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To rear brake or not to rear brake? That is the question

One of the awesome metrics BrakeAce shows you is your Brake Balance. This is the proportion of braking that was done with each brake in terms of total energy (kilojoules). It's an incredibly valuable metric, and everyone is always asking if they should be using their front brake or rear brake more.

So what is the answer? Front brake or rear brake?

Front brake, back brake, or both? c Tyler Perrin

Since MTB disc brakes were invented, bike companies have always stocked a larger front rotor and smaller rear rotor. It makes sense because we can stop more effectively by using more front brake. The issue here is that when we're riding, we're not stopping - we are riding, moving and going fast!

Our original scientific research showed that beginners were highly reliant on the rear brake, and that experts used the front brake more than beginners. This was around a controlled turn, with no chain and controlled speed heading in to it. The beginners braked for a longer time and used more rear brake.

Once we developed BrakeAce, we found that on technical trails, almost all riders tended to favor the rear brake more. Some riders were 40f/60r, some were 10/90, and in rare cases, 50/50.

We told this to the brake companies, and many couldn't believe this. This is why now, all the major brake companies are using BrakeAce to get a better understanding of how to make better brakes. These finding are what has led to the majority of bike companies starting to stock rotors on bikes at least the same size. It makes sense for heat management and lever force requirements. You can see more about why you need bigger rotors here.

Are pro riders braking equally with the front and rear brake?

Answer: Absolutely not.

Here are some screen grabs from a local trail. These are two top riders from Rotorua New Zealand - Daniel Self and Mitch Armstrong. They both rode the same trail, but it was around 6 months apart and the trails changed a lot. Mitch had a much higher FlowScore and was about 10 seconds slower, but the trail was quite a bit different.

Here is Daniel's braking, with an incredible 49% front brake and 51% rear.

And here is Mitch's braking, with 11% front brake and 89% rear brake

This was amazing. In races, these guys are pretty close to each other, but their braking is incredibly different.

To this point, I had never seen a mountain biker go so fast with the rear brake.

And Mitch wasn't dragging his rear brake either - he was using his rear brake to effectively slow down.

You can see how Mitch has slightly higher Brake Effectiveness and Brake Health, but a pretty low Modulation Score

While Daniel has a higher Modulation Score, but lower Brake Health.

Keep in mind that these are both very fast riders, and very experienced on this trail.

Learnings from analyzing EWS racer braking

Daniel went slightly faster. He usually is a bit faster in the races, but he also had slightly more favorable conditions than Mitch.

We know that Daniel used his front brake much more, and and we know that the front brake is great for stopping.

This is supported by his low Brake Health score.

In BrakeAce, events are categorized by intensity, which represents how likely each brake event was to bring you to a stop.

Daniel had a number of Critical brake events, which means he had a number of times braking where he was almost coming to a stop, and stopping isn't great for Brake Health (but of course with his proper technique, he was able to go fast in between brake events, and not touch them until the next intense brake event)

Daniel also braked for 15 fewer second than Mitch (as above), which highlights that he epitomized braking late and braking hard. Braking late and hard is paramount to going as fast as possible.

Again, some of this is the trail conditions, and some is technique.

The reality is that when we don't want to stop but do want to avoid going any faster than we already are, the rear brake is great. The rear brake helps us keep our speed in check.

Caleb Bottcher exiting a corner with speed. c Tyler Perrin

So should I use the front or rear brake?

This depends.

There is a skillset that riders have to get maximum grip with the tires while braking.

If you ride with a beginner, they usually don't have the confidence or skill to be able to use the front brake to stop. Often time this means that when beginners try to stop, they skid, end up having to put a foot down, and often fall over. This gets more pronounced as the gradient of the terrain increases - beginners have a tough time stopping on steep trails.

Try this, work on it, and get better at!

Try to stop faster to ride faster

It's true that fast brakes make fast riders, but being able to use those brakes is still a skill.

Try stopping as quick as you can on different terrain.

You'll notice that if you use the rear brake more, you'll skid and take longer to stop.

As you become a better bike handler and develop better braking skills, you may end up wanting to feather your rear brake less and wait longer to brake before corners. Tying in a tad more front brake will have you skidding less and able to slow down more effectively.

What about beginner riders? Which brake do they use?

As we found in our MTB research, beginners end up braking more with the rear brake on their mountain bike. This has become clear in a number of sessions with riders using BrakeAce. On trails, we have seen as much as 100% rear brake usage from beginners out on the trails.

This isn't a great way to ride in control because these riders may have a real difficulty stopping when they need to. Good stopping skills are essential for control and safety.

I recently took my girlfriend out with BrakeAce for the first time and was surprised to learn that she didn't use the front brake at all on these trails. Yikes! I won't get in to all the details in writing just now, but here is a full analysis of her ride:

We're excited to deliver BrakeAce to you so that you can ride your fastest! We still have a few option left to get in on this first deliver of BrakeAce, so get in touch to find out more.

If you are a company looking to make better brake pad or rotor recommendations, or make the best ever MTB brakes, get in touch so we can help you.

And if you're a skills coach, being able to quantify how your riders brake and bring awareness to their technique, you need BrakeAce in your tool kit. Help them gain new skills and measure their improvement with more than eyeballs or a stopwatch.


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