We drive all over the country, see highways, bridges, tunnels, roundabouts but some of us do not encounter big hills and mountains every day. You may have never been taught how to brake safely while traveling downhill or uphill. Driving on a straight, flat road is fairly easy. It does not require as much brake control and the movement of your vehicle is relatively easy to predict. As you press your brake pedal to come to a stop, your car will slowly reduce speed until eventually, you will no longer move. However, if you are going down a hill or mountain and want to achieve the same, you are going to need good downhill brake control and that is a skill that needs to be learned.
I have written this article to help you understand the risks, help you understand your vehicle better and ultimately help you to brake safely while traveling downhill.
What happens when you drive downhill
When you get to the top of a hill and see a large slope downward, you may be tempted to take gas back, and perhaps even coast all the way to the bottom. The temptation is there because you do not feel you need any additional speed, and you can simply brake when you need it. This is actually a bad practice. Coasting gives you less control over your vehicle and makes your car less responsive to corrective actions or maneuvers.
You may be tempted as well to brake harshly to slow your car down as it freerolls down the hill. Again, try not to do this. You might run into a number of issues doing so. Your brakes could burn out and overheat because of the increased friction between your brake pads and brake discs. In the worst case scenario, your brakes could fail completely or cease up. If this happens the end result could potentially be catastrophic.
But once you get to the top of a slope, gravity will start to pull harder onto your car. The steeper the road, the more this force increases. You will naturally gain more speed even without accelerating, so if you shouldn’t coast, or brake too much, what should you do?
How to Brake Safely While Traveling Downhill – Downhill Brake Control
If you are driving a car with an automatic transmission what you should do instead of using your brakes constantly is to stay in gear and use transmission of your engine control your downhill movement. You might be a speed junky and enjoy the occasional adrenaline rush, but trust me when I say it’s not worth it in this case. Stay safe and healthy and don’t speed off a downward sloping road. It really is more dangerous than it looks.
As you go near the incline, reduce your speed. On steep hills, there is usually a safety sign which shows you the optimum speed or if there is a specific speed limit on the part of the road. This is either a guideline, or an enforced rule, but it’s important to stick to it. Warning signs are there to help you stay safe. If you are in any way unsure, they are excellent pointers on what to do.
Going down an incline is all about downhill brake control. As approach the incline, shift into second gear so you will not damage your transmission. Avoid coasting altogether. As you go along the incline, pressing your brake pedals really hard will cause more harm than good. When you reach the point of approximately 40kmph(25 mph) speed, slowly start hitting the brakes to slow down just slightly. Apply your brakes and release them after a few seconds. Keep doing this as you reach the plain and then go into drive and eventually brake normally as you do in a plain road.
If the incline is really steep then it is better you shift into first gear and apply brakes in a routine manner. The key is to utilize your engine braking downhill rather than just pressing the brakes real hard. Engine braking downhill is safe because you will not overheat your brakes in the process due to the shared braking power of your engine and brakes. You are basically halving the work required. As the resistance is applied from the engine itself, there is less force to the brakes and the brakes do not have to work too much in the process.
Now there are also a few other things that you should keep in mind while driving downhill. You should never pull on the handbrake or the emergency brake while going down. in any case. It might feel scary going down an incline but pulling the handbrake will only make matters worse. It will instantly put your car to a halt and you could end up being rear-ended or losing control of the vehicle altogether. You have to always remember, ‘no handbrakes going downhill’.
Downhill Brake Control on Motorcycles
Going downhill in a car is one thing, doing it with a motorcycle is another. The physics involved are completely different, so it’s important to briefly consider how to brake safely while traveling downhill on a motorcycle as well. On a motorcycle you’re not strapped in, so aside from the vehicle struggling to stay on the road surface, you may also find that you struggle to stay on your bike due to the awkward angle you’ll be moving in.
For your position on your bike, you will want to slide towards the back of the bike to balance both the front and the back. Lean towards the front so you are not putting all your weight on one side. This will help you be in control and be able to manipulate how you are riding. Grab the fuel tank with your thighs as much as you can. Gripping it will give you more balance and you will be able to move your arms freely. Also remember to not tense up your wrists while doing so. You have to put your head up a bit so you have a greater field of vision.
Now that you are in control of your bike, the next thing to understand is the power of gravity that’s in place. Just like in a car, you are going to want to use engine braking downhill. Remember to put your gear at the minimum. Preferably to the first gear and keep the clutch pressed. Do not accelerate while going down and pressing the clutch while doing so will ensure that nothing accidental occurs.
Occasionally press on the leg brake which controls the rear wheel. You will slowly slow down and when you come down to a lower speed, then start pressing the front brake which controls the front wheel. The front brake is very powerful and it responds very quickly compared to the rear brake. Always use your rear brakes first to reduce the risk of toppling your motorcycle because of the momentum. As you slowly ease in and slow down, it all gets easier and you can use the front back just like usual. So, there you have it. Follow these simple steps and now you know how to ride/drive and brake down an incline safely. To brake safely while traveling downhill, your speed and balance are of the utmost importance.