Whether you are brand new to mountain biking or you’ve been riding for many years, it’s important that you have a baseline understanding of what your brakes do, why they are important and exactly how to use them. Having a solid braking foundation will allow you to build up to more advanced braking technique, and more advanced terrain!
You have two brake levers on your bike. In the US, a standard bike setup has the front brake on the left and the rear brake on the right (Think: Right Rear). In other parts of the world (i.e.; New Zealand, UK, Australia …) these are reversed!
Left Brake ➡️ Front Brake
Right Brake ➡️ Rear Brake
Your front and rear brake are arguably equally important and both serve a slightly different purpose. Let’s dive in…
Your front brake has your stopping power. Why is this? The front of the bike dips down when you apply your brakes and because of this, there is more weight on the front of the bike and thus more traction on the front tire. This means the front tire is less likely to skid. It also means, you must brake with good technique and body position to prevent being slung forward (or over-the-handlebars, “OTB”). More on body position in a minute!
Your rear brake helps you to control your speed, but depending on terrain, may not necessarily be all that great at bringing you to a full stop. You may have noticed that you rear tire is more likely to skid.
Test It Out
It can be helpful to see for yourself, how these brakes function. Try the following drill:
Grab your bike by the handlebars and stand off to the side, facing forward.
With your hands on the bars apply pressure to only your back brake and push the bike forward. You should notice it dragging behind you but the bike would still move forward.This is a good indication that your rear brake may not the best at bringing you to a complete stop!
Then, try only applying pressure to only your front brake and push the bike forward. You should notice how the bike would not move forward and your rear wheel might even lift. Bam – that front brake has considerably more stopping power!
Now, put one foot on your pedal and push your heels down to weight the pedal at the same time you apply pressure to your front brake. Ah ha! You should notice the back wheel stays down and your bike doesn’t move
In order to use your brakes effectively, it is important that your brakes are setup correctly. You should be braking with your index finger and only your index finger.
You should adjust the positioning of your brake levers so that your index finger naturally lines up with the bend in the brake lever. This will give you better bike control, a better feel for what the brakes and tires are doing and give you greater confidence in your riding. When checking for this index finger / brake lever alignment, make sure your hands are completely on the hand grips — if the side of your hand is hanging off the bars (grips) you’ll be putting pressure on your Ulnar nerve. This pressure can cause numbness in your hand and arm, fatigue, discomfort and diminished control of your bike.
For further explanation on one finger braking, checkout this article.
You use your brakes both to control your speed while riding and to bring yourself to a complete stop. Sometimes you will have the runway to gradually slow yourself down and other times, you might need to quickly and safely bring yourself to a stop (think: cliff!).
Now that we understand what each brake does and why they are important, it’s time to dive into the HOW of braking. Here are the key components:
One finger braking. The correct way to brake is using just one finger, your index finger.
Ease the squeeze. You should never grab the brake lever and immediately pull it all the way back to the grip. Rather, you should gradually squeeze the lever, or “ease the squeeze” as we like to say. Think of using your brakes like squeezing toothpaste out of a bottle. When applying toothpaste to your toothbrush, you don’t squeeze the bottle as hard as possible, right? I hope not! You gently squeeze the bottle until the perfect amount of toothpaste has been applied, and then you release.
Use both brakes. Generally speaking, you should be using both brakes when slowing or stopping. In our Braking 201 article, we will cover more advanced braking techniques and when you might use only your front brake or only your rear brake.
It is hugely important to have proper body position on the bike at all times, and especially when you are braking. The key components to good body position are:
Heels dropped + toes up
Body low (bend those knees!). Lowering your center of gravity in this way gives you more stability and drives your weight down into your tried more evenly for greater traction.
Weight in your feet and light hands on the handlebars. The more of your weight you can drive down into the pedals, the lighter you are on you handlebars.
Relax your arms (don’t lock out those elbows!)
How much and/or how quickly you want to slow or stop will determine how quickly you apply the above principles.
Need to come to a stop or reduce your speed quickly? You’ll want to apply your front brake and back brake at the same time while simultaneously shifting your weight low and back and dropping your heels to weight your pedals, in a quick “STOMP” like motion. This will help you to avoid tumbling forward!
Simply want to control your speed or slow down a little? You will still want to have your heels dropped, knees bent and weight in your feet. Rather than a quick STOMP, you stay loose in the body and adjust your body position as you apply your brakes to stay balanced and centered over the bike.
All Together Now
Braking is not as simple as ON / OFF. There is an art and a science to using your brakes effectively and believe it or not, “good” braking can make you a faster rider. Yup, that’s right; smoother is faster. So start by dialing in the key principles detailed above and you’ll be well on your way to tackling more advanced braking techniques and more advanced terrain with confidence.
Are you still feeling a bit unstable when you use your brakes? Nervous about going over the handlebars? Looking for in-person feedback on your braking technique? We can help! Join us for a Fundamentals clinic where we cover the foundations of braking and check out a 2-Day Camp to progress to more advanced technique and terrain.
Everything you need to learn to fully enjoy mountain biking.
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport compared to road biking. So the opportunities to find a good mountain biking...
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport compared to road biking. So the opportunities to find a good mountain biking skill clinic are quite scarce. Richard La China and his team offer such clinic! Richard has the training as a Coach from USA Cycling and the experience as an expert racer to develop in you the skills and therefore the confidence to negotiate the treacherous obstacles on your path as a mountain biker. His clinic has several levels from beginner to expert and is organized incrementally to facilitate the learning of more and more difficult skills. In addition to his and his expert team's demonstrations, I also like his verbal explanations about the why of a specific position or skill to have. Richard and his team have the dedication and patience to teach you anything you need to learn to fully enjoy mountain biking. ~ Anne-Catherine
Probably the best money I’ve spent on mountain biking …
I took the Ninja intermediate / advanced course here in Denver the weekend before last, and it was probably the...
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
I took the Ninja intermediate / advanced course here in Denver the weekend before last, and it was probably the best money I've spent on mountain biking in quite a while. Aaron tuned the clinic to our skills and needs, putting in extra time and attention where we needed more work and covering a wide range of skills. After mountain biking for almost 20 years, there were still missing pieces (and some bad habits) to my riding that he picked up on, explained, and then showed me how to improve, correct, and practice. Aaron was knowledgeable, patient, and progressed through skills in steps so there wasn't too much to digest at any one time. As the day progressed, he rolled them all together as we moved through different trail features, so I really got a good sense of how to put things into practice. He was also very familiar with the venue, Village Greens Park, so he knew exactly which sections to hit to practice particular skills - it was a great combination of drills and very watchful instruction, then honing those skills on real trail features. And, as we talked about with him during lunch, even experienced riders should consider the "fundamentals" course - I really had no idea that I needed work on some of the basics, like braking. I'm heavy on the rear brake just as a long-established habit - who knew? (Well, apparently Aaron did...) ~Jon Gotow
I would highly recommend it to individuals at a wide range of skill levels.
I attend the 3-day mountain bike skills camp in Mulberry Gap Georgia and it was a great experience. We spent...
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
I attend the 3-day mountain bike skills camp in Mulberry Gap Georgia and it was a great experience. We spent the first day going over fundamentals and doing drills and the second and third day riding trails. The combination of instruction and practice was very useful. Our instructors, Randy and Erin, are expert riders and wonderful instructors. The explained and demonstrated skills wells and provided helpful feedback. The Mulberry Gap resort was also a wonderful location to hold this event. I would highly recommend it to individuals at a wide range of skill levels. ~Armand A.
Great class! I wish I took this class seven yrs ago when I started mountain biking. Richard & his team...
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
Great class! I wish I took this class seven yrs ago when I started mountain biking. Richard & his team was awesome. I learned how to approach uphill switchbacks, how to “pre-turn”, & most important, how to descend with confidence. Bottom line: I am more efficient & safer rider. As another review said, “best money spent on mountain biking.” You can have an expensive bike, but if you don’t know how to ride, what’s the point? Highly recommend this class for all ages/skills. I will definitely be taking more classes! ~Rean
Best investment ever. The Ninja mountain bike skill clinics will definitely bring up your riding level a notch or two....
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
Best investment ever. The Ninja mountain bike skill clinics will definitely bring up your riding level a notch or two. Being able to get instant feedback from the instructor (s) in this case Richard La China and his assistant is invaluable. From getting the correct riding position to improving the skills necessary to have a fast flow through the trails builds confidence and is the key to having more fun when mountain bike riding. Also I've taken one-on-one lessons (with Richard La China) and it really speeds up the learning (in my case it was basic jumping) in any area where you deem to be weak in or just need improvement. ~ Thad G.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world-class mountain bike skills instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals through clinics and camps. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.