Hello, friends! It’s your friend Lee from Lee Likes Bikes/RideLogic with the second installment of “Appetite for Instruction.” Last month we looked at your hip hinge, the most important physical skill you can learn as a mountain biker, athlete and non-bad-back-having human being. If you missed that episode, go back and check it out. In this edition, we start with your low hinge, then plug it into solid braking technique.



You! This skill is essential for cyclists of all types. The principles apply to mountain, road, cyclocross and even gravel, aka 1990 mountain biking but with drop bars.

Every one of my student friends learns this lesson. First-timers start with great habits. Experts get even more confidence and speed. World champions, well, remain world champions.

I’ve personally taught more than 9000 riders of all levels. Statistically speaking, you are suffering from these maladies, especially when you’re scared:

• Too high and stiff on the bike. Not hinging.

• Braking way too often with light pressure and your weight being pushed forward onto your hands. You might not notice this anymore, but I’ll bet it’s happening.

• This leads to the rear tire skidding, your hands getting pummeled by bumps, and, ultimately, you flying over your handlebars.

• For you racers and Stravaholics, you’re spending too much time braking at low power while beating yourself up and going slow. This technique will help you spend more time coasting smoothly. When you brake, you’ll do it less often and for shorter times. This is risk- and effort-free speed. When I ride with world-class pedalers, I use the “zero calorie pass”—coasting by while they’re braking.

The imaginary pendulum that hangs from your belly button should point into your bike’s bottom bracket, perpendicular to the crank arms.



This lesson covers the essence of effective braking. When you know in your bones how to control your speed safely, your confidence, safety and speed will all earn KOMs.


You cannot learn this skill on technical trails. That’s where you execute it. You must learn in a laboratory environment, say a cul de sac. Cul-de-sac kung fu!

Step 1: Practice braking on smooth, flat pavement.

Step 2: Do it on packed dirt, then looser gravel and sand.

Step 3: Add a downslope.

When your braking drills are clean and consistent, you have a fighting chance of braking well on real trails. Brake placement is a fun topic. Keep in mind:

1. Brake before turns, not in them. Enter the turn so slowly you feel zero urge to grab the brakes. This will be very slow! But, I’ll bet you exit faster and with less tension and stress.

2. Brake in smooth sections. When you’re on bumps, focus on pumping them (stay tuned for an article on this). Learn to execute your braking in spots that make sense, between tech sections, not in them.

3. Brake emphatically. Focus on perfect balance and more and more downforce. The better you get at this, the more your lizard brain will trust you and the less you’ll find yourself dragging brakes all the way down hills, which creates miserable tension, and in bumps, which sends you over your handlebars.

Jill Kitner exhibits perfect braking technique in this race at Mammoth.



Use this technique every single time you decelerate on any bicycle.

Every. Single. Time.

You’re building new muscle memory. You need to convince your brain that this style of braking works better than your old one, then make it the dominant pattern so you don’t revert to your old, stiff, ineffective style.


While you might be a special snowflake and a perfectly skilled user of brakes, statistically speaking, right now, you’re braking when you shouldn’t (in turns and on bumps), and you’re doing it with poor form. This is creating a cycle of stress, stiffness, jostling, more stress, more stiffness, etc. When you brake now, your weight is being pushed forward onto your handlebars. This makes the rear tire skid, your hands get beaten up and your eyes rattle out of your head. If you keep this up, you will fly over the bars. None of that is super groovy.

If you find yourself squeezing the levers when you know you shouldn’t, that’s a clear sign your lizard brain doesn’t trust you and that you can benefit from this lesson.

The Lee Likes Bikes/RideLogic approach to braking keeps you safely in the middle of the bike and helps you generate traction on loose surfaces. Not only do you feel better physically, you also end that cycle of stress. Instead, you see a place to brake, brake well, then celebrate your awesomeness. Now you’re building a cycle of stoke.


1. Approach your braking spot in a low hinge. Braking consumes arm range. Get as low as you can, with your shoulders as close to the bars as you can get them, while maintaining great body mechanics (see September 2022 issue of Mountain Bike Action).

2. Begin squeezing the brake levers with just your index fingers. Use both levers equally. Apply pressure gradually. Both equally, gradually.

3. There’s a pendulum that hangs from your belly button. It should always drive into the bottom bracket of your bike, ideally, perpendicular to the crankarms. As you increase pressure on the brake levers and begin to decelerate, your personal pendulum swings forward. When you’re static and the force drives in front of the bottom bracket, the rear end skids and you get pushed onto (or over) the bars. In this drill, when your pendulum swings forward, rotate your body backward around the bottom bracket by extending your arms. Rotate everything—cranks, pedals, feet, hips, torso, earlobes—backward. This keeps the sum of gravity and braking forces in your feet where it belongs.

4. Pass through a moment of maximum braking pressure and lean-backness, then gradually release lever pressure and return to your low hinge directly above the bottom bracket. Now you’re ready to carve that corner or dive into that steep rock garden.

Tension is the enemy of fluidity, and it’s the enemy of fun. Rather than adopting a braking position, strive for a fluid cycle. Gradually increase pressure. Brake hard, then gradually release pressure and return to normal.

Doing it wrong: Straight legs while braking raises your center of gravity, reducing control and increasing upper body fatigue.


Advanced turbo bonus!

When the above drill is consistently yummy, it’s time to actively load your bike to increase downforce and traction. Traction is not finite. It’s theoretically infinite; the only limit is your ability to apply pressure to your feet.

To generate braking traction, while you approach your braking spot, move up and down between your high and low hinge. All loading and unloading should come from your hips. Your hands should stay weightless at all times.

This is like bouncing on a trampoline. It creates a wavelike cycle of heaviness and lightness. All great riders do this. They might not be able to articulate why, but they’re cultivating oscillation. Once that’s running, it’s easy to plug heaviness into braking and cornering, and lightness into hopping over rocks and such.

Get your little porpoise-like bounce going—heavy/light, heavy/light, heavy. As you enter a heavy phase, gradually squeeze the levers and rotate your body back to keep the force in your feet. This is just like the above drill, but you’re adding load. Your hands should remain weightless, but your feet might feel two times, three times, heck, even five times your bodyweight. That increases traction by two times, three times or five times.

Imagine leaving the world of traction scarcity and entering the world of traction abundance! When you see some loose gravel, instead of getting more timid and more endangered, you get more aggressive and safer! And faster, too.

Have fun out there!

Editor’s note: Lee McCormack is a world-renowned MTB skills author and instructor, as well as inventor of the RipRow training tool and the RideLogic bike-fit and skills-training system. He and his team train people in person, over Zoom and via his online MTB school. Enjoy a free month at the Lee Likes Bikes MTB School at with the code “MBAbrake.” You can see this and many other skills with demo videos. Learn more at

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