It’s my opinion that braking is probably the most important mountain biking skill to master and also the most widely misunderstood skill. Without completely understanding and executing this skill well, you will not reach your full potential as a mountain biker.
The first big thing to understand is that performance braking happens through the feet and not through the hands, unless of course you’re doing a nose wheelie( stoppie). The second big point is that 75% to 100% of the stopping power comes from the front brake. The steeper it gets, the more the front brake comes into play. The next thing to integrate into ones braking is light touch. Think of applying the brakes like a dimmer switch. Don’t pulsate the brakes! Pulsating jostles your body back and forth which adversely effects your fluidity, balance and traction.
The handlebars are simply a convenient place to mount the brake levers and generally should not be used to brace yourself against the braking force.It’s more effective to brace behind the leading pedal( your forward foot) as your pedals are now level to the ground, driving the braking force through your heel of the leading foot into the ground.
As soon as you start doing this, the feeling of going over the handlebars will dissipate.
While applying both brakes simultaneously, slow the wheels down to just before the tires start to skid. As soon as the tires lose traction you’ve gone too far, so lighten up a bit on the brake lever. With conscious practice this will start to become second nature.
The lower you can get your body, the better your performance braking will be. Think of the consequences of standing tall while braking, you’d have the feeling of going over the bars, so get your torso down low with your pedals level to the ground and your weight on your feet.
Moving your hips back AS you initiate braking and not beforehand in anticipation of braking. Moving back prematurely makes the front wheel light which reduces the potential stopping force you’re able to get with the front tire.
Move back against the braking force. Coming back to neutral (middle of the bike) each time you let off the brakes.
Dropping your heels as you brake is an integral part of the process too. Without dropping the heels you will automatically be using your handlers to brace yourself which puts the braking force too high on the bike. Moving your hips backwards while dropping the heel on the leading foot puts you behind the pedals, this allows you to brace yourself behind the pedal. Think of braking as a tug of war where the rope is attached to your body’s center (your belly button). Driving the hips back with the heel dropped, putting as little pressure on the handlebars as possible, drives the braking force down through your feet.This virtually eliminates the dreaded endo, while shortening your stopping distance tremendously.
Properly applying this technique will dramatically increase your your overall speed and safety on any given section of trail where braking is necessary.
To learn more about mastering your braking skills, check out my new Core Four Clinics I am putting on starting in Flagstaff, AZ this summer.
Photo Credit: Aeon Jones
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