Three Simple Tips For Better Braking

Three Tips For Better Braking

By Lee McCormack

Hips back, shoulders down, balanced on the feet. With good braking form, you can work your way down most any trail. Photo by YannPhotoVideo.com

Braking is a funny skill. The worse you are at it, the more braking you do and the worse your riding feels.

While you’re squeezing your brakes, your wheels can’t spin freely. When you brake while riding in rocks, your front tire is likely to hang up and pitch you forward. When you brake in turns, your wheels are likely to wash out and put you down.

Based on my work teaching riding skills to thousands of mountain bikers, I will assume that you:

• Don’t know how to brake correctly. Sometimes your rear tire skids, and once in a while you get thrown over the bars.

• Brake too much and in the wrong places. You drag your brakes down long downhills, and you panic and grab them in turns (oops, over the bars you go).

• Might have low confidence. You worry about controlling your speed. And, you worry about going over your bars, which you should.

These issues can be fixed!

1. Learn how to brake

When you drive your weight into your bottom bracket, perpendicular to your cranks, both wheels will get plenty of traction and the rear won’t skid out of control.

The key to braking, and really all riding skills, is balance. Imagine a pendulum that hangs from your belly button and runs directly through your bike’s bottom bracket, perpendicular to your cranks. As long as your weight is pressing into the middle of the bike, your wheels are both weighted and you have great braking control, you cannot be thrown over the bars.

• Approach your braking point in a low hinge. Butt back, shoulders down. Weightless hands.

• Gradually squeeze both levers. Gradually and both. While your pendulum starts to swing forward, rotate your entire body—from the cranks up, down and back. This aims your pendulum safely at your bottom bracket instead of unsafely at the front tire.

• Drop your heels. This is key. Drop your heels so the combined force of gravity and braking presses into your pedals. You know you’re doing this right when your hands stay weightless.

• Brake hard. Really slow down.

• Gradually release your brakes and return to your starting position. The entire sequence should be smooth and round, like a wave of deceleration love.

2. Brake at smart times

If the question is, “When should I brake?” a good answer is, “Whenever you feel like you’re going too fast.” An even better answer is, “Before you feel like you’re going too fast.”

• Brake before turns. How many times have you panicked in a turn then grabbed a fistful of Shimano? Yeah, I know, me too. You must enter turns at a speed that gives you confidence and physical control. Slow way down before you turn. Slow down so much there’s no apprehension, and there’s zero chance you’ll panic and seize the levers.

• Brake before gnarly sections. If you want to ride rollers, rocks, logs, roots, water bars and the like, well, you need to ride them at a speed you can handle. Slow way down. Slow down so much there’s no chance you’ll panic and jam on your brakes. If you can’t slow down enough to ride with complete confidence, walk the section.

• Don’t brake in braking bumps. Braking bumps are caused by thousands of riders all braking in the same places—generally before turns—and, wow, they beat you up and make your bike hard to control.

Option 1: Ride around the bumps.

Option 2: Brake before the bumps, then coast through them.

Option 3: Skim across the bumps at full speed, then brake after them. There’s often space between the last braking bump and the beginning of the turn.

3. Build confidence

When your inner lizard brain trusts that you know how to brake well and that you have the judgment to brake in smart places, it’s less likely to tell you to drag your brakes for extended periods. With confidence, you won’t grab the brakes in the middle of turns and technical sections.

The key to building confidence is focused practice:

•Find a smooth area with good traction. Pavement and packed dirt work well.

•Get up to speed in your low, hinged, ready position.

•Squeeze both brake levers gradually.

The more confidence you have in your braking ability, the more you can let your bike run in technical sections. You and your bike will be happier this way. Photo by YannPhotoVideo.com

•As your weight pitches forward, rotate your body down and back so all the energy goes into your feet.

•Gradually release the brakes as you return to your ready position.

•As you get the hang of this, brake harder and harder and in increasingly shorter stopping distances.

Practice great braking techniques around your neighborhood or at the trailhead before rides. The better you get at braking, the less braking you’ll do and the better your riding will feel.

Have fun out there!


Editor’s note: Lee McCormack is a world-renowned mountain bike skills author and instructor who has worked with thousands of riders of all styles and levels. You can learn way more from his books, online school and classes. Check them out at www.leelikesbikes.com.


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