Brakes 101: How to Stop

Your bike has two brakes, front and rear, but when should you use one versus the other? Turns out, there’s more to braking on a bike than “I always use the rear brake because that’s what I did when I was a kid”. In today’s post, we’ll look at a few scenarios and the best way to brake in each.

Slowing

Going down a small hill, approaching a turn, or just scrubbing off a bit of speed to let a buddy catch up are all situations where you may want to apply the brakes, but don’t really need to stop. In those situations, the rear brake is an awesome tool for lowering the pace. If it’s just a speed change that you’re after, a few pumps of the rear brake will drop the mph to right where you want it.

Stopping

When it's time to stop, it’s time to grab that other lever. The weight of the bike (and you) will shift forward under braking, increasing the traction on the front wheel and “unweighting” the rear. Because of that, it means most of your braking force shifts to the front wheel as well. That’s why it’s so easy to skid the back tire but not the front; grab a handful of rear brake, weight shifts forward, rear wheel loses traction, and you leave a sweet skid mark (but don’t stop very effectively). When you do have to stop, that weight shift will mean your front brake has 90+% of your stopping power, so it’s the one to use when you need to stop rolling.

Some people are a bit afraid of the front brake, but it’s not a lever that will magically flip your bike end over end. In fact, it’s relatively hard to endo just by grabbing the front brake – and nearly impossible if you’re positioned correctly. The key is to keep your weight back on the bike and modulate the front brake to toe the line between “stopping as fast as possible” and “lifting the rear wheel off the ground”. If you do feel the rear wheel coming up, just ease off the brake a bit and it’ll settle back down. After a few minutes of practice, your confidence will be where it needs to be, and you’ll wonder why you avoided the left-lever so much to begin with.

Emergency Stopping

When you just need to stop as fast as possible, both brakes are the way to go. Sure, the rear wheel will have less traction, so you’ll need to modulate both to maximize your stopping power, but using the brakes in tandem is the best way to get your bike stopped in the shortest distance possible. GCN actually made a pretty sweet video illustrating just that.

And now that you know how to stop, you can get busy going! Just don’t be afraid to pull those levers if you see something worth stopping for.