I took my girlfriend out for the first time and measured her braking performance with BrakeAce. I really wanted to gain a better understanding of how she was riding. The best way to understand the way she rides other than with video is to measure her braking performance with BrakeAce.
HOW CAN I HELP?
My job is to help mountain bikers ride faster. This started out by leading skills clinics in Pennsylvania over 15 years ago, led on through fitness coaching the top riders in the world, and now really centers around helping riders at every level unlock skills they didn't know they needed. We do this by creating the world's first brake sensor and powerful app that helps them improve, called BrakeAce.
ABOUT OUR RIDER
My awesome lady rides at least once per week on grade 2-4 trails. Her goals are to have fun and get exercise. She has no interest in being a pro, but she lives close to some of the best trails on the planet, and enjoys the rush from riding these trails. She has never raced. She's a capable rider with no formal training - just mostly riding with me across various trails in New Zealand. On some trails, I look back and she's not too far off the pace. On more technical trails, there is a greater difference between us. And I've always wondered how she was braking compared to myself.
I took her out for a few short runs on local trails in the Whakarewarewa forest in Rotorua, NZ. These are the normal trails we ride, and she rode them as she normally would. She had BrakeAce sensors on the front and rear of her own bike (a Giant Trance 29er).
I analyzed her riding after we got back home (and after ice cream!).
IS SHE ONLY USING THE REAR BRAKE?
There were a number of surprises in her riding.
Firstly, she is relying 100% on the rear brake. Seriously - she didn't touch the front brake AT ALL on multiple trails.
I've never seen 100% reliance on the rear brake across a whole trail, but we do know that beginners are relying more on the rear brake. Because of this reliance on the rear brake, beginners corner slower, have less control and actually take longer to stop.
But I didn't expect to see no front brake usage on the trail!
So I dug into it a little bit more.
By the way, even many pros are mostly using the rear brake!
TIME TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING - WHERE TO START?
BrakeAce analyzes your riding across and entire trail and shows you the 3 places on the trail where you have the most room for improvement. It looks at how you're braking across Modulation, Duration and Intensity, and cuts through the noise to give you only 3 focus areas. These are your Key Opportunities for improvement - follow The BrakeAce Method for continuous improvement.
Upon looking at her rides in the BrakeAce app, her Key Opportunities for improvement were also very interesting.
In her first Key Opportunity, she's braking for 2.2 seconds with only the rear brake.
This KO occurs in a relatively straight section of trail where there are little pump rollers that you could either use as double, or simply pump hard to keep wheels on the ground. But riding them without pumping will results in getting a little bit of air - these become "accidental" jumps, which isn't great!
What she ends up having to do is slow down a lot on this section because she is:
Travelling at a relatively high speed, which will result in being launched off roller jumps
Not ready to double jump rollers
Not strong enough to pump and work the trail
Do any of these sound familiar? These are common control issues with beginner riders, and the BrakeAce app showed us a place on the trail where she can really focus on improving her braking and riding performance.
Now I know she doesn't want to hit jumps. And we're not going to make her hit jumps. But we can at least look at finding a way for her to actually stay on the ground coming through this section. To do this, we can simply head to a pump track to work on looking ahead and working terrain, or use The BrakeAce Method to improve her riding on these specific trail features - right then and there!
RIDING BERMS WITH CONTROL
In her second KO, she's braking for two seconds - again, exclusively with the rear brake - and pretty hard too at almost 900 watts.
This section has a super supportive berm. Personally, I ride this section with no braking, and a really push into the berm with good bike-body separation.
She's not confident enough to lean super hard into a berm, and she is relatively rigid in the way that she corners in these berms. If we can improve her riding skills and bike handling skills, we know for sure that she can improve her braking and riding performance in this bermy Key Opportunity.
And I'm not trying to get her to go and like rip this berm and like explode it like you see on Instagram. That's not what we're trying to do. We're just trying to get her to be able to gain these gain more skills that she can take across to any trail.
The good thing here is that we'll be able to assess her improvement simply by measuring her braking. Since her braking in BrakeAce is scored across 3 dimensions of Modulation, Duration and Intensity, we can continuously determine her weakest sections on the trails as she becomes a better rider.
BRAKING BEFORE THE APEX
Normally we see expert riders braking closer to the apex of a turn. The apex is the sharpest part of the turn where the bike is leaned the most. Experts will start braking just before this, which allows them to maintain speed for longer.
What we saw with my lovely lady is that she was braking much earlier before the apex.
So why would someone have to brake so early on the trails? Here are just some reasons:
Having to brake earlier because the rear brake doesn't slow us down well
Not having the bike-body separation required to maintain corner speed
Trail scanning sends the message to our brain that we need to go slower
This gives us some simple things we can work on in just this one Key Opportunity. The skills she can gain are:
Use both brakes to slow down in control and without skidding
Focus on pointing where you want to go with your hips
Understanding the upcoming features that require more or less slowing down (e.g. looking ahead, walking the section with a new view and no speed at all)
On-trail braking assessment through BrakeAce's Key Opportunities provides insights into the skills riders need to ride their favorite trails.
Some riders brake with only the rear brake. This results in lack of control, and necessitates riding more slowly. Teach new riders how to use both brakes from day 1, and assess their ability to use both brakes with the Stopping Test.
When faced with rollers on a fast trail, it's necessary to pump to avoid an unwanted jump. Riders can practice this wheel-on-ground approach on a pump track, and transfer new skills to the trails
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