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Mountain Bike Braking, it is Still Riding! How not to Die on Your MTB!

Wow, the dangerous concepts well meaning people and unqualified coaches share with other riders! Mountain bike braking happens while riding you bike! That means the same body position that puts you in control and in balance while riding should be used while braking too! We stress being in a balanced, centered and neutral position while descending and we need to maintain that while braking. As a matter of fact, because of braking forces (remember the brakes on our light weight bike, not our much heavier body) it is even more important to stay balanced, centered and neutral while braking.

Mountain Bike Braking

This poster is terrifying! Mountain Bike Braking and riding should not look like this!

Since applying our brakes slows the bike but not necessarily our body we have to stay centered to keep from being pitched forward! If we get our weight back or as some coaches say, “use your butt as the third brake” we end up in an off balance, non-neutral position setting us up for a host of bad things to happen to us. Think about why you brake while riding, usually one or a combination of three things; you are approaching a corner and need to slow down, you are approaching a more difficult section of trail (such as a steeper or rockier section) and want to slow down to feel more in control or you need to stop, sometimes in a hurry! Do you want to be in the position in the photo as you enter a corner or a tougher section of trail? Not if you want to live to ride again tomorrow! Remember the video tutorial/blog post on descending body position?  If not or for a refresher click this link:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

Here is just the video but please go the blog post and read more about the why’s and how’s of doing this.

Well that getting “yanked down” effect from your straight arms will be multiplied by your weight wanting to keep going forward as your bike slows and you will get pitched over the bars, with authority! A high school mtb coach I know took the “butt is your third brake advice” and broke is collarbone as he was braking and his front wheel went down a 20 inch ledge on semi-steep descent. Had he stayed centered and neutral he would have been fine!

Almost as bad as flipping over is having your front wheel slide out! There is little to no weight on your front tire if your butt is back over the rear tire so it has little to no traction! Not only is there no weight on the front tire you are probably a little out of balance which could cause your front wheel to slide to one side and your chest to violently hit the ground on the other side. This why many people are afraid of their front brake, sliding front tires are scary!

Lastly, with all your weight over the rear tire you are minimizing the weight on the front tire, thereby reducing the effectiveness of your POWERFUL front brake! You plain can’t stop in as short a distance with your weight back as you can when you are centered.

How to stay centered and neutral while braking:

1. First master riding in the centered and neutral position (in the video tutorial linked above and taught much more deeply in our skills progressions).

2. Ride in the centered and neutral position and when braking stay there! Do this by fighting your body’s forward motion. Do this by “sinking into your bike” drop your rear end and chest to lower your centered of gravity, dropping your heels so you can push against the pedal spindles and using the “heel” of your hands to push against the bars to resist the forward motion of your body. Having a dropper post really helps you do this by getting that darn seat out of your way.

3. Review the braking part of our free mini-course and remember that your front brake is 70-100% of your stopping power. Use that front brake, become friends with it! Do the braking drill from the mini-course and learn how much pressure you can apply to each brake and learn to modulate those brakes.

4. Look at the “Bad Clinic” photo above and then watch World Cup Downhill racing on Redbull dot com and watch to see if you can find Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Steve Peat in that position before any steep rocky section or corner. You won’t find them in that position as you can’t even qualify much less win a World Cup if you are riding out of balance like that.

Mountain bike braking is all about staying balanced, centered and neutral. We do need to fight the forward motion of our body but we do that by resisting, not by getting our weight back! Go out and enjoy a more in balance and in control ride!

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  1. dave says:

    We did drills on braking where we changed position as you described, sinking down on the bike to balance the force of braking. As a check I was taught to keep a light touch on the grips to make sure none of my weight was being applied to the bars during braking, staying centered in the “gorilla” position, elbows up and in control of steering input.

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