Downhill Mountain Biking


Downhill mountain biking is one of the scariest but most gratifying things you will ever do. I was a convert to the sport in my mid-twenties. I had been road cycling since my teens, then a friend got me into mountain biking, and craving something with a little adrenaline, I soon got hooked on downhill riding. Unlike many other cycling disciplines, to get into downhill riding you need a lot more kit than just a bike. The speeds are fast, and the crashes are painful. These are essentials you simply cannot be without on the downhill trails.


Body armour is the difference between getting up after a crash and carrying on down the trail and walking yourself down nursing a broken bone. I use knee and shin protectors, as well as visco polymer dough (VPD) elbow pads. The VPD pads are light and flexible, so you can’t even feel them, but they harden on impact and protect your joints.


They look more like motocross helmets, but these things are essential for downhill riders. When you reach the speeds that downhill riders do, you want something that is going to protect your beautiful smile from those rocks and trees. They can be a little expensive, but the helmet is one thing you can’t skimp on.


Any goggles will do, but you do need something. I have used ski goggles before and found they work just as well as specific motocross or downhill goggles. Just make sure the goggle straps have rubber grips or they might slip down your helmet while you are riding.


While you might not need these right away, I wouldn’t leave it too long before you get some downhill specific shorts. Once you have taken a couple of crashes in regular cycling shorts, you will realise you want something which can stand up to the abrasions involved in a high-speed downhill crash.


I always keep one in my pack, whether road cycling, enduro or downhill mountain biking. You never know when you, or someone around you, might need a little TLC on the trails. I keep it stocked with anti-bacterial gel, wound dressings, tape, bandages and a couple of alcohol wipes. This should be plenty for the majority of injuries likely to happen on the trails.


I would always recommend wearing gloves for downhill riding. You want your hand protected against dirt and rock abrasions if you come off. This means no fingerless gloves. Full hand protection, preferably with some grip on the palms to give you better control over the bike.

Some local trail centres offer the option to rent all the essentials you need for downhill riding. It is better to be safe than sorry. If you haven’t got all the gear, get the big-ticket items like the helmet and body armour and take it easy and wait until you are protected. Once you have all the necessary protection you can start pushing yourself. I guarantee under all that protection, you will have the biggest smile on your face.


Can you add anything to this list? What is your most essential piece of kit? Let us know in the comment section below.

Peter Williams

Peter loves bikes of all kinds. He has a passion for mountain biking right through to cycling long distance. He is sharing his experience here OnDECK.