How to Use Your Front Brake Properly

By: Aaron Lucy
PMBI and IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor

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I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feeling that we are about to take a trip over the handlebars. Most of us have probably even bought the ticket and taken the ride several times! Tragically the result of the dreaded ‘OTB’ can often be a fear of your front brake lever, which is a shame as your front brake is critical to controlling your speed and therefore being in control of your bike. Kinda ironic huh?

The good news is that with the right technique there is no reason to fear your front brake, in fact it may just become your new best friend.

The key to this happy new relationship is getting your weight back and low at the moment you engage your brakes. I say brakes because in almost every situation you will want to be using your front and rear brakes simultaneously. As you engage your brakes straighten your arms and move back over your saddle, drop your heels toward the ground pointing your toes up and get your body low. Lowering your center of gravity in this way gives you more stability and drives your weight down into your tires more evenly for greater traction. The more of your weight you can drive down into the pedals, and the lighter you are on your handlebars, the less chance there is of doing a “forward dismount”. In fact, armed with this knowledge you may never have to worry about going over the bars again.

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To test this theory, try standing next to your bike on a surface with a lot of traction. The best place I have found is on the carpet in my living room, but if you’re not looking to muddy up your expensive shagpile try the sidewalk. Making sure you are standing next to your bike and not over it, grip the handlebars and lock the front brake. Now push forward on the bars with the front brake locked. Observe how the bike rotates forward lifting the rear wheel off the ground. This is how bad things happen!

Lower your rear wheel and go back to the starting position, gripping the bars with the front brake locked. This time take the pedal on the same side of the bike as you are standing and rotate that pedal into the forward position. Take a half step back and then place your closest foot onto the forward pedal (lock that front brake). This time instead of pushing forward onto the handlebars, push all of your weight forward into the pedal. Drop your heel and point your toes up, push harder. Keep that front brake locked! Make sure the force is going into the pedals and not the bars, in fact your grip on the bars at this point can be very light, just enough to keep your brake lever pulled in.

As you will see, with your weight driving into the pedals rather than the handlebars the rear wheel stays planted on the ground, right where you want it. No more OTB.  Say hello to your new friend the front brake!

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