Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Braking Tips

* Use your front brake more. Using too much rear causes it to lock and skid, which rips up the lovely trail and reduces your control. (On the right surface, experienced riders can skid in control. Then it's called a technique. For you, it's a mistake.)

* Once your rubber skids you can't brake any harder. It's more efficient if you can keep applying braking force to a spinning wheel - this is why so many new car owners want anti-lock braking systems. You don't have that fancy system on your mountain bike but you can emulate it by using a series of quick, tiny micro-braking actions. It's called feathering or stuttering.

* "When I hear that a solid, hard feel on the brake lever equals stopping power, I want to scream. Walk into Joe's Bike Shop and squeeze the brake levers on a showroom bike. Hard as a rock, right? If it hurts your hand, it must be powerful, right? Not!. Looking for maximum resistance at the lever is like climbing hills in your highest gear. More resistance is not better. Leverage is what it's all about. To get more leverage you must set up your brakes to have more travel at the lever, which turns into greater leverage at the rim. That's where it really needs to happen. And if you want to know why it seems easier to lock your wheel with a firmer-feeling lever, that's because the power comes on more abruptly. But sudden power application with no modulation or control of traction isn't good braking! "-Wayne Lumpkin, creator of Avid brakes and Fevers

* A major cause of poor brake performance is pad residue on your rims. Clean with steel wool.

* About 70 percent of your braking power comes from the front brake. That leaves 30 percent on the back. But these figures change radically as conditions do. Muddy stuff decreases your rear stopping power more than it wipes out your front. And you can change how much braking power you get at either wheel by shifting your weight forward or backward.

* Find a favourite hand position. Most riders put their index and middle finger on the brake levers, and wrap the others around the handlebar. Some riders brake with only their index fingers. There are other configurations, but find the one that feels secure and doesn’t fatigue your fingers.

* The number of fingers on the brake lever should change depending on the terrain. It has to do with how much handlebar control you need balanced with how much force your braking might require. A handy rule to remember is 'Brake hard where the ground is hard, and soft where the ground is soft."

* Brake with your entire bike. Your levers and cantilevers are only the most obvious parts of your stopping system. Do this: To increase control and power, it can help to grip the seat with your quads or move your weight back as you brake. Try scrubbing off speed by running up banks or curving turns. Just as good mountain bikers use all of their bikes and bodies to steer, they go beyond fingers when it comes to stopping, too. Watch them and experiment.

* Don't use your brakes only when you want to slow. Good braking is about control, and sometimes it can even help you build speed. Just try alternating squeezes and releases on your next long descent. Lay off the brakes sooner than usual coming out of a corner. Notice the control it gives you? The surges of speed? This is the hidden power of brakes. They do more than stop you. They help you master your movement.

* High-performance braking comes at the maximum braking point. Right before you start to skid-not too soon before, and definitely not after. Why shouldn’t you brake earlier? Because you scrub off too much speed. Why not later? Because locking up the brakes is inefficient and mean to tender trails.

* Think of braking as a process. It begins not with a lever squeeze, but with a weight shift. You rise off the saddle and extend your arms. Keep your elbows bent. This keeps weight off the front wheel. Result? A more controlled bike.

* The trail is your brake lever. Try peeling off speed by running up on berms, banking turns, bumping over rocks. You'll get a feel for what slows you without actually braking - good for creating a flowy rhythm on a ride. You'll also learn what not to do when you're trying to hit max speed.

* Let your front wheel roll freely after you go over a log or drop-off on a downhill. Applying the front brake can lead to an endo in extreme situations, but more often it merely destroys your stability. That's why so many people ride a tough downhill section then blow it right afterward.

* "If you skid, you failed. Find the maximum braking point just before the tire starts skidding. As you get better, squeeze the front brake harder and the rear brake less. Motorcycle riders can brake so well that the rear wheel begins to leave the ground."-Tom Hillard

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