Learn how to use your brakes like a pro and you may end up going faster!
Words: Jared Rando Images: Damian Breach
The basic elements of braking on a mountain bike are pretty simple – brake early, try not to skid and use both your brakes. Then there’s the golden rule – never take your finger off the brakes! That said, when it comes down to the details, it’s something which is really easy for riders, and especially beginner to intermediate riders, to get wrong. Effective braking is not only important to go fast, but also extremely important to be safe on the bike.
If I’m teaching a novice how to ride, I always start out with the above mentioned points, but a lot of braking effectively also ties in with your setup of the brakes. There’s a lot of personal choice thrown in the mix when it comes to lever reach and throw, but for me there’s one thing I really try to drive home and that’s one finger braking (with your index finger), and ensuring your brakes aren’t set up too low.
A rock climbing friend told me he uses his middle finger to brake because it’s the strongest finger on the hand. I told him I prefer to have my strongest finger holding onto my bars… These days, if you can’t slow down with just your index finger, it’s time to get your brakes checked. Modern brakes are just so powerful and even the most basic brakes should slow you down with one finger. Ultimately though, the preference is yours but here’s some tips which I find useful to slow down fast.
Step 1 – Use your index finger to brake and adjust your levers accordingly
To use your index finger, with most levers, you’ll have to run them fairly far inboard. Make sure your finger rests on the lever comfortably and you have enough of your bar left over to hang onto. Most controls these days have enough range of adjustment to get it right no matter the size of your hand. For the most part I prefer to run my levers fairly close which helps with arm pump – it’s much easier to hold onto something with a closed fist.