How to Descend on a Gravel Bike – Including Tips from Dave Zabriskie and others!

This is a video I’ve been contemplating producing since late 2014. However, it took that long for technology to catch up with the development of drone cameras and so on, in addition to capturing several years of footage from multiple gravel races and rides where descending was a factor.

how to descend on a gravel bike
JOM at 2018 UnPAved in Pennsylvania. Photo by Pete Bakken.

In addition to JOM’s demonstrations in the video, there are tips from:

  • Dave Zabriskie (former WorldTour Professional cyclist and 5-time USA National Time Trial Champion. Nowadays, Dave rides for fun and loves gravel. He’s a partner in Floyds of Leadville and runs gravel camps out of Calabasas, California with Ryan Steers –
  • Karen Pritchard – Member of the Panaracer Gravel Team, 6-time Dirty Kanza 200 finisher, winner of the Women’s 40+ and 50+ DK200 categories 3-times! and with a ton of real-world experience at many other gravel races and rides.
  • Jake Pantone – Vice President & Consumer Experience at ENVE Composites – Jake has ridden it all, gravel, road and mountain and has descended a ton of gnarly stuff in ENVE’s home base in Utah.

Remember, descending can be risky, just like with all activities related to cycling. Keep it safe, ride within your limits and always wear a helmet.

Gravel Bike Tyre / Tire Pressure Guidelines – by ENVE Composites

Cover photo by Ian Matteson of ENVE Composites.

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  1. Nice video JOM. I’m so glad you finally gave us some tips. I’m still chickenshit on steep rough gravel descents but after dozens of races I have gotten a little more relaxed. Relaxing is key. Clenching up is not good especially if what you are clenching up is not the bike but something else…if you know what I mean.

    For all y’all Vintage Masters racers my best advice is to get a full on front shock.
    My El Dorado (Mtn. Bike frame with drop bars) is still my go to system on mountain gravel descents. Much less terror and clenching. I also usually have a better overall race time. My shock only adds a couple of pounds when climbing but I descend much faster with it.

    At 64 years old I have found I heal much slower than when I was younger and more stupider. I have also learned to always let JOM go on descents. Trying to stay with him
    never ends well for me…until we start to climb…it’s a different story then. 🙂

  2. Avatar Joe Hill

    Great video! Lots of good tips. If I might add one, be mindful of what your chain is doing when descending rough gravel (i.e. high speed washboards down the Col de Crush). I experienced a race-ending mechanical failure when my chain dropped off the outside of my larger front chainring and then flipped into my rear wheel, sucking my derailleur into the spokes, despite my rear derailleur being shifted all the way to the outside or on the smallest rear cog and as far away from my whee as possible. My experience since then has been that the chain is safest if you shift somewhere into the middle of the cassette for high speed descending.

    • JOM JOM

      Joe, that is some seriously bad luck, and thank you for passing along your helpful tip. Clutch derailleurs are becoming more prevalent now, and they’ve gone a long way to mitigating chains slapping about the place.

  3. Avatar Gravel Corps

    Great video with very useful tips. After a serious crash last September during the Dirt Diggler I’m still trying to regain my confidence. It’s amazing how much your confidence plays into your skill level. Just like getting over your physical injuries takes time so does regaining your confidence.

    • JOM JOM

      I heard all about some very rutted out roads at Dirt Diggler… very sorry to hear about your crash.

  4. Avatar Beargrease

    What about cross brakes? When things get really hairy, I like to ride the bar tops and let the bike float over the rough stuff. I control my speed by feathering the rear cross brake as needed. For me anyway, I have better control than riding the drops.

    On a side note, Shimano is coming out with hydraulic cross brakes in the new GRX line.

    • JOM JOM

      I pointed out my usage of cantilever brakes during the Crusher descent. I too like cross top brakes and covered Shimano’s new brake levers for GRX in detail already. They are going to be a serious game changer.


  5. Thanks for the tips JOM. Great video.

    Adding on, one thing that has helped me tremendously with mountain switchback descents is the “Flat Turns Explained” video by Skills with Phil.

    The video is mountain bike focused but the concepts are identical and he recommends that mountain bikers actually practice on gravel. Seriously, I thought my tires sucked and went through three different models before I realized it wasn’t the tires but me who sucked.

    Another thing which helped was placing a camera at the exit of a fast and loose turn and filming myself to see where I was making mistakes. This helped a lot.


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