Braking Basics

Have you ever: 1) Been told not to use their front brake, 2) Had a bad experience using their front brake as a kid, 3) Is terrified of their front brake, 4) All of the above?

Don't worry, you're not alone. 

One of the most common things we hear from new riders is that they are unsure about how, when or if  they should use their front brake, and even riders who have some miles under their belt can have trepidation about it. But the reality is that most of the bike's stopping power in in the front brake, and when used properly, it will slow you down more quickly and safely than the rear brake alone can.

Many mountain bikes are built with a larger front rotor, which provides more leverage on the front wheel — and when brakes are applied, the front end of the bike dips down a bit, loading the front tire with more weight, increasing traction and making it less likely to skid. And, most mountain bikes also have a bigger, heavier front tire with a more aggressive tread, which also provides more traction, and thus, more stopping power. 

Understanding how to use your front brake in conjunction with your rear brake, knowing how much pressure to apply, and the importance of body position when braking will help you ride more in control, and with more confidence.

Here are some tips to help you hone your basic braking skills:

1) Right is Rear. Many new riders worry about mixing up their brake levers, pulling the front brake too hard by mistake and going over the bars. Memorize Right is Rear to help avoid any confusion!

2) Set your cockpit up for one-finger braking. Modern disc brakes are powerful — only one finger is needed on the lever to bring your bike to a complete stop, freeing up the rest of your digits for a secure hold on the grip. Learn more about cockpit set up here

3) Build the habit of covering your brakes. Have your braking (index) finger at the ready, on the levers so you're prepared for unanticipated need to check speed or stop suddenly. 

4) Ready position: Keep weight low and balanced. When not actively pedaling, lower your saddle, stand up with knees and elbows bent, drop your heels (particularly when riding downhill). This position helps keep your center of gravity balanced over your bike's bottom bracket and ready to respond.

5) Gradually squeeze both levers at the same time for balanced and efficient braking. The rear brake alone is slow to stop you, and causes your back tire to skid. Using the front brake alone causes your fork to dive, body weight to pitch forward, and on a slope this combination can result in an endo. But feathering your brakes with even pressure at the same time balances everything out, so you'll minimize skidding and stop quickly, safely and in control. 

Next time we'll talk about smart braking timing, and other techniques to help build braking confidence on the trail!