Brakes & Braking

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Make good use of your front brake, it is far more effective at slowing you down than the back brake. But you already know how easy it is to skid the back wheel and how much harder it is to flip over the handlebars right? So you know this already!

How Much front brake, how much rear?

On a dry flat road to stop quickly you should be using about 70% front brake and 30% rear. No, you won’t flip over the bars – you have to try quite hard to do that. You won’t loose the front either, not in the dry.

When it is wet you need to be about 50-50 with the brakes, and accept that it’ll take longer to stop. If you use too much front in the wet, or jab the brake to sharply then you could lose the front, typically ending with an unpleasant taste of tarmac.

Worried about going over the bars when going down hill? Push your weight back. Even to the point of hanging your bum off the back of your seat. Your front brake is still your best stopper.

When is the front brake a bad idea?

Slippery surfaces - gravel, frost, ice, wet, etc.

Cornering.

Worse still both together.

So for winter or wet riding, try to do your braking in a straight line, before a corner. And if you need to use the brakes mid corner, use the back. You’ve got a chance of controlling a rear wheel slide, but not much if the front goes.

Squeeze, be hard, be firm but don’t yank

When you use your brakes you should be squeezing the lever like you squeeze a woman, be firm, hold tight and squeeze. Don’t grasp at the lever with a big yank and expect a favorable response. You want to feel the brakes, to feel the tyre gripping the road, to feel whats going on beneath your finger tips…

Back to the brakes, try yanking the rear brake on, the back wheel skids? Next try it again but this time release when the back wheel locks and re-apply.

If you feel brave, or have a mountain bike to play with then try doing the same with the front brake – find a loose surface, wet grass is good (and soft), or dirt and then play with locking the front; its surprisingly easy to lock, release and retain control.

Practice in safe environments, and preferably on an old (or childs) mountain bike.

Some Science

When you apply the brakes your weight is pitched forwards. Same as in a car where the nose dives. This puts more weight on the front tyre, and less on the rear. More weight on the tyre = more grip. So when you are braking the front tyre actually has more traction than the rear and that’s why you can use the front brake harder. It’s that simple.

Advanced Techniques

The Stoppie. This is where you come to a halt with the rear wheel in the air. Not recommended on road bikes especially not carbon bikes. The technique is to get to an almost stop and then jab the front brake. Make sure you are going in a straight line. The back will lift as though it will pitch you over the bars. If the back wheel is too high then just release the front brake to save face, quite literally.

The Rolling Stoppie, as above, with more speed and without locking the brakes. 

The Spin Turn. Similar to the stoppie but once the back wheel starts to rise flick the bike round with your body, pivoting on the front wheel. Then release the front brake when you’re point in the right direction and immediately set off with a wheelie as a final flourish, all without taking your feet off the pedals.

Better go put the Corby trouser press back together now…

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