What Downhill Mountain Biking Is In A Nutshell

When thinking of cycling or biking, one often considers tight lycra and tires that are remarkably skinny compared to those on other forms of transport. However, this changed with downhill mountain biking, filled with adrenaline-pumping moments and requires immense amounts of skill, the ability to navigate at high speeds, and plenty of guts, but how can one best describe it?

Downhill is a mountain biking discipline characterized by steep, technical trails, big jumps and other consequential obstacles. There is no uphill pedaling, instead, DH bikes are transported via a gondola lift or shuttle. In racing, riders descend the same track one at a time with the fastest time winning.

Looking at downhill mountain biking, the simple question of the racing side of the sport is, “Which rider can reach the bottom of the track in the fastest time?” Usually, the descent is a mere few minutes, and the riders have to uphold a high level of concentration and exertion the entire way down the hill or mountain. Spectators and athletes find it exhilarating, and we are about to give you an insight into this world.

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Big roots, steep hills and natural tech is what Downhill is all about.

The Nuts And Bolts Of Downhill Mountain Biking

As if mountain biking was not intense enough, downhill mountain biking brings a remarkably fast-paced flair to the biking world. The bikes used for this sport are incredibly sturdy and durable as they take quite a beating; they have excellent suspension and are designed to aid the rider in traversing the challenging and rugged terrain at high speeds correctly.

The types of drops riders experience are often as great as 10ft (3m) or even more, and the remarkable jumps they pull off are often up to 39ft (12m). Typically the riders will be transported up the hill or mountain via a ski lift or some form of shuttle, especially since the bikes generally can’t be ridden uphill due to weight, gearing and saddle height.

Because they are designed to be as capable as possible on rough descents, purpose-built downhill mountain bikes cannot be pedaled uphill.

Due to the bikes weighing more than most mountain bikes and their suspension with a range of motion of roughly 8 inches (20 cm), the bikes tend to glide swiftly over rough terrain. However, it is not just the bike that does the work, but the rider, thus they must possess a unique range of physical attributes such as immense anaerobic and aerobic fitness and total body strength.

Competitive Downhill Mountain Biking

Regarding competitions, the course is one continuous delineated stretch that is demarcated by strips of tape on either side of the course. Depending on how the race is structured, specific variables can come into play.

At times riders can opt between two different routes leading to the end (one offers higher speed, while the other is shorter). The riders must stay within the taped-off “lanes,” and if they do accidentally cross the tape, they need to return to the point where they exited from the course.

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Dual-crown forks, huge brake rotors, wide tires, low saddle, and a tiny gear range. This is not your ordinary bike, but a purpose-built descending machine.

When And Where Did Downhill Mountain Biking Start?

Downhill mountain biking is said to have been born in the 1970s and was birthed in California. There were cyclists in that period who were bored of the traditional asphalt racing, so they took to the Marin County mountains near San Francisco and decided to descend the mountain. They used cruiser-type bikes modified for off-road and added wider tires with powerful brakes.

The bikes possessed a coaster or drum brake, and it worked by the rider pedaling backward. It was sufficiently greased before the descent to ensure that the brake did not seize. The fact that the brake was used heavily meant that it would sometimes overheat and even smoke.

The first time that a time-trial race was held was on the 21st of October in 1976, on a steep and rough road (in Fairfax), the road was a fire road, and it was later donned as Repack Road. The reason for this is that riders had to repack the hub brake following every descent of the mountain.

a dirty 100% Aircraft helmet Calypso silver side view
Fullface helmet.
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Sturdy knee pads.
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At least a back protector or a full protector vest.

The Sort Of Protection Worn By Downhill Mountain Bikers

Due to the steep terrain, downhill mountain biking is considered one of the most extreme cycling (and even sporting) disciplines, as it is hazardous. The minimal gear you will spot a rider wearing is a full-face helmet with goggles and knee pads; however, more often, they will don full-body protection and padding (the severity of the course usually determines this).

Because this is a very important topic you should not take lightly, I wrote a full article on which protective gear exactly is recommended, and which is overrated.


In short, downhill mountain biking is a sprint (made ever more rapid due to gravity) from the top to the bottom of a mountain or hill. The location and size of courses will mean there are variations in difficulty from one to another; however, all are a test of speed and skill. The primary focus for the riders is that they must stay within the taped-off course and get through safely.


redbull.com, wikipedia.org, livestrong.com, bikeradar.com

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