Braking is a fundamental skill for any riding, especially mountain biking. Braking unnecessarily, however, can be worse than just reducing your average speed in a race. Unnecessary or inefficient braking wastes energy, forces you to put down power to accelerate and can make make the bike harder to control.
Learning how to use your brakes correctly allows you to travel further, faster for less effort.
Spot obstacles early – ‘reading’ the trail to see obstacles, and understanding where you need to apply the brakes allows you brace against the braking forces and slow down smoothly. This will give you more control over the weight of the bike and less likely to crash.
Progressive braking – a classic mistake for people learning to mountain bike is to treat brakes as ‘brake switches’ rather than ‘ brake levers’. Modern brakes are capable fine modulation of the braking force. This allows you to finely control your bikes speed without locking the wheels.
Brake only when necessary – braking not only wastes the power you’ve put into the bike, but it also makes the bike harder to handle – if you don’t have to slow down, don’t pull the brakes!
Riding it the ‘attack position’ allows more braking force to be safely applied and gives you more control over the bikes weight. From the attack position, straightening your arms move your hips towards the back of the bike and drop your ankles. This braces you against the braking forces and you more control of the bike.
When more comfortable with this, try jumping into your braking zone. Weighting the front wheel like this again allows for more force to be safely applied.
Front vs back braking
When learning to mountain bike, most people apply both brakes at the same time. This is good for coming to a gradual stop, but the front and rear brakes affect the bikes handling ways. The front brake is typically stronger and more effective at stopping you; but, it shouldn’t be used in corners or over particularly loose ground. The reason for this is it is a lot easier to regain control from locking your rear wheel than your front.
The general rule, therefore, is the less grip you have, the more you should be using the rear brake.
You should therefore try to brake before entering a corner and brake primarily on good trail – even if this means changing your braking point over the course of a race.
If you enter a corner or loose patch and need to brake, gently apply even force through both brakes.
Ice and roots – these cover the extremes of low grip. Avoid braking on either one where ever possible as you’re a lot more likely to lose control.
Jumps and drops – Stay off the front brakes! landing a jump or a drop with your front wheel locked is a sure way to go Over The Bars!
Skidding – when skidding, release the brakes to allow the wheels to roll and reapply pressure.
- Modulate your braking for extra bike control.
- You have more control when the wheels are rolling.
- Brace against braking forces.
- When skidding, release the brakes and gently reapply.
- Brake only when you have to!