launch yourself downhill.

Natural Obstacles

It’s worth noting that whether or not you ride a professional or natural route, it’s likely that you’ll encounter obstacles such as roots and rocks along your journey. Hitting obstructions such as these can be incredibly unnerving at first, but as long as you stay calm and in control of your bike, you should have no problem conquering the terrain. Keeping focussed on the path ahead at all times will allow you to pre-empt and prepare for travelling over any hurdles in your way.


Another feature you’re likely to come across is a drop off, or a sharp vertical drop that makes it look like your track abruptly ends mid-air. The first time you go over one of these ledges it’s highly likely you’ll feel like you’re losing your stomach, but once again, cooler heads prevail.

Work up a decent speed, keep the bike level, and brace your arms and legs to absorb the impact of the landing. Shift you body’s core back slightly as you go over the lip in order to ensure you stay in control at all times. Keep these tips in mind and you should be able to nail your landing like a pro.

Mountain Biking

Body Position

Before you even think about pushing yourself down a track, you need to consider how you’re going to position yourself on a bike. Imagine a cable, running through your body’s pelvis (or core) all the way to your bike’s bottom bracket.

By constantly keeping your core in line with the bracket, and simply tilting or bending to adjust your position, your body acts as a counterweight. This will allow the bike to travel through your body and in turn ensure the smoothest ride possible.

Braking And Cornering

Your brakes aren’t just there to stop you from crashing face first into that upcoming tree. They can also be used to adjust your speed, and prepare your bike for changing landscapes.

Heavy braking has the potential to send you flying over the handlebars and cause unnecessary damage to both you and the bike. So, be sure to get a feel for your surroundings first and adjust your braking accordingly.

Once you’ve mastered braking on steep inclines, you’ll find it much easier to navigate sharp corners and twists. By adjusting your speed, keeping your centre of gravity as low as possible and coming in wide, you’ll be able to push the bike through the corner, keeping yourself balanced – even if you drift to one side.

You’re now ready to hit the trail, so what are you waiting for? Just remember to keep your eyes fixed ahead, your centre in line with the bracket, and your mind constantly anticipating what’s coming up next. Most importantly, remember to have fun.

What are your top tips for downhill cycling? Share your advice in the comments section below. Alternatively, if it’s your first time tackling a hill and you’re using this article as a guide, be sure to let us know how you get on!


  • Christian Moss

    Christian is the Social Media manager at Merlin Cycles. Christian brings an air of levity to the blog, coupled with a generous splash of irreverence. As part of his responsibilities, Christian manages the Facebook and Twitter accounts. Christian is also the resident photographer here at Merlin.

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