How To Brake Your Bike Effectively

With bicycle safety in mind, many cyclists are interested in knowing the skills they need to develop and practice, but braking is often not one of them.

This may seem normal, as there will also be many experienced and inexperienced cyclists who think: how difficult can it be to pull a lever or step on a pedal to stop their bike? 

Well, in reality, effectively braking our bicycle is more complicated than just pulling levers or applying pressure to the pedal. 

If we take the time to learn to brake properly, this technique can work wonders for your riding, giving you more control of the maneuver and actually making you faster on your bike.

As we will already discover, knowing how to make efficient braking will allow us to go faster in the curves, on wet pavement and other types of terrain, having greater safety and control.

Locate the brakes on your bike

In the beginning, in addition to knowing a little about the type and operation of the brakes on our bicycle , it will be good for us to familiarize ourselves with the location of each brake on the levers, controls or brake levers on our bicycle. 

According to the trends in the countries where driving is on the right side, the lever that operates the front brake is left. In countries where you drive on the left side, the tendency is for the front brake to be operated with the right control.

This is not always the rule, so it is always important to check and familiarize yourself with your bike before riding. Once the control of each brake has been identified, the next thing that one should know are the characteristics of each of the brakes.

When we exert the braking action of our bicycle, the force of gravity, our body weight and inertia pull us towards the front of our bicycle, demanding a greater force on the front brake, so the front brake contains around 70% of total stopping power and the rear brake is only about 30%.

Knowing the front brake of your bicycle

Due to the forces that interact when braking, it is the front brake that actually completely stops your bike from moving.

Knowing the rear brake of your bicycle

The rear brake is the one that slows down our bicycle and although we exert all the force on this brake, at most it will block the wheel, causing it to skid, but it will not completely brake our bicycle.

Technique to brake your bike

The most natural thing is to let our instinct or common sense tell us that, to brake our bicycle, the easiest thing is to use both brakes at the same time. This is probably good advice for those beginners who have not learned to use the brakes skillfully or when you are traveling at very low speeds, but once you accumulate kilometers, you know that this is not the best way to stop a bike efficiently in certain circumstances.

Learn to use the front brake of your bicycle

Knowing that the front brake is the one that stops our bicycle, we must bear in mind that if we apply all the pressure to the brake control in a single moment it is very possible that the rear wheel of our bicycle comes off the ground and forces the bike , and us with her, to shoot forward. 

So the best way to master using the front brake is to practice in a safe space, applying both brakes at the same time, putting the greatest force on the front brake, but applying it gradually to prevent the wheel from locking and the bicycle projects us forward.

Keep pedaling while braking, so your legs immediately warn you when the rear wheel starts to spin. And apply the front brake gradually, without applying all the force to the control, because doing so will cause the bike to project you forward.

Once you feel comfortable and confident applying the front brake, also practice releasing the brakes to regain control, until this is an automatic reflex action. That is: at a low speed, apply the brakes with enough force to cause the rear wheel to skid or simply start to lift. When it does, immediately release the brakes to regain control.

Checking the brake power

In the event that you do not know the bicycle or it is a public or shared bike that you are using, test the brakes before full braking. Some brake knobs are more sensitive than others and some brakes are tighter than others, so you know the ranges and pressure required to be able to brake that bike completely safely.

Learn to use the rear brake of your bike

As we now know, the rear brake reduces the speed of our bicycle and it is better to use it to have greater control of certain maneuvers when riding our bicycle. For example:

If there is a risk of skidding from driving on slippery surfaces, in areas with potholes or surfaces with too many irregularities, it is better to apply the rear brake to control the speed at which we travel before applying the front brake and gradually braking.

Like the front brake, here it is also advisable to apply force to the brake controls gradually, unless it is imperative to come to a complete stop, but in the same way, brake force must be applied gradually in order to control the bicycle at all times.

Maximize stopping power by combining both brakes

In general, using both brakes at the same time is not the most effective way to brake. However there are exceptions:

  • If the front brake is not powerful enough to lift the rear wheel. The rear brake can help to stop the bicycle, but it is best to repair the front brake to ensure our safety.
  • In conditions where the road is wet, and because the tires are wet, this action makes the braking less effective, so using both brakes, gradually, can considerably reduce the necessary stopping distances.
  • If the front brake locks or vibrates preventing us from modulating its action, you should only use it lightly and apply more force with the rear.
  • On long, straight descents, the front brake hand can get tired, or you may risk overheating a tire and blowing it up, so it’s best to spread the work between both brakes. Pumping both brakes, alternating between them, will briefly heat the surface of each tire and dissipate more heat before it spreads into the tires. When a sharp deceleration is needed, the front brake is more effective, as usual.
  • In certain cases where you are practicing mountain biking it is also better to apply both brakes, but here you can learn in detail how to use the brakes in mountain biking. 
  • When leaning around a curve, traction is shared between braking and turning. Using both brakes reduces the likelihood that one wheel or the other will slip and lose control. But remember that the more inclined you are, the less you can brake, so moderate your speed before entering a curve. When you are leaning too far, you will need to fully release the brakes to correct your course.
  • Long or low bikes, such as tandems and recumbents with a wide wheelbase, have their front braking limited by the possibility of skidding the front wheel, since their geometry prevents the rear wheel from being raised. Such bikes can stop for shorter distances when both brakes are applied. However, be careful when riding solo in a tandem, as the rear brake becomes practically useless due to the lack of weight to aid traction.

Position your body appropriately during braking

As you apply the brakes and your bike slows down, inertia causes your weight to move forward on the front wheel, putting all the braking power on the front brake. This action makes it more difficult to control the bike, especially when you are going at high speed, making effective braking difficult.

This is why you should move your body weight back while braking your bike to get the front wheel to stay on the ground and even compensate for braking forces.

If you have to brake hard at high speed, this will also prevent you from going towards the front of the bike. The faster you have to brake, the more you have to push your weight back.

You can practice the above in a safe place where you can make some sudden stops. Increase your pedaling speed a little, put your hands on the handlebars with your arms outstretched and as if to brake, direct your weight behind the saddle or seat while braking hard with both hands, keeping your body low on the bike . This way you will notice more easily how the forces work in this action.

Modulates braking according to the type and conditions of the terrain

Regardless of the type of terrain on which you brake, keep your hands, arms and shoulders firm but relaxed to be able to absorb the braking forces properly, and with that, you will also have better control of the bike, which will allow you a better flexibility to handle your body weight and the ability to maneuver around obstacles while maintaining control of the bike during braking.

Anticipate curves to avoid accidents

In curves it is best to keep your body low, brake before entering it and slow down, preferably not touching the brakes while traveling, but especially the front; remember that the rear brake is ideal for slowing down and maneuvering the bike.

Anticipate the curve, brake earlier and slow down, keep your hands on the controls, which will give you better braking response time and keep your center of gravity lower, improving control of your bike. Shift your weight back and apply even pressure on the brakes. Then, getting a speed that you can handle all the way through the curve, release the brakes.

If it is necessary for you to brake fully, remember to apply force gradually with the rear brake and apply the front brake with less force.

Wet floor

In wet conditions, remember that you need more distance to stop, as it can take about three times longer to brake properly, so get ahead of your movements and since your tires will have less traction on wet ground, a lighter touch will be required on the tires. controls when braking to avoid skidding due to wet floor conditions.

Other recommendations to brake your bike effectively

  • Avoid skids, these deplete the life of your tires more quickly, in addition to not slowing the bike and being more difficult to control the bike when you skid.  
  • Maintain your tire pressure as the manufacturer recommends. Although a tire with a little less air has more traction, it also prevents proper braking, just as over-inflating your tire prevents proper braking of our bike
  • Use the covers that are in good condition, that is, they still have a pattern or the rubber is not very worn. 
  • To improve braking power, consider switching to disc or v-brake systems according to the type of riding you are used to and the type of bike you have. 
  • Give periodic maintenance to your brakes and change pads or brake pads (as appropriate) when they are worn. 

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