Braking… Simple right? Well yes but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the fundamentals when that half blind motorist pulls out on you at that junction! I took “Cycling Proficiency” as a 10-11 year old during my final year at primary school but I don’t remember some of the correct techniques of braking being covered during the course, I’m sure it was, but there’s a little more to it than pulling one lever to action the front brakes and the other for the rear. And with schools seemingly no longer even offering the new version “Bike-Ability” or the British Cycling Go Ride Gears curriculum we seem to be breeding a youth of cyclists who may not have a clue about how to safely stop while riding. If you’re lucky to have a Go Ride Club nearby they will have British Cycling qualified coach who can teach these skills. Luckily for you I am a British Cycling qualified coach and although this article won’t replace actual training it may help prevent you having an accident and even better you can have this advice for free!
Firstly, and apologies to those who know this I’m trying hard not to be patronising, learn which lever works which brake. Yank that front one too hard and you’re going over the front. However that front brake is very important, it provides the majority of the stopping power, the rear brake aids stability. That said the important part of braking is not to snatch at the levers. You snatch your levers your brakes lock up and you don’t stop you skid.
As a child skidding was awesome! As an adult it’s an expensive way to ruin a tyre! Beyond that, when you skid you extend the distance it takes you to stop. Those of you who drove before the days of anti-lock brakes (ABS) on cars will know that the way to stop skidding is to release the brake and then reapply, continue to do this until you stop – in fact it’s that principle that ABS works by. Same principles apply to cycle, if you skid release the lever and gently reapply. Keep an eye on the surface you are riding on, loose gravel is a nightmare to stop on, wet surfaces aren’t much better.
When you apply your brakes your weight will shift forward, the heavier the braking the move force your body will surge forward with. This not only reduces traction slowing the braking process but also increases the chances you’re going to go over the bars. If you know you’re going to be applying your brakes you can prepare for this by shifting your weight backwards on the saddle. In an emergency you will need to shift back even further. The same applies to descending at speed, get your weight back to put weight on the rear to aid braking.
Again, much like a car, you can apply the brakes and you can corner but if you put them both together you’re heading for disaster. Keep your head up and eyes forward, ensure you know what hazards may lie ahead. If you have to brake around a corner you should only apply the rear brake, applying the front while cornering can cause a dramatic reduction in traction which will lead to a fall. The best way to brake is in a straight line.
Finally, and this is missed by even the most seasoned riders, communicate. If you’re stopping you can signal using your hand out to one side and waving it up and down or even better say, or shout, so! On the continent they are fond of shouting “Ay, ay, ay!” (Or something similar!) This could be as they knew about us Brits being part of their group or it could be just that they don’t want an accident, either way it works…