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Braking for Control

Through years of braking research, we have unlocked 3 key reasons why we brake on the trails. Mountain bikers know that brakes are important, but these components we often don't think about - they either work, or they don't.

Caleb Bottcher riding in control with BrakeAce

Brake usage in MTB is a mystery. Nobody knows much about brakes or how riders use them on the trails - not even the pros. But it shouldn't be that way. That's why we created BrakeAce. Our company mission is to Demystify Your Ride. We start by analyzing your braking for you and making it easy to understand. Every ride or run you do have 3 Key Opportunities. These are the low-hanging fruit for you to improve.

The 3 Reasons We Brake

We'll outline the three reasons we brake in three separate posts. Check out our blog for more article and to follow along for the rest. If you're not signed up for our mailing list, do it now! We are 'braking' down MTB for you so you can get faster, faster. Bye bye, guesswork!

For part 1, we'll talk about using our brakes to ride in control. Think you can ride brakeless? Here's why that's a bad idea.

Braking for Control

Leo Housman braking in control

Apart from stopping to let old ladies cross the street, we use our brakes to control our bikes. Imagine yourself riding down a hill at an incredible speed and you suddenly come across a kitten. You’re going so fast that stopping isn’t possible, but you just can’t hit that kitten. Of course the kitten you have to avoid in your specific case may be a rock, a mate, slippery roots, or maybe even a puppy. While some particular maneuvers may help you avoid a few obstacles - like jumping over it for example - you’ll soon run out of luck. What you really need to do is be in control of your bike so that you can execute the appropriate maneuvers with control. You need your brakes for that.

Running braking down a hill

The importance of control is as true in bikers as it is in runners, and is especially true as the speeds get greater and the surface gets more tricky (rocky, loose, wet, etc.). As a poor runner myself, it takes serious effort on my part to barrel down a rocky singletrack hill using my legs. As I run down a hill, I’m trying to avoid crumbling into a heap and rolling down the hill like a snowball more than anything. Kids do just that - they trip, fall and tumble to the bottom of hills. Their motor skills and control are still developing, just like I am as a runner. A good runner could almost hop down a hill, changing direction and bounding from rock to rock. They ‘stop’ first, then change direction - all the while going way faster than me and executing absolutely fluid motions. Their control is amazing. For myself who has less control when running, I need to purposely go slower. We would have some ugly results if I ran too fast down this rocky trail as I trip and roll my way down. I simply don’t have the control or skill [or strength/power?] to move at speed. And this is OK. It’s something I’ll improve with practice.

We use the brakes on our bikes to maintain control in the same way. In the same way, we all have an upper limit of speed at which we can maintain control on given terrain or conditions. Some of this is a perceived upper limit. For example: “I will brake this much and won’t go any faster than this because it is unclear what the result will be.” Other times the upper limit of control is real, where we don’t have the skill necessary to navigate the terrain any faster, such as the case with me as a runner. The latter could be down to things like bike setup, body positioning, line choice, traction, braking points, and the general conditions of the trail.

The good news with control is that skill is trainable and bike setup is fixable. You can get better at riding in control. You can perceive a greater level of control as well. Oftentimes we find that those who have the lowest level of ability to use their brakes to stop also have the lowest level of perceived control.

There is an important point to distinguish here, and that is the difference between riding with no brakes at all, and riding in control. It might sound silly, but riding fast isn’t all about riding with no brakes. Riding fast is about riding in control. Control is about being able to change speed effectively and execute maneuvers at appropriate speeds for your skill level. The speed at which you can execute maneuvers include skills outside of braking, such as bunny hops, line choice, finding traction, body positioning, tire placement, and others. If you have an incredibly high skill level, you can execute these maneuvers at greater speeds. But even those with a very high level of skill must use their brakes for control.

The analogy again is me running down a hill. I don’t have a very high level of skill, so I must slow down a lot to avoid going too fast and getting out of control. I bound from rock to rock, slowing every time and changing direction to bound to the next rock. A very skilled runner does the same thing - only better and faster, because they have greater control. If you remember the old road runner cartoons where the little bird speeds down a road with his legs spinning like wheels, you’ll know that it’s impossible for us [or anything] to run like this. The same is true for riding a trail without braking - it’s not possible. Riding in control and using the brakes appropriately is, simply, better.


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