Cycling - Knowledge

How to Brake Properly: Techniques and Tips to Help You Ride Smoothly

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When it comes to riding a bike excellently, it’s truly all about efficiency. If you are able to reduce the wastage with the help of proper positioning of your body on the bike, appropriate pedalling mechanics, selection of the gear, and nutrition, then your overall riding performance as well as experience would improve greatly. If there’s one important aspect related to efficiency that riders tend to overlook it's slamming the brakes appropriately or rather slowing down. Riders often aren’t aware of how to brake properly.

Imagine yourself riding on the city roads and you suddenly see a huge pothole in front of you. Or while you are riding in the countryside there is an uneven stretch of road ahead or perhaps a bridge. These are the situations wherein bike braking could truly save you from an injury. You might actually not experience something as dramatic as the situations mentioned above, but if you are aware of how to brake smoothly, you will be more confident about riding faster.

Follow the proper techniques of bike braking and a few tips and tricks that would prevent you from getting injured. Let’s get started.

How to Use Brakes Efficiently

There’s one thing that you need to understand: the brakes have been designed to help you. When you have taken an interest towards cycling, you must go out there are teach yourself how to brake properly.

Find a quiet spot and begin to cycle. Choose a quiet spot because this is your learning stage and when you are cycling on the roads, there’s no room for mistakes.

Slowly and steadily, start to build up speed and try to stop the cycles using the brakes. Every time you are using the brakes, calculate as to how fast you can actually stop and also the total time that it takes to come to a halt.

Also, notice the feedback of the tyres.

Are they starting to lose grip?

Do the tyres skid a lot?

Are they even stopping you on time?

How long will brake pads last depends on the technique of your riding. If you feel that the tyres aren’t working as efficiently as they should, you might need to visit the bike store and get them checked or changed.

Using the Front Brakes

In situations where the front brakes are slammed with excessive force and the rear wheel almost lifts off, maximum braking happens. In this situation, if you do apply the rear brakes even lightly, it would lead to the skidding of the rear wheel.

While practicing the proper braking technique while cycling, try to apply both the brakes at once but ensure that the maximum effort has been put into the front brakes. As you have applied the brake, continue to pedal. When you do so, your legs would automatically tell you as to when the rear wheel skids.

Don’t just grab the brake levers; instead squeeze them which would enable you to sense it when it happens. Continue to practice harder stops so as to teach yourself the feel of halting really fast.

Using brakes efficiently
Using brakes efficiently (source)

While learning how to brake smoothly, once you have mastered this technique and are finally comfortable with it, practice to release the brakes in order to recover the control.

This should be done until this becomes a reflex action. Also, there are a few people who like to ride bicycles that are fixed-gear. These are the ones in which coasting isn’t permitted. If only the front brakes are used when riding a fixed gear, your legs would in fact automatically tell you as to when you reach the front brake’s maximum braking capacity.

Once you are able to learn this on a fixed gear, you would in fact be able to halt any bicycle by using just the front brakes.

Instances where the Rear Brakes are Used

The front brakes are the most commonly used by cyclists to come to a halt but there are a few situations for which the rear brakes would be the ideal choice.

  • Bumpy Surfaces

When you are riding on uneven and bumpy surfaces, the chances of your bicycle’s wheel bouncing up in the air are quite high. In such situations, usage of the front brakes must be avoided. When you apply the front brakes while going over a bump, the bicycle wouldn’t really be able to mount the uneven surface. Also, while the wheels are in the air and the front brakes are applied, the bicycle would stop and you would come down hard on a front wheel that’s stopped rotating which is something you would want to avoid.

  • Slippery Surfaces

On a well-constructed pavement that’s absolutely dry, it is actually impossible to skid the wheel in front while you are braking unless and until you choose to lean onto a turn. On the other hand, the chances of this happening on a slippery surface are very high. You need to understand that skidding of the front wheel leads to a fall in most of the cases. Therefore, try to have control over your speed with a rear brake if you notice a slippery surface.

  • A Flat Front Tyre

In case your front tyre is flat, the rear brakes must be used alone to bring you to a halt. If you use the front brakes when the tyre is already flat, it would most likely lead to a crash as there are high chances of the front tyre coming off the wheel’s rim.

Situations When Both Brakes need to be used Together

Usually using both the brakes at the same time is avoided but then there are a few situations when this proves to be of a lot of help.

On extended mountain descents, there’s a risk of overheating the tires if the brakes are slammed over and over again or your hands might get tired. Therefore, it would be best to work back and forth between the front and rear brakes. When you alternate between the two brakes, it would heat the surface of each of the rim for a short period of time and this would dissipate the heat before it tends to spread towards the inside of the tyres.

Check out Mountain Biking Skills - Gear up for Descending Hills

If the front brake isn’t powerful enough to efficiently lift the back wheels, you can apply the rear brakes. However, getting the front brakes repaired would be the most ideal solution.

When you lean onto a turn, the traction is split between turning and braking.  Using both of the brakes together can alleviate the chances of either of the wheel dumping you. You would be able to brake less if you lean steeply.

Therefore, it is essential to have control over your speed before you turn. Let go of the brakes completely when you lean deeply.

Using both brakes
Using both brakes

How hard can the brakes be slammed?

Brakes can be slammed really hard and to be able to make it to the shortest halting distance, the front brake lever would have to be pulled as hard as you possibly can. The hydraulic disc brakes do need lesser amount of force but when it comes to the rim brakes, the lever does have to be pulled hard.

Things to Avoid

There are a few things that you would want avoid when learning how to brake properly.

Excessive weight or Pressure on the Pedal: A lot of people tend to lean onto the pedal with the entire weight of their leg. This happens naturally or rather unintentionally but while you are riding, take care of this and avoid it as much as you can.

Stomping: Okay! We do understand that stomping might be the most difficult thing to avoid in case a sudden situation shows up. Such situations might just require you to brake quickly but in case it is a situation that you are aware of, the pivot method would prove to be a more efficient method than just slamming the pedals.

Key Things to Remember

  • When you are riding in a group, you need to be aware about the people who are riding with you. If you need to use the brakes, apply just slight inputs.

  • Regardless of where you are, on the drops or on the hoods, always use a finger so as to cover the brakes. A lot of brakes these days require the pressure of just two fingers to make you halt.

  • In case you are near a corner and are learning how to brake properly, you would need to ensure that you have applied the brakes before you have made the turn. This way you would be able to glide smoothly and then as you make it to the other side, gain speed again.

  • The mindfulness regarding the amount of brake that needs to be applied in a certain situation and having a very light grip on the bars does contribute to proper braking technique while cycling.

  • In case you are travelling downhill, you can try to use your body similar to an air brake. This can easily be done by sitting directly upright and then putting your body in the direction of the wind.

  • Use the rear brakes and leave the brakes at the front in case you are required to apply brakes on road surfaces. This would to a certain extent reduce your chances of hitting the deck.

Whatever you do, remember to keep your fingers ready and turn smartly. When you have your fingers resting on the brake levers, you can make emergency stops whenever necessary. Also, master the emergency braking technique. This would build your overall confidence and you would be able to ride smoothly.

Cover image source!

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