How to Use your Brakes

Mountain bikes have front and rear brakes, typically the front brake is controlled by the left hand and the rear brake is controlled by the right hand. Usually, it’s advised that new riders not pay too much attention to the front brake because of the danger of severe accidents. Over-application of the front brake can easily cause the inexperienced rider to flip head over heels over the handlebars and generally get pretty hurt. Thus, your primary braking power will come from your rear brake. Later, you’ll learn to use the front brake to seriously increase your stopping power.

There are only a few things to keep in mind while using your brakes.

First, get in the habit of using only two fingers on your brake levers (or one if possible). Having as many fingers as possible holding the grips brings much greater stability and a sense of safety and it greatly increases your ability to brake ‘on the fly’ and without removing your hold on the grips. If you find you don’t have the strength to brake effectively with two fingers, chances are your brakes are in need of adjustment. Current mountain biking brakes are very strong and should require only one finger to operate. If your brakes are in good adjustment and you still find it difficult to operate with two fingers, you should consider getting hydraulic brakes. They are very easy to operate and usually are much stronger than standard brakes. But they also expensive. You will need to have this skill later down the road and you may end up with hydraulic brakes anyway.

Second, apply braking force smoothly and gradually. Do not use jerky or sudden motions. Chances are these types of applications of your brakes will cause them to lock (and perhaps release and lock again), which will result in loss of traction, and that is never a good thing. A smooth application of brakes will suit nearly any situation and will reduce chances of brake lock and loss of traction. Also, you never know when someone is behind you, perhaps using you as motivation to keep their speed up, or they may be waiting for an opening to pass. A sudden application of brakes can result in them plowing into you from behind. And over braking definitely costs you momentum and therefore energy. Keep your touch on the brake light, only applying what you need.

Third, I suggest avoiding leaving your fingers on the brake lever while riding. Some people are worried they won’t be able to get their fingers on the levers in time. No worries, it’s all a matter of practice. Here is the problem if you do that. It’s likely you will hit obstacles without expecting to, such as rocks, fallen limbs etc. Many people have a tendency to ‘tighten up’ when they are getting ready to hit an obstacle and believe me, the worst time to pull your brake lever by accident is when you are going over an obstacle. If you must, practice riding in a straight line in your driveway or a parking lot and quickly moving your fingers over the brake levers. This is a skill you will have to have later down the road, as always. Plus, locking up your brakes does damage the trail. Please don’t do it unless you feel it is absolutely necessary.

Finally, if you are riding in a group it is not just a courtesy to warn the people behind you if you feel you must stop suddenly. Whether the reason is a tough obstacle, riders coming from the other way or mechanical breakdown, it’s better to take a second to warn your followers and then stop. Otherwise, you may be slammed into from behind and pushed even closer to what it was that caused you to want to stop in the first place.

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