Mountain biking techniques - using the brakes

Mountain biking techniques - using the brakes

Your brakes are a vital component both for controlling your speed and for stopping, so they need to be well-maintained at all times. But even the best brakes need to be used correctly for safe and efficient speed control.

When riding off road you will be braking regularly because of changes in direction, terrain and obstacles. By using good braking technique you will be able to slow down effectively and safely - and actually ride faster.


The front brake actually provides more stopping power but you may need to shift backwards as you brake to avoid being thrown over the handlebars

Before you start any ride:
  • Check that your brakes are in good condition and working order.
  • Brake pads must not be unduly worn and that cables must not be frayed, kinked or damaged.
  • The brakes must be adjusted so that the levers do not touch the handlebars when applied but there should be some 'pull' in the cables so that you can vary the pressure as conditions dictate.
  • If you're riding a new bike for the first time, or borrowing a friend's machine, check which brake lever operates which brake. It may be different to your own bike and note how hard you need to pull them to be effective.
  • If you are not totally happy with braking safely, do not ride fast and get the brakes overhauled. (See also Brake maintenance).
Technique

Using your brakes depends on the surface, gradient and your speed. On smooth tracks which are not steep descents, you can use both brakes without any problems. The front brake actually provides more stopping power and is more effective but you may need to shift your weight backwards as you brake, to avoid being thrown over the handlebars. 

Unlike the front wheel, if the back one slides to the side you are unlikely to fall except in extreme case

On more technical tracks or roads with steep, slippery, or off-camber surfaces, you need to use the front brake more carefully. If the wheel is fighting to grip and you apply the brake too hard, the wheel will slide out and put you on the floor! Brake softly, either by applying a gentle, even, or progressive pressure to the lever, or pump the brake on and off.

The rear brake is less of a concern: if you over brake the rear wheel it will lock up and begin to skid.
This is neither very effective nor do you have full control of the of the bike, but unlike the front wheel, if it slides to the side you are unlikely to fall except in extreme cases. Skidding can also be expensive in worn tyres and off road it causes considerable trail damage which should be avoided at all times. Should you need to brake hard and avoid skidding, keep some of your weight on the saddle and use the pump the brakes on and off to avoid locking the wheel.

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