how to brake on a mountain bike

How To Brake on a Mountain Bike (supplement to our mini-course)

How to brake on a mountain bike is a very misunderstood subject and I received this great question from a newsletter reader: ”Going down an incline brings up a question. As I’ve seen stated before, it is suggested to apply 80 – 90% front brake going down a hill. (Keep in mind I’m almost 63 and only MTB a few times a year).

Anyhow……while going down a slope with a curve, a drop off on the left, heading toward a narrow bridge crossing a creek. Favoring my front brake I came upon a very small root crossing the trail. This caused the front wheel to lock or catch suddenly on the root. Which also happens on trails with massive mazes of roots coming out of the base of trees covering the trail. Thank God I release the front and relied on the rear brake to keep a slower speed. Thus, the question to you is….explain the importance and how to use the front brake vs the rear as I often see stated.
When I was little, too much front wheel braking would cause the front wheel to lock and the front would slide out sideways, if the area was wet, sandy, loose dirt or gravel, etc….
Thanks!!”
Great question Dan. I love to hear from riders who are picking up sports like mountain biking later in life! This is the problem when “tips” are substituted for actual coaching, there are so many variables in mountain biking (like the root you hit) that you can rarely say, “always do this …..”. This a great example as we cover many of the most common variables like roots, off-camber, rough and loose conditions while braking in our skills progression mountain bike camps. We teach you the how, why and when, demonstrate them, have you do them then give you drills so eventually (with enough structured drill time) these skills become automatic. Impossible to do with the written word (although your question has made me feel I might be able to write the braking part of the mini-course a little better).

We brake for either of two main reasons, to cut speed or to maintain speed (not accelerate). When cutting speed the front brake does most of the work. Where we cut speed is very important, we only cut speed in a straight line, on-camber and where the surface is smooth and has good traction. As 3 time world champion Greg Minnaar has said in our camps, “don’t brake on off-camber and don’t brake on roots.”. Which means all braking happens before or after off-camber or roots. You did the right thing in letting go of your front brake on that root! Had you let go of both brakes before the root it (the root) would have had little to no effect on your trajectory. Few skills are isolated, there are a lot of important vision and body position skills that allow us to brake more efficiently and safer too. For instance in the first part of our mini-course you read about being centered with all of your weight on your pedals, this is really important when braking because if you shift your weight back the front brake can skid instead of hooking up and slowing you down (and if going off a small ledge braking with your weight back can cause you to endo as you will get pitched forward as your arms, hands and chest are yanked down the ledge). See article, Mountain Bike Descending body position 101, video demonstration:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

When our goal isn’t to cut speed but simply not speed up and we are descending a mellow to medium pitch hill using just the rear brake will often be enough to keep us from speeding up (“dragging” the rear brake). There are a few pros (it can keep your speed at a comfortable level, keeping you relaxed, and a few other reasons) and cons (it can break traction and slide sideways, your rear wheel will smack into a bump instead of gently rolling over them and many more reasons) to doing this but again, hard to explain with just the written word. On steeper hills the rear brake alone will not provide enough power to not slowly accelerate so on steep hills you will be using both brakes to simply maintain your speed. The photo below is an example of a steep hill on a cross country trail in Whistler that you must stay centered and use a massive amount of front brake on,  just to get down it! (the scary thing is you have to release the front brake for a second for the off-camber left turn he is about to make which about doubles your speed! Then get on that front brake hard!)

mountain bike braking

Shawn Neer staying centered and using a lot of front brake!

Riding a mountain bike in balance and in control on dirt, rocks and roots, up and down steep and often slippery surfaces is rather complicated. Riding a bike in balance and in control on easy trails or on pavement is also complicated, the difference is when the conditions are easy (on pavement or easy trails) you don’t need much skill and can get away with doing a lot of things wrong. This often gives riders a false sense of competence that gets them scared or hurt when they try more challenging trails! Knowing what to do and even knowing how and why to do something are NOT the same as being able to consistently do something! Being able to do something effortlessly without thought requires a high volume of quality practice (usually in the form of drills designed to make something you know but currently have to think about turn into an unconscious habit). This is true in all physical endeavors, sport, music and art and the only way to truly reach your own potential.

A quick recap of the main new braking concepts (not addressed in our mini-course): 1. Only brake to slow down in a straight line 2. Never brake over roots or on off-camber, brake before or after! 3. Stay centered with weight on the pedals while braking. 4.

I hope this has helped. Good luck with your riding and have fun out there. For inspiration I have attached a photograph of our oldest student, Fred Schmid. In the photograph he has just finished the Leadville 100 in 13 hours and 9 minutes, at 81! The year before he finished in under 12 hours!

Mountain bike racer Fred

Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race this year!

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

 

 

 

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Why Do You Treat Your Mountain Bike Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Why do you treat your mountain bike, car and house better than you treat yourself? To mountain bike at your best don’t you need to have your body functioning perfectly?  I had the pleasure of training and working with our newest BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell this weekend and he made a comment that really resonated with me! We were explaining to our students the importance of taking care of our bodies as mountain biking alone is terrible for us physically (muscles imbalances, tight IT bands, over use injuries, twisting of our legs and core as 99% of us favor a forward foot, etc. (see article, “Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?”  http://wp.me/p49ApH-J9 ) when Brian mentioned something his massage therapist or Chiropractor had asked him. His body worker asked, “How much time do you spend working on your mountain bike, cleaning it, making sure it shifts right, the brakes are working properly, the tires have the right pressure, the suspension is working correctly, etc.?” To which Brian replied, “at least two to three hours a week.” Then he said, “Wow, you love your bike more than yourself. I mean, you certainly spend much more time fine tuning your bike than you do your body!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Long time student and now BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

So why do you spend more time making sure your bike works properly than making sure your body works properly? My guess, if you are like I was, is that is feels decedent to “treat yourself” to a deep tissue massage, physical therapy or chiropractor visit.  Society seems to think that a new car every four to five years, a bigger house, marble counter tops, 70″ TV’s and $10,000 bicycles are fine things to spend our money and time on but if we spend money and time on improving ourselves we are being wasteful or extravagant. Not sure why this is but you might want to reevaluate your thinking if you feel that way. Your body is the most important bike “component” so make sure it is functioning at it’s best! Make taking care of yourself a priority!

This goes for how you fuel your body too! It saddens me to think people spend extra for high octane fuel for their automobiles but eat pesticide laden non-organic apples, heavily processed foods and junk that your body can not even convert to fuel. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet start fueling yourself with high octane “whole foods” and treat your body like the fine tuned machine it can and should be.

 

 

BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton's first mountain bike

Rigid Mountain Bikes Are Better To Learn On? Another MTB Myth?

I read an article last week that claimed that rigid mountain bikes are the best bikes to learn on. I couldn’t disagree a more! While I agree that it is amusing to see riders who are struggling to ride sections of trail on their $10,000 carbon full suspension bikes with carbon wheel sets that cost $2,800 I don’t agree that a rigid bike some how “teaches” you to be a better rider. I bought my first mtb in 1989 and it was fully rigid and I had a blast on that bike! Unfortunately, a bike can’t teach you anything and just riding a bike (without the knowledge of correct skills and drills to practice those skills) tends to get you better at your instincts (which are old, hunter gather type instincts, mtbs have not been around long enough for us to be born with mtb instincts. Read more

corneringontrail-1

Mountain Bike Your Best in 2014! Starting Right Now

As the 2013 MTB season is winding down (for many of us) it is time to prepare for next season. If you are serious about becoming the best mountain bike rider or racer you can be now is the time to act. All the knowledge in the world is worthless without action. Below is an abbreviated version of the questionnaire I use with our full-time athletes to evaluate their season and design their training program for the next racing season.  Use this to evaluate your riding “performance” in 2013 and help plan an even better 2014!
Read more