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How Braking with Confidence and Purpose Makes You Faster on Downhills

MTB downhill braking analysis
Analyzing a ride in BrakeAce with Jamie from New Zealand Mountain Biking

Knowing where, why and how you are braking are keys to becoming a more confident and capable rider. 

And you don’t have to leave it to guesswork anymore!

Have you ever ridden down your favorite trail and asked yourself this simple question:

“Why am I braking right now?”

My guess is that you probably never even thought about it.

But if you know where and how you’re braking, you can easily ask yourself why you did it - and importantly, why you did it in that way. Gaining an understanding of these things will help you finally improve.

world cup racer braking downhill
Caleb Bottcher races World Cup XC and wins local enduro races - he focuses on braking with purposes since it is literally free speed!

More Control to Gain Confidence on Downhills

Let me give you an example of a simple tweak I make with my own riding when I know where and how I brake.

Below is one of my recent rides. You can see that I had 2 Brake Checks. Brake Checks are very light and very short brake events. These are highlighted in the BrakeAce app with star symbols on your ride map. Brake Checks don’t do much to change your speed, but they say a lot about how you’re riding. Any time I see Brake Checks on my rides I know they exist because I don’t know what’s coming up on the trail - or at least that I’m not confident with what’s coming up. 

safety braking brake check MTB
Brake Checks are very light and very short events - they don't slow you down but they sure say a lot about your riding!

Brake Checks are pretty common on your first run down a track. When you don't know where you're going or what's common up, a common first instinct is to do a Brake Check. It reflects the unknown or a lack of confidence. Unfortunately they could be happening all the time if you don't pay attention to your riding. brake Checks are actually very common for a lot of riders even on trails they know - and they don't actually know they're doing Brake Checks or "safety braking" until it's spelled out fo them.

When I know the track well and I still have Brake Checks, it says for me personally that I’m not looking far enough down the trail. When I finish a run with lots of Brake Checks my solution is to remember to pick up my head and look for my lines as far ahead as possible.

Voilà - Brake Checks are gone!

Knowing where, why and how you are braking will help you gain confidence not only with your braking, but with your riding as well. Indeed, everything is interlinked in MTB riding!

Confidence Braking for Faster Downhills

On Demystifying MTB we often talk about the idea of "confidence braking". Confidence braking means you’re braking with purpose - you’re using the brakes hard to slow down a lot, where and when you want. Confidence braking is the complete opposite of a Brake Check.

Confidence braking is a technique MTB skills coaches use to help riders gain complete control as they’re riding down a trail instead of dragging their brakes, riding with poor technique and losing all their speed out of every corner.

Losing speed out of every corner - does this sound familiar?

You're not alone!

The difference between confidence braking and just riding is that you know why you're braking and that you do it with purpose. With practice, you can use this technique to stop dragging your brakes, allowing you to focus on on your technique and gain speed out of every corner.

That's just what we all want!

Check out this episode where we talk about confidence braking (and a lot about braking with the front brake) with skills coaches Rohan Martin and Jamie Garrod:

Confidence Braking Versus Normal Braking on Downhills

It's crazy to think that something like confidence braking can feel so slow but that it could actually help you unlock faster downhill times.

I'm generally around 20/80 front/rear split with my Brake Balance, and that recent podcast episode with Jamie and Rohan had me thinking a lot more about braking with purpose. I figured where better to try it that on a local bermy flow trail.

I set out to do two runs. On Run 1 I braked as normal, however on Run 2 I focused on confidence braking. The idea of this particular exercise was to gain complete control in every corner - if braking was required, I braked as hard as I could and slowed down as much as I could as fast as possible.

Here’s what happened when I practiced confidence braking:

  1. I could brake later - my braking zones got shorter and I cut over 10s of braking time 

  2. I slowed down much more when I braked - going slower meant I had more control through and out of corners

  3. I didn’t drag my brakes through corners - instead I gained speed out of corners

  4. To slow down more I had to use my front brake more - my Brake Balance was closer to 50/50

  5. Even though I felt like I was riding at snail’s pace, my run was 1 second faster than my first run where I braked normally

These results are fawesome! It’s a great reminder that riding in control is better than the wild riding styles we see on Instagram.

This exercise reminded me a lot of watching Greg Minnaar race at the World Cup in Snowshoe last year. Greg looked much slower than all the riders who came down before him, but his live timing said it all - he was well on pace and beat most of the riders who looked so fast as they went by! Greg’s in-control riding style doesn’t look flashy, but he isn’t the GOAT for nothing! Most riders in the field can learn a lot from Greg, inlcuding how he rides and how he brakes.

If you want to see how I was able to ride faster by practicing confidence braking, check out the full analysis here:

Want to Learn More?

If you'd like to learn more about BrakeAce and how our latest MTB tech can help you ride faster, smoother and in more control, book an online 1:1 demo with us!


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