Understanding how to use the 2 brake levers on your handlebars is one of the most crucial skills you can develop as a cyclist. Perfecting your braking will improve your safety on the biking trips. Also, ironically, it will allow you to ride much faster while remaining in complete control.
Braking involves more than just pulling the brake levers on impulse. By showing you how to brake on a bike, we hope to help you slow down and stop much more efficiently. Not just ideal for racing roadies, our tips on how to use bike brakes are worthwhile for anyone on two wheels.
Expert Tips on How to Brake on a Bike
1. Understand Your Brake Levers
To brake efficiently, you need to understand which brake lever works with which bike wheel. If your bike is manufactured in the United States, the lever on your left hand will control the front brake while the right-hand lever will control the rear brake. According to the British Standards, the brake lever for the front brake will be on the right-hand side of your bike handlebars while the rear brake lever will be on the left-hand side.
Unless you have had your MTB brakes tinkered with, or you have a modified mountain bike, the above should be the standard set up. The best way to understand the brake levers is to test them regularly before your bikepacking trip. This should create muscle memory.
To brake efficiently, the rear wheel brake is there to shave off speed while the front brake is there to stop you. Approximately 70 to 80% of the stopping power comes from your front brake. This leaves 20 to 30% for the back brake.
If you are worried about stopping with the front brake and flying over your road bike handlebars, chances are, you do not know how to use bike brakes. With good technique, this should not happen. The tips that follow should help you use the right technique.
When to Use the Rear Brake for Stopping
As noted above, the front brake is the ideal option for stopping. However, in some unavoidable circumstances, stopping with the rear brake becomes necessary. Below, we have outlined the instances when the rear brake is preferred:
- Slippery surfaces – On a dry pavement – unless you are leaning in a turn – it is impossible to skid your front wheel. On slippery surfaces, however, the front wheel can skid. Almost always, a front-wheel skid leads to a fall. For this reason, if there is a high risk of skidding, you will be better off controlling your speed – or stopping – using the rear brake.
- Bumpy Surfaces – On rough surfaces, the bike wheels can bounce into the air. If there is a chance of this happening, avoid using the front brake to stop. If you ride into a bump while applying your front brake, your bike will have a hard time mounting the bump. If you pull the front brake lever while your wheel is airborne, it will stop – coming down on a stopped front wheel places you at the risk of a hard fall.
- Front flat – If you happen to have a tire blowout or an unexpected flat on your front wheel, you should use the rear brake alone to bring the bike to a safe stop. Braking on a wheel featuring a deflated tire can cause your tire to come off the rim – this can lead to a crash.
- Broken cable – If the cable for the front wheel brake is broken, you can’t use the brake to stop. If you are using a hydraulic braking system, it may also have a failure that makes it inoperable. In either situation, your rear brake will be the best option.
2. Push Your Weight Back
As you pull the brake levers and your road bike slows down, your body weight shifts forward over the bike’s front wheel – even if you are braking using both brakes, this will put all the braking power on your front brake. This can make it harder to control the bike and stop effectively. Push your body weight back as you brake – this helps you keep the weight on the rear wheel, evening out the braking forces.
In a situation where you have to brake hard – for example, when you are moving at high speed and need to stop quickly – moving your weight back prevents you from going end over end. The faster you need to brake, the more you will have to push your body weight back.
If necessary, you can throw your butt behind the saddle while keeping your stomach on the bike seat. This can make a significant difference in both control and braking power.
To practice pushing your weight back, do some emergency stops in a grass field or parking lot. Get up some speed, put both hands in your handlebar’s drops, straighten the arms, and push your body weight behind your saddle while braking hard using both hands. Stay low on your bike.
3. Try to Stay Off Brakes in Turns
Most riders who are learning how to brake on a bike make mistakes when negotiating turns. Ideally, you should scrub enough speed before your turn so that you won’t have to hit the brakes in the turn.
Approach the turn with both hands in the drops – this keeps your center of gravity low and gives you better braking leverage, improving the bike control. Shift your weight back and apply even pressure on your brake levers. On the turn, release the brakes, and carry a manageable amount of speed through your turn.
Life is not always ideal and you may find yourself coming in too hot and need to reduce your speed in the turn. If this is the case, use a very light touch on your rear brake lever. Braking too quickly in a turn tends to be a recipe for hitting the ground.
Hitting the brakes in a turn causes the bike to sit upright – this is the last thing any rider would want in a corner. Even worse, it can cause your bike to lose traction. For these reasons, only pull the brake levers when it is necessary.
4. Always Relax
Part of learning how to use bike brakes effectively is understanding the importance of relaxing. If your shoulders and arms are tense as you hit the brakes, your body can’t absorb the stopping forces. These forces will, therefore, go into the hands, causing the hands to close, and for you to pull the lever, braking harder than intended. This makes it extremely difficult for the rider to maintain control over the hardtail mountain bike.
When braking, keep your shoulders loose, elbows bent, and relax your grip on the MTB handlebars. This will allow you to modulate the bike speed with the suppleness you need to maintain control and maneuver around obstacles.
5. Be Extra Careful In Wet Lands
Even if this is the first time you are learning how to brake on a bike, you probably know that braking on wet areas is usually harder. It can take approximately 3 times as long to stop your bike on wet as on dry pavement.
In the wet, bike tires have less traction, so you will need an even lighter touch on the brake levers when you brake. Because it is harder to stop on wet pavements, beginning bike riders tend to pull the brake levers too hard, too late. This can lock up the bike wheels, sending you into a skid – you may even end up crashing.
Scrub speed by lightly feathering the brake levers. If it is very slick, you will need to apply more pressure – when doing this, err on the side of pulling your rear brake lever to keep your front from locking up. It is possible to save a rear-wheel skid – you can even put a foot down – but once your front wheel locks up, you will end up crashing.
6. Install the Right Tires on Your Bike
While this is not exactly part of learning how to use bike brakes, it can help you set yourself up for success. You will have the ability to brake better if you use high-quality bike tires featuring good traction. When choosing your bike tires, err on the side of bigger tires and do not over-inflate the tires.
On the road, experienced cyclists prefer riding 25 to 28C tires. The ideal pressure is generally well under 100psi.
Globo Surf Overview
Used for stopping and controlling a bike, bike brakes are one of the most important components. However, for the brakes to make your ride safer, you need to know how to use them. This guide presents tips on how to brake on a bike.
To understand how to use bike brakes, a lot of practice may be necessary. When practicing, ride your bike in a safe area – for example, avoid areas featuring unexpected turns and downslopes. Before using your brakes, you must ensure that they are well adjusted and tightened. If you use hydraulic brakes, be sure to bleed them to improve their effectiveness.