XC Mountain Bike Racing Advanced Skills: Braking Instruction and Tips

Mastering the Art of Mountain Bike Braking

Those XC mountain bike racers that own braking, own it all.  I ride all disciplines, XC, Trail, All Mountain, Enduro, Gravity, DH and even road.  Nothing has improved my performance over the years more than mastering my braking control.

With today’s highly responsive mountain bike disc braking systems, it is no longer necessary to use your whole hand on the brake lever.  In fact you should never use all your fingers except for those rare occasions where it is a do or die situation, or if you have a malfunction, massive brake fading and the braking system has deteriorated to the point that only a full handful of mountain bike brake lever will work.

The proper technique is to use one finger braking, while using a second finger in reserve for a little extra if you become fatigued or just need a little more boost.

How to brake your XC Mountain Bike Coming in Fast to a Turn

When approaching the turn, do not be tempted to brake to early.  You do not want to shed to much speed before you get to the turn.  You want to first apply a big bite of front brake for less 1/2 – 1 second depending on your speed, while you are straight inline with the trail,and upright.  Braking heavy on the front while you are leaning, requires extra skill, and done improperly can cause you to crash.

You are going to attempt to sling shot your self through the turn. Once you release your front brake, you can apply a little rear brake, sometimes called trail braking.

Trail braking can perform two functions.  First it can help stabilize your suspension system to avoid unwanted give.  It takes just a very fine touch, as you don’t want to slow yourself down in the turn more than need be.  Second, properly applied rear braking can help gain your more control by allowing you to slide the rear of the bike through the turn and better hook up the mountain bike’s rear tire on the MTB trail berm, or best contact patch.

The entire process only takes a fraction of seconds,and is like poetry when performed properly.  It is hard to explain as it is an art, a touch a feel you develop.

Of course the trail condition, terrain type, coupled with the mountain bike,your tires, braking system, rider’s weight etc all play a part and require the mountain bike pilot to make subtle changes to his / her style to compensate for all factors.

A recap of the whole Mountain Bike braking process combined:

  1. You are approaching the turn coming in hot about 4 feet away.
  2. You apply a big handful of front brake for a fraction of a second while the bike is upright and straight, prior to entering the turn.
  3. You pick the best entry point through the turn and apply a small amount of rear brake if you have enough speed to whip your rear end into place.
  4. When your rear end is in the best contact groove, you can apply some weight to the seat and pedal your way through the turn.
  5. Done right you are like a slingshot accelerating through the turn at incredible speeds, yet in control.


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