Getting fitter sucks. It's hard and takes forever. You sweat a lot, have to work on it every day and still it won't always help you beat your buddies down the hill. This is why we made BrakeAce! Here are the 5 ways to get faster on downhills without training.
Session your Key Opportunities
Brake into the apex
The Science of Braking
At BrakeAce, we have been studying the science of braking on mountain bikes since 2014. We’ve analyzed braking from beginners up to top pros on the UCI MTB Downhill World Cup, and have found major differences in how they ride.
You might be thinking to yourself how OBVIOUS it is that braking smarter could help you go faster, but rest assured that to date even most top riders are just guessing their way down a trail!
Along the way we’ve noticed a number of major braking trends and simple techniques you can try yourself.
As a fitness coach who has helped MTB riders around the world get FITTER, it might sound a bit funny to help you get faster without getting fitter.
But as we all know, getting fitter is very hard and takes a very long time. You need to train for months or years to see any major improvement in your fitness, and even then these fitness gains might not always help you go faster down the hills.
So here are 5 ways you can get faster without any improvement in your fitness. These are all based on science and real data, so give it a go and let us know what you think!
1st Way to Get Faster Without Getting Fitter:
Wait, you mean I don’t have to get fitter and I don’t even need to pedal?
I did this research at Massey University in 2014. We had been studying vibrations and wheel sizes and the physiology of MTB descending.
As this idea in the back of my head, I threw in an extra trial for our well-trained MTBers, and compared their power output, heart rate and even vibrations when pedaling versus coasting down the same trail.
As it turned out, riders went just as fast when they coasted down our 1km test hill as when they pedaled, but when they coasted their HR and breathing were much lower.
In practical terms, coasting meant riders could recover better to go faster on the next uphill, and wouldn’t lose time on the DH. This is great for a race or an all day ride.
We’ve seen this kind of thing even happen in the DH World Cup, when Aaron Gwin won a race with NO CHAIN!
By saving energy and coasting more, we are able to focus better on the trail and ride and brake smoother.
This summer I tested another top DH rider, and we measured his braking when he was doing an all-out race run and compared it to a smooth, flowy run.
He felt slower on the smooth run, but ended up 1 whole second faster when he rode smooth. Check out the analysis here, including HR, power and braking:
This one is worth trying for yourself. How fast can you go without pedaling?
2nd Way to Get Faster Without Getting Fitter:
Smart and efficient braking is free speed.
Any time we are riding, we are carrying energy. Any time we touch the brakes, we take this energy away and it becomes heat inside our braking system; our bikes slow down as a result.
While we definitely need to brake to maintain control, we can save time by braking harder.
In the BrakeAce app, we show you the intensity of every single brake event. Oftentimes beginners will brake very lightly for a very long time, but what better riders do is get all of their braking done in a shorter amount of time.
The BrakeAce app shows you the differences in how you brake with just one number - your FlowScore. This takes into account the duration, modulation and intensity of your braking across the whole trail, and includes aspects of your speed. Getting a lower FlowScore means you conserved more speed.
Remember, any time we are braking, we really risk losing traction. But by finding a place on the trail with plenty of traction and braking harder there, we can ride safely over the tricky sections and regain our composure for the next tricky section.
Your faster friends are braking harder when they need to be slowing down.
Have you ever tried stopping as fast as possible? Sometimes we test our tires and stopping form by stopping as quickly as we can in different types of terrain.
3rd Way to Get Faster Without Getting Fitter:
Modern brakes are crazy good.
You can stop on a dime with virtually any disc brake these days.
Ever notice how you are braking on your home trails when they are muddy versus when they are dry?
In the mud, you need to get on your brakes quicker because there is less traction. But in the dry, you can wait almost until the end to start braking because your tires will have so much grip.
When the trails are wet, it’s not the wet trails that are to blame for your slower times - it is your braking that is to blame (yeah, you're braking more because of the wetness...)!
Braking later allows us to travel faster for longer, making us faster overall.
The braking zone of beginners is much longer than experienced riders, which is something we wrote about in some of our published research.
Experienced riders are able to trust the tires and find braking traction when they really need it.
This one is worth experimenting with. Once you find a corner you can improve, try braking later and harder. It doesn’t matter if you brake hard and come to a stop, but by trying this you can find the limits of your traction.
4th Way to Get Faster Without Getting Fitter:
SESSION YOUR KEY OPPORTUNITIES
You might brake 100 times in a short trail, but not every braking event is bad or can be improved.
BrakeAce analyzes your braking and filters down into 3 Key Opportunities - these are the 3 places on the trail you can improve the most.
BrakeAce looks at your brake intensity, duration and modulation in each braking event, and links sections of the trail together by how much wiggle room you have for improvement.
On average, riders have saved 7 seconds per 2 minutes of trail with BrakeAce in just 2 or 3 runs.
They did this by identifying their Key Opportunities, looking at their braking, and trying new approaches on these sections to improve their FlowScore.
Usually these were sections of trail that riders didn’t even think to try again, but that’s because most riders are looking in the wrong places. How many times have you seen riders scoping out a dodgy line to save virtually no time? The Key Opportunities strategy is easier and more effective, so you can move on quickly.
Once riders do a final run on the trails with BrakeAce, they can look at their FlowScore to see how much they improved in each Key Opportunities and how they rode better on the whole trail.
Younger riders spend a lot of time playing on their bikes. We miss out on this “play” time as we get older because we have limited time, so by showing you your Key Opportunities you can get faster in your limited time.
5th Way to Get Faster Without Getting Fitter:
BRAKE INTO THE APEX
The apex of a turn is the sharpest angle. Up until the apex, you still haven’t changed direction, but the exit speed out of the turn really relies on how much speed you are able to carry out of the apex.
The standard advice is to finish all your braking before the turn, but in reality, you're pretty dialed if you can finish braking by the apex.
Pro riders take braking late to the next level, and they brake hardest at the apex, and then let off of the brakes.
This is an advanced move, and in BrakeAce we show you this advanced Turn Analysis.
Some World Cup riders brake hardest - and especially hardest with their front brake - at the apex of some turns. Check out this video with World Cup racer Bryn Dickerson's braking data on GoPro:
Hard apex braking may occur because riders are using weight transfer and the compression of the front suspension to get maximum grip and change the direction.
By viewing the Turn Analysis plot and looking at your FlowScore, you can test your own strategies in each turn and see what works on your trails.
Before BrakeAce existed, you could only get faster with guesswork. But we all have limited time to ride and we want to make the most of it - that's why you've read this far!
Power meters helped roadies make the most of their fitness, and BrakeAce is the MTB equivalent to help you make the most of your riding.
We are bringing BrakeAce to Kickstarter, and have created the BrakeAce VIP Club to give our top fans access to the craziest prices. Join the BrakeAce VIP Club to access our Kickstarter before anyone else.