Road Cyclists actually need to know: How to Brake Efficiently

Posted by tan xiao yan on

You may have improved your fitness on the bike, but don't overlook the valuable seconds you can gain from focusing on developing your bike handling skills, especially learning how to brake efficiently. Not just for racing roadies, these tips are worthwhile for anyone on two wheels. Imagine that you are cycling on a city path. Suddenly, you notice that you're about to ride down a flight of stairs. Or there's a bridge out just a few feet in front of you when you're riding on a country road. In cases like these, your bike's brakes could save your life. But even if you don't have such a dramatic experience, if you are ready to stop quickly and smoothly, you'll feel more confident and go faster.

The problem with watching Olympic athletes is that they make everything look so effortless. Every small skill and detail are so well drilled and automatic that it looks easy! So what are the skills and techniques you can work on to help make your own cycling look “easy”? There’s a few. How to brake efficiently is the most important and obvious skill to learn on the bike so that you will not lose too much speed, and give yourself a safe stop when necessary.

Don’t be afraid of your brakes.
Brakes are there to help you and you should avoid using it until the moment you really need them. You may have heard racing drivers or motorcyclists talking about their brakes and tyres as their ‘feedback’, you should think about what is that actually mean.

Going out and practice to brake efficiently is a wise investment for your cycling. Finding somewhere quiet, start to build up speed and stop yourself with the brakes. Start to see how fast you can stop and how long it take to actually stop for each time. It is worth your time to practice and start to find out the ‘feedback’ from the tyres:

Are they skidding?

Are you losing grip?

Are they stopping me at all? (If the answer is no – get down to your bike shop...quickly!)

Better to do all this experimentation in relative quiet, rather than out on the roads where you need to get it right first and every time. It takes practice to make a perfect performance out of your brakes, you can't just jam them on and skid to a stop as in a car.

When to use front or rear brake.
brakes Going back to basics, according to British Standards, the brake lever for the front brake must be on the right-hand side of the handlebars, the rear brake on the left-hand side. This should be the standard set up your brakes.

Your front brake is there to stop you and the back brake is there to shave off speed, find the correct way to use these to make an efficient brake. About 70-80% of your stopping power comes from the front brake. Another 20-30% for the back brake. I’m sure every of us heard someone say or even said it ourselves about braking with the front and flying over the handlebars, that's because they don't really know how to control the front and rear brake correctly. This should never really happen if you have good technique.

Trying by pulling the back brake first when braking to go into a corner or approaching a roundabout or junction. This way only reduce your speed slowly but settle the bike into a natural line, that will allow you to then start to pull the front brake.

Remember that, the back brake is for regulating speed and the front for really stopping, it’s important to figure out this. If the junction is clear, just dragging the back brake. If there is traffic or it’s tighter than you thought then the front brake is really going to stop you or slow you down. By the time you are at the speed you want, you can release the front brake and continue to lightly control your speed with the back.

When to Use Both Brakes Together
Generally, we do not recommend using both brakes at the same time. But there are exceptions:

If the front brake is not powerful enough to lift the rear wheel, the rear brake can help, but the best thing to do is to repair the front brake. When the rims are wet, typical rim brakes lose a great deal of their effectiveness, so using both of them together can reduce stopping distances.
If you can not modulate the front brake smoothly because it grabs or chatters, you must only use it lightly. Again, repair is in order.
On long, straight mountain descents, you'd better spread the work between both brakes, because your front brake hand may get tired, or you may be at risk of overheating a tire and blowing it out, so use them together is the best way. Pumping the brakes, the one and the other are vicissitudinary, will briefly heat the surface of each rim more and disperse more heat before it spreads inwards to the tires. When sharp deceleration is needed, the front brake is more effective, as usual.
When leaning in a turn, braking and turning are sharing traction. Using both brakes together reduces the probability that one wheel or the other will skid and dump you. The steeper you lean, the less you can brake, so moderate your speed before a curve. You need to release the brakes entirely when you are leaning deeply.
Long or low bicycles, such as tandems and long-wheelbase recumbents, because of their geometry prevents lifting the rear wheel, have their front braking limited by the possibility of skidding the front wheel. This kind of bikes can stop shortest when both brakes are applied.
Caution: when riding a tandem solo (no stoker on board) the rear brake becomes virtually useless due to lack of traction. If a solo tandem rider uses both brakes at once, the risk of fishtailing is particularly high. This also applies to a lesser extent if the stoker is a small child.

Like with all bike handling skills, practice makes permanent.

When you can brake efficiently and become more confident on your bike in all types of riding situations, you will find that your training is paying off. You never know when you might have to stop, and the better you can stop, the more confidently you can go.