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 following 3 key-points will have you forging a lasting relationship with your front brake in no time at all.

1. Timing is Everything

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.

Photo: Mountain Flyer Magazine http://www.mountainflyermagazine.com

2. Heels Dropped – Toes Up, Body Low

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.


3. Weighted Feet, Light Handlebars

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.

Proof of Concept

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 shag-pile 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.

Success – Hello Front Brake!

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!


Article By: Aaron Lucy 01/16, updated 8/17 RL | PMBI and IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor

3 Responses

  1. I’m confused… none of those riders in the photos have straightened their arms. Also, if I move back doesn’t that take all of my weight and pressure off of my front wheel and give it zero traction? If I drop my heels that puts my behind behind my saddle and that feels scary and out of control.

    1. This was just one of the great exercises that Ninja clinics teach. VERY worth while taking that advanced 2 day clinic or any learning clinic from them! I took the 2 day and learned a TON of good stuff. VERY informative. Learning the what and more importantly the WHY you do certain things on the bike will blow your mind wide open. The riders in the pics have their torso lowered to keep enough weight on the front. (they are in kind of the aggressive “ready position” but haulin’ fast racing) . By having bent elbows this keeps just enough weight on the bars (front of bike) to keep the right weight balance better fore/aft. If you do the same with straight arms probably 60+% of the weight gets transferred to the rear wheel which can cause a wash out in the corner or worse getting pitched up and over! Not good! The key is LOWERING your center of gravity on the bike. Think bends as in: ankles, knees / hips, elbows, this will LOWER your body and allow for better braking and in way more control. Try the same thing but just hinge some more at the waste and elbows to keep from getting the “bum over the back feeling”. Try the drill mentioned with walking next to the bike and hitting the front brake. Then do it riding the bike (at safe slow speed) with arms straight, then bend then elbows some, drop heels, knees & hips hinged. Note the huge differences!~ This will lower your chin and chest toward the bars also Dropping the weight INTO the bike and the feet. The result is more powerful controlled braking ability and none of that OMG Im gunna go OTB or wash out the front thoughts! Happy riding!

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