The Downhill is a sport for lovers of cycling and adventure. It has a very specific history that has led it to spread in Europe and Italy and to practice it must be equipped with the right equipment. Here is everything you need to know about this sport, from its features to the way to practice it in total safety.
Downhill, from the English “down the hill”, is a sport that is practiced with mountain biking, of which it represents a very specific variant. Downhill is one of the activities that people in the industry call “gravity”. In essence, it relies on gravity as its driving force, using descents and non-straight routes. Speed is a key point of this sport; during the descents you can reach up to 80 km per hour and for this reason to practice this sport you need balance and endurance.
Although many people tend to consider this sport as something extreme and dangerous, the Downhill is an activity that, if approached with conscience and with all the necessary precautions, turns into a great way to stay in touch with nature and the outdoors. And this does not only affect adults; even the youngest, always with attention and paths suitable for them, I can put themselves to the test with this sport.
THE HISTORY OF DOWNHILL SKIING
The Downhill was born in the United States, in the 70s, from a group of young people who decided to buy some bad bikes, of those used by American postmen, to be clear, and use them to launch down the mountain Tamalpais. Immediately this type of bike, unlike all other road models, proved to be very resistant and this led the boys to understand that to use the bike along more rough routes than the traditional road it was necessary to build a model that respected certain characteristics.
For this sport to become popular, of course, it had to pass some time. In those years we were still far from the birth of mountain biking and, probably, it was those guys who laid the foundations for the construction of a model of bike that respected certain characteristics, such as a sports bike.
THE BICYCLE FOR DOWNHILL RIDING
The Downhill is practiced with a bicycle that runs along a descent that can vary from 2 to 5 kilometers, the path is quite steep and is characterized by obstacles, natural or artificial, which are found along the way, such as rocks, steps or tree roots.
The means used to practice this sport is a bicycle that has a very strong frame, a wide handlebar, to ensure greater control, and very stable. The bike is light and agile, since it is used in speed, and allows you to make accelerations and braking quickly. It is equipped with hydraulic disc brakes and transmission ratios configured to withstand the speed of travel.
A variant of this sport is the Downhill Marathon, a competition in which participants descend along a route but all start together and proceed to the bottom. This kind of competition takes place in places similar to ski resorts or bikeparks, although sometimes more experienced bikers build their own tracks to train and compete with each other.
PREPARATION FOR DOWNHILL SKIING
Although it is considered an extreme sport, it is not necessary to have specific facilities to practice Downhill. All you need is a descent, steep or not, and a hint of adventurous spirit. This sport can be practiced in a completely amateur way, and in this case any descent will be fine, or you can devote yourself to this passion even at a competitive level. In this case it is necessary to find a school, be followed by a teacher and follow a constant and well-structured training.
To become an expert in Downhill, it is not enough to be a bike lover, just as it is not enough to use your bike every day in the city. You have to train between descents and jumps and try and try again until you have reached a certain agility and a certain security in movements. In addition to the descents, typical of this sport are also the variations and evolutions that, to succeed, must be tried again with a certain constancy.
Safety is a key aspect when practicing Downhill. The bike, in general, exposes a lot to falls on the asphalt, and it does so even more when used at high speed for downhill and jumping. In addition to the equipment, which we will talk about shortly, a certain amount of experience is needed, the result of constant work and training.
THE EQUIPMENT NEEDED TO DOWNHILL
Whether it’s a training session or a real race, the first rule for good Downhill practice is to best protect your body in the event of falls or accidents of various magnitudes. The basic equipment must be composed of:
- Shin guards
- Protective helmet
These protections are essential to make any type of impact less violent even if, considering this sport among the extreme ones, it is always to be taken into account a physical contact with the ground or an injury. In addition to this kind of protection, those who practice Downhill also wear special suits that have the function of protecting the whole body from any impact, just as happens in motorcycling.
The cost of protection can be quite high, especially if the clothing and accessories are durable and of good quality, but what matters is to protect yourself as much as possible to limit the damage in the event of a fall or a contrast. Downhill without protection or with inadequate or poor quality protective accessories inevitably means exposing yourself to abrasions and possible fractures, as well as various dangerous traumas.
In addition to the protection, of course, to practice this sport you must have the right bicycle. The costs for this type of bike are very variable and depend on the type of materials and construction. Usually the figure is between 1000 and 1500 euros for used bicycles, a price certainly above average but justified by the fact that to practice this sport is necessary to have the right means. If you opt for a new bike, the price can go up to 4000 euros.
In addition to the money to be charged for the purchase of the bike and the right protective equipment, practicing this sport has its price, especially if you decide to compete with a school or organization. In this case it is also necessary to charge the money for any spare parts and the assistance of the mechanic.
WHERE YOU PRACTICE DOWNHILL
Europe in general has a great tradition of cycling and it is also for this reason that this sport born in America has certainly not struggled to take root here. There is also a register that concerns the Downhill World Championship and in which the names of the most popular sportsmen appear at the moment; the podium, for the moment, is dominated by the French and the Americans, followed immediately after by the English. The Italians, for the moment, seem not to shine too much in this sport, with only a second place in 1993 and a third place in 1994.
Despite this, the interest for the Downhill in Italy is very lively and there are many areas scattered throughout the territory where you can practice this sport. The Aosta Valley was the first to open the slopes for the Downhill and today in both the Alps and the Apennines there are several slopes. One of the most famous places is Pila, also in Valle d’Aosta, followed by Bardonecchia, in Piedmont, Livigno, in Lombardy, and Val di Sole, in Trentino. To these places have been added Cortina, in Veneto, Plan de Corones, in South Tyrol, Sestola and the Cimone Valleys.
The locations, of course, are very different from each other and each offers different sporting experiences, in compatibility with the territory and with the experts in the field who are responsible for setting up the various routes. The tracks vary according to the level of experience, also to allow everyone to follow their own rhythms and to proceed in total safety.
A SPORT FOR YOUNG PEOPLE AND ALSO FOR CHILDREN
Certainly one of the undisputed merits of the Downhill has been to bring young fans of bicycles and extreme sports to the mountains and to a context in which staying in touch with nature is essential. As a result, summer tourism has also been strengthened and many resorts are still working on the opening of special lifts necessary to take bicycles to high altitudes.
As for children, however, this sport can be a good way, with the necessary precautions, of course, to bring them closer to the mountain. Although, as we have mentioned, this sport may seem initially dangerous, there are small tracks designed specifically for children and areas where the Downhill is practiced together with instructors who guide children in total safety.