Following on from my tip about using your rear brake, it’s time to turn our attention to it’s partner in crime, the front brake. Hopefully there’s people out there, particularly beginners, who might find this sort of thing useful?
Now it’s not hard to see why, from an early age (probably from when your Dad let’s you go solo on two wheels for the first time), it’s drummed into cyclists to beware the front brake. After all, jamming on the front brake is a recipe for eating tarmac as the wheel locks up and pitches you forwards or sideways – ouch! And we’ve all done it!
So for a lot of us, learning to use the front brake properly is one of the hardest things to do. But it can pay dividends in building confidence on your Mountain Bike.
First of all, simple physics
OK, you’re riding along and you want to stop – what happens? Well you pull on the brakes, release the emergency badger and… the bike slows but all your weight is pitched forward. See, your momentum is independent of the bike (I’m sure there’s a physicist to correct me there). But the basic idea is that all your weight goes forward, over the front of the bike.
That’s where the front brake comes in. All that weight forward means the back wheel is nice and light, which also means it has only a passing aquaintance with the terrain below. Which means it’s not going to help you stop in a hurry.
But your front wheel is intimately connected to the ground with all that weight on it. And that’s why your front brake is your friend because you can brake much harder than you would imagine without losing control. And if you’re still in control you can steer round trail obstacles if necessary.
What’s the technique?
Simply put, finesse. Don’t ram the front brake on and expect to stay the same way up, but rather apply the brake firmly and steadily. Let your suspension (in your tyres and forks) absorb the compression forces by keeping a consistent braking pressure without actually locking the wheel up.
Feed in the power slowly at first and then increasingly more firmly as more of your weight comes forward but balance this by lifting slightly out of the saddle and moving yourself rearward so there’s an even distribution of weight, with not too much at the front. Just enough to keep the wheel biting hard.
If you have disc brakes you’ll find this easier to do than using traditional brakes due to their more consistent feel but regardless, apply the brake as fully and steadily as you dare without sudden bursts of pressure.
Bikes with front suspension will compress downward through the forks which can be unsettling until you are used to it, so be prepared. After a while you’ll find you can stop startlingly quickly by letting the fork compress through most of it’s travel – this is helped if you can adjust the rebound damping so the fork doesn’t try to ping straight back at you.
The technique applies if you’re making your way down a steep track at walking speed or racing along, just feed in your braking pressure steadily and avoid hooligan behaviour.
It’s well worth persevering until you feel confident in your stopping ability but whatever you do, don’t lock the front wheel!