Braking: The Rules

Being a smart stopper not only keeps you safe, it also makes you faster


Posted: 23 November 2009
by Alex Stieda

Good bike-riding is all about efficiency. If you reduce waste through proper pedalling mechanics, body position, nutrition, gear selection and even breathing, you will improve your overall performance on the road. One aspect of efficiency that's often overlooked is slowing down. By learning to break skilfully, you'll be able to avoid accidents and also to improve efficiency and save precious energy for the times you need it. Here are some essential techniques.

Fingers ready

Any time there's a wheel in front of you, rest your fingers on the brake levers. This way, you'll be able to brake quickly and minor slowdowns won't develop into emergency-stop situations while your hands search for the brakes. 

Keep it equal

In 99 per cent of braking situations, you should apply pressure evenly to each brake lever so that both wheels share the load. This will help you maintain stability and control. Practise on a grass field, sprinting up to speed then slowing as fast as you can without skidding. You'll need to modulate your finger pressure on each brake lever to prevent either wheel from skidding. 

Turn smart

Always brake before a turn. As you near the curve, apply equal pressure to the brakes to reach a manageable speed, and then release the levers before you begin the turn to let your speed carry you through. Braking in a turn wreaks havoc on momentum, but if it's necessary for safety, use the rear brake only, because a front-wheel skid guarantees a crash. Skidding the rear wheel will certainly raise your heart rate, but it will still allow you to steer out of trouble. 

Learn to stop hard

When you master the emergency stop you'll have greater overall stopping confidence because you'll know this move is there when you need it. For more braking power, put your hands in the drops on the handlebars. Then, for added stability, push your weight back behind the saddle by shifting your bottom and straightening your arms. Practise on the grass, with a goal of not skidding. Remember: fresh brake pads will greatly increase your stopping performance so replace them regularly. 

After you master these techniques, you'll be able to anticipate - a key skill for every triathlete, from beginner to world champion. When you anticipate that the rider in front of you is going to swerve,
for example, you won't overreact by immediately slamming on the brakes. In many cases, continuing to pedal while braking lightly will get you out of trouble. The overall effect? You won't be a human yo-yo - braking hard, accelerating to regain momentum and wasting energy in the process.


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