Braking, like gear use, is a cycling skill and riders that have mastered gear use and braking, ride more effectively than ones who have not. Good use of brakes will see you ride further for less effort, and minimise the chances of you coming off the bike. With this in mind, what are the ‘rules’ of braking?
The front brake is sometimes feared by cyclists, as we all know that if you pull hard on the brake you can fly out of the saddle. Many of us experienced this phenomenon as children and we do not want to repeat it. The fact is that the front brake will slow your bike down faster than just using the back brake and you will have more control over your bike as you will minimise the risk of skidding.
The professionals always use both brakes together. This is because the back brake will stop you flying out of the saddle, and the front brake will kill the momentum of the bike. To use your brakes effectively, always use both of them.
Often when the pros brake they move their body behind the saddle keeping their hands on the drops. This helps to stop the bike faster. Although this sounds extreme, moving your body weight as far back as possible would be a good technique to develop.
On dry roads that are in good condition your tyres have the best amount of grip possible. This changes, however, on poor road surfaces or you are riding in wet weather conditions. Broken road surfaces, mud, and potholes all lengthen your time to stop when braking, and you should take this into account when on a ride. Similarly, wet or icy roads also reduce the grip your tyres have on the road.
As far as possible try and avoid braking when cornering. When you corner you put your tyres under stress, and applying the brakes will increase this stress. The back wheel can swing out or the front wheel can slip out under you, resulting in a crash in worst case scenarios. If you have to brake when cornering, be cautious and careful.
The ideal way to take a bend or corner is to get your speed and gear right before you go into the corner. This way you’ll minimise the risk of coming off the bike.
One of the biggest causes of a peloton pile up is a group member braking hard and sudden. This results in the riders behind him or her crashing into them. If you need to slow down in a peloton communicate it clearly so riders around you can adjust their speed and peloton position accordingly.
Braking, like gear use is an important skill to master as a cyclist. The trick to effective braking is to get it just right. You don’t want to kill your momentum dead unless you have to, you have earned your speed so enjoy it, but you do not want to apply too little and run into problems.