Knowing when and how to apply your brakes for best results will help you stop safely in all conditions and avoid crashing. (Improperly applying the brakes could actually lead to a crash!)
Braking isn’t that complicated, but you do need to follow some basic advice.
Don’t listen to these people.
Before I give you proper braking advice, I should warn you that you’ll probably get some poor advice about braking from some inexperienced or uneducated cyclists (who might not even be cyclists at all.)
The first piece of poor advice is, “don’t use your front brake, you’ll flip over the handlebars.” This is bad advice because you will definitely need to use your front brake. While it is possible to flip over if you don’t know what you’re doing, it won’t happen to you after reading this article.
The second bit of bad advice is, “the rear brake isn’t that powerful, so don’t bother using it.” This is completely idiotic! You have a rear brake, why the heck wouldn’t you use it?!
Road: Braking on flat ground.
On flat ground, like when coming to stop sign, braking is simple. Apply both brakes equally. Squeeze the levers firmly but smoothly (it’s not a jerking motion on the brake lever) until you come to a stop.
Applying both brakes gives you the shortest stopping distance.
Road: Braking on a downhill.
On a downhill, you will still use both brakes, but with a slightly different technique.
You need to use your front brake, since it provides about 75% of your stopping power. Just make sure to shift your weight as far back as possible over the rear wheel, which will give you better braking and more stability.
The proper technique is to use the brakes intermittently. Do not drag the brakes the whole way down the hill. That could cause the rim to overheat and the tire could blow out. Instead, brake enough to slow down, then coast back up to speed, and apply the brakes again.
Also, to slow your cruising speed, sit upright so your body catches as much wind as possible.
Road: Braking for a corner.
The key here is to brake before the turn. Braking during the turn causes you to lose traction, which will make the turn even more dangerous.
If you must brake during the turn, feather the rear brake only. Never use the front brake during a turn – it’s a good way to crash.
Mountain: Braking on loose terrain.
This applies whether it’s flat ground or a downhill. The difference between being on pavement and off-road on loose terrain is how hard it is to get traction. There’s plenty of traction on the pavement, but off-road, it’s easier for your tires to lose traction.
See, your tires can really only work for anything when they have traction. They can either roll to keep you stable or they can brake to slow you down. Off-road, you need to balance the two, because there isn’t enough traction to go around.
On loose terrain, feather your brakes. You don’t want to lock up your wheels.
You can use both brakes, but only use them when the wheel can get enough traction to make braking useful.
For example, if you’re riding down a hill that is half solid rock and half loose gravel… you’re going to have more traction on the solid rock. So use the brake of whichever wheel is touching the solid rock.
Follow all those tips and you should be stopping safely.