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Old 07-10-09, 12:40 PM
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Location: Tariffville, CT
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I'm a buck eighty too, and I've raced on Ultegra brakes, stock pads, for eons (now on other brakes, but just because that's what the bike came with).

You can test your brakes as follows:
1. Go really fast. Slam on front brake as hard as possible. If you flip over the bars, the brake is fine.
2. Go really fast. Slam on rear brake as hard as possible. If your back tire skids, the brake is fine.

Okay, don't really do that. But you understand.

If your brakes pass the above two tests, the limitation is not the brake (and it almost never is). The limitation is in technique.

(Similarly, if you slam on your car's brakes, and the ABS kicks in, your brakes are fine. Your traction needs work if you want to stop better. Usually wider front tires will improve one-time stopping performance in a car. However, "good" brakes also dissipate heat better so you can brake repeatedly. So although you may not stop in a shorter distance on the first stop with "good" brakes, you will be stopping more consistently for the next 10 stops).

- Get your butt way off the rear of the seat. I'll rest my stomach/chest on the saddle sometimes. This allows you to keep from flipping over at higher braking forces. You can brake much harder on the front wheel this way.
- Brake before turns. Braking firmly and turning hard don't mix well.
- Don't feather as much as brake. When I first went down Palomar (takes me 30+ minutes), I was nervous, didn't know the curves, and basically rode the brakes all the way down. My hands were tired, I had to stop, etc etc. After that, I felt a bit more comfortable on the descent. I'd let the bike go, brake firmly before turns, and let the bike accelerate through and out of the turns. No need to stop, no hand wringing, all good. I've only descended the whole thing maybe 4 or 5 times so it's not like I'm super experienced on the mountain, it's just that I learned how to better approach a series of curves on a long descent.

If you have carbon rims, you may have brake limitations because the rims don't dissipate heat well. The last two times I did Palomar I did them on aluminum rims because I wasn't sure if I was losing my nerve or if the carbon rims weren't ideal for Palomar.

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