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Top tubes and front brakes are dangerous. Myth or Reality?

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Top tubes and front brakes are dangerous. Myth or Reality?

Old 12-22-09, 10:32 AM
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MrCjolsen
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Top tubes and front brakes are dangerous. Myth or Reality?

Two common fears of cyclists - crashing down on a too-high top tube and going over the bars as a result of applying the front brake - have never even come close to reality for me in over 40 years of cycling. I jam on my front brake all the time, and my rear wheel stays firmly attached to the ground, and my body stays on the bike without any problems. And I've never worried about somehow slipping off my seat and injuring myself by hitting the top tube. And all of my bikes are on the large side.

I find this interesting considering the most common determiner of whether a bike is "too big" is the inability to lift it 3" while straddling the top tube. If I can do that, the bike is too small. Yet hundreds of thousands of bikes are purchased at department stores with this as the main sizing factor.

And worse that that, I actually saw a kid riding a bike at the school where I teach and his front brake had been disconnected. He said his dad did it because he didn't want him to go over the bars.

Are these two types of accidents myths or do they actually happen to people in real life?
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Old 12-22-09, 10:36 AM
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I've read a number of reports of folks flipping over their handlebars here, but never saw a report of hitting the top tube.
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Old 12-22-09, 10:38 AM
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I know that external forces can cause an endo - terrain, hitting log, or even an unexpected chain derailment on fiixed gear. But does anyone ever endo simply because of applying the front brake?
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Old 12-22-09, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by MrCjolsen View Post
I know that external forces can cause an endo - terrain, hitting log, or even an unexpected chain derailment on fiixed gear. But does anyone ever endo simply because of applying the front brake?
I've done it once while I was trying to hop up onto my front wheel on a downhill
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Old 12-22-09, 10:56 AM
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Sure people have done endos. I can easily lift the rear wheel and if I want to, can flip the bike. If you can't lift the rear wheel, then it would either be that your brakes are not set up correctly or are too weak, you are not strong enough or you have enough weight on the rear to prevent the tire from lifting (like carrying your groceries or riding a tandem).
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Old 12-22-09, 11:14 AM
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When I took my new bike out for it's first long ride in November I was descending at about 60 km/h on a winding, wooded road, came around the last bend and had a "holy sh////t, the gate's closed!" moment.

I'd known the park was closed to traffic for the winter, but I'd forgotten there was a gate in the middle of the loop in addition to the one at the entrance.

Rear wheel jumped pretty high, but I avoided disaster.
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Old 12-22-09, 11:17 AM
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I've gone over the bars twice from jamming on the brakes too hard at low speed. Both times I tucked and rolled, and was unhurt. I wasn't wearing a helmet and didn't hit my head.

I never "crashed down" on a top tube though, or even the tall stick shifter my Stingray had when I was a kid. Supposedly kids were landing on them though, so they were later outlawed.
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Old 12-22-09, 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by MrCjolsen View Post
I find this interesting considering the most common determiner of whether a bike is "too big" is the inability to lift it 3" while straddling the top tube. If I can do that, the bike is too small. Yet hundreds of thousands of bikes are purchased at department stores with this as the main sizing factor.
Careful, you are peddling a myth of your own here. Just because a bike has lots of stand over doesn't necessarily mean that it is too small either.
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Old 12-22-09, 12:11 PM
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I saw my son do the endo thing with the front brake.
He was at a friends house, riding a borrowed bike, my son was inexperienced with hand brakes. He was tooling around and grabbed a big handfull of the front brake. The wheel stopped, and he and the bike pivitoted around the front axel. He kept his position on the bike, hands on the bars, feet on the pedals, until his head hit the pavement. Yes, he was wearing a helmet, yes it saved him from injury.
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Old 12-22-09, 12:11 PM
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Only endos in my world were due to way steep sketchy DHs & I grabbed some brake as my front tire hit a rock, thusly stopping it in its tracks.
On paved surfaces - fixie w/only front brake, or otherwise, never came close.

Have brushed the boyz once or twice, but again it was on very sketchy, rock-strewn trails: when my feet landed on a lower surface than the that which the wheels were resting.
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Old 12-22-09, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by leob1 View Post
... Yes, he was wearing a helmet, yes it saved him from injury.
Cue ClosetBiker in 3...2...1
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Old 12-22-09, 12:36 PM
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To me, the rear brake does not have enough stopping power for a serious stop. Not having one is dangerous. I have never seen anyone do an endo on a road bike. I have seen a fair number of crashes and I have never seen or heard of anyone being hurt by the top tube.
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Old 12-22-09, 12:57 PM
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The hell with top tubes. I ride my Daughter's bike, a ladies 21 speed mountain bike. And on the rare occasion when someone says I look like a ***, I tell him "it's my daughter's bike", and that shuts him up.

A ladies bike is easier to dismount. I'm somewhat muscle-bound, with thighs the size of tree trunks.
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Old 12-22-09, 12:59 PM
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I wouldn't want a front brake that couldn't supply enough braking force to lift the back wheel. It's my job as the bike operator to apply as much force as I need to stop quickly, but avoid an endo. The brake should not be set-up to make this call for me, as a endo with a dry braking surface might be nowhere-near-enough force with a wet or icy braking surface.

I have done unintentional nose-wheelies on both my road (caliper) and mountain (hydraulic disk) bikes, due to getting cut off by cars and trucks in traffic. I'm hardly the world's greatest bike handler. If I had less grab in the front brake I would have hit them. Maybe not hard enough to cause much damage, but I'll still take a brake with more grab over less.

I don't follow the top-tube comment.
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Old 12-22-09, 01:14 PM
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The front brake myth has been perpetrated in both cycling and motorcyling circles forever and it is really dangerous. Everyone should train themselves to use only the front brake. It gives you the most reliable stopping power. On any two wheeled vehicle the rear brake is close to innefective and in a panic situation, it will lock up which gives you essentially no control at all and very little stopping power.. The only time to not use the front brake is in really slippery conditions, greasy wet roads, grass, gravel/sand. Even on wet roads you can get a lot of stopping power using the front.
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Old 12-22-09, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by ghettocruiser View Post
I wouldn't want a front brake that couldn't supply enough braking force to lift the back wheel.
I agree, but unfortunately, there are brakes out there that have "anit-lock" feature. They put a spring in the noodle which denies the ability to use the maximum that you can do. It also degrades all stopping power. I replaced that noodle with a different one and now it has much better braking.
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Old 12-22-09, 01:42 PM
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Originally Posted by San Rensho View Post
The front brake myth has been perpetrated in both cycling and motorcyling circles forever and it is really dangerous. Everyone should train themselves to use only the front brake. ......

Really, San rensho? Only the front brake? I was taught to use the rear brake and pump the front one as needed at the time. Now I had a Honda xr650 with big knobbies on the back, so my rear tire would really bite.

On my fuji I have found at the best of times the rear brake just 'stops my acceleration' on a down hill. Wothout a front brake you are really up the paddle without a creek.

I find though that without using my rear brake, on a big descent my front rim gets so hot ya can barely touch it. When I was descending the Itakian side of the Petit St. Bernard, my front tire exploded from the heat.

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Old 12-22-09, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by chipcom View Post
Careful, you are peddling a myth of your own here. Just because a bike has lots of stand over doesn't necessarily mean that it is too small either.
+1

Although, if you can't stand over it without excruciating pain "down there" then it's too big .
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Old 12-22-09, 01:46 PM
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Originally Posted by San Rensho View Post
The front brake myth has been perpetrated in both cycling and motorcyling circles forever and it is really dangerous. Everyone should train themselves to use only the front brake. It gives you the most reliable stopping power. On any two wheeled vehicle the rear brake is close to innefective and in a panic situation, it will lock up which gives you essentially no control at all and very little stopping power.. The only time to not use the front brake is in really slippery conditions, greasy wet roads, grass, gravel/sand. Even on wet roads you can get a lot of stopping power using the front.
+1

I have to retrain myself twice a year. Late fall I have to start saying "can I use the front brake now" and early spring I have to start saying "you idiot, you can use the front brake."

Trouble comes in when I hit a mud patch I missed during the summer. That one hurt.
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Old 12-22-09, 02:00 PM
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Brakes and tires have certainly improved since I started riding in the late 1950's. Even in the late 1970's rim braking was pitiful-I'm pretty sure brakes, wheels, tires just didn't have the traction to do an endo at any serious speed-They could lock the wheel up-especially in low traction situations-sand, water ,mud, but then the tire just didn't have the traction to endo you- it would just skid.

When I started riding again-late 1990's I was stunned at how good V-brakes and cantilevers were, and how much traction tires had. Yes,I've occasionally lifted the rear wheel with 26" mtb tires and V-brakes.You have to work at it, or just goof up, but you can lift the rear wheel in high traction situations with good tires
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Old 12-22-09, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by phoebeisis View Post
Brakes and tires have certainly improved since I started riding in the late 1950's. Even in the late 1970's rim braking was pitiful-I'm pretty sure brakes, wheels, tires just didn't have the traction to do an endo at any serious speed-They could lock the wheel up-especially in low traction situations-sand, water ,mud, but then the tire just didn't have the traction to endo you- it would just skid.

When I started riding again-late 1990's I was stunned at how good V-brakes and cantilevers were, and how much traction tires had. Yes,I've occasionally lifted the rear wheel with 26" mtb tires and V-brakes.You have to work at it, or just goof up, but you can lift the rear wheel in high traction situations with good tires
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Wait till you try discs....
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Old 12-22-09, 02:42 PM
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Years ago, the shop I was wrenching at took in a bike to be tuned up that had worn brake pads and horribly adjusted brakes; both levers bottomed on the bars would slow you about as much as sitting up and using your jacket as a drogue chute. We did the full tune up, and restored full function to the brakes. We were joking that we should warn the rider about them when he picked it up. When he did pick it up, I was at lunch. I was walking back to the shop and saw him riding away. He was sitting up, going just above walking speed when someone stepped in front of him. He grabbed a big handful of front brake and did a perfect endo. I kept walking and pretended I hadn't seen a thing. Since then, I have had occasion to warn customers about their properly adjusted brakes quite a few times.
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Old 12-22-09, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by San Rensho View Post
The front brake myth has been perpetrated in both cycling and motorcyling circles forever and it is really dangerous. Everyone should train themselves to use only the front brake. It gives you the most reliable stopping power. On any two wheeled vehicle the rear brake is close to innefective and in a panic situation, it will lock up which gives you essentially no control at all and very little stopping power.. The only time to not use the front brake is in really slippery conditions, greasy wet roads, grass, gravel/sand. Even on wet roads you can get a lot of stopping power using the front.
I rarely cease to be amused by the ignorance that gets perpetrated in these forums.

The braking power of a wheel is affected by the amount of weight it bears. When you're JRA, the weight is fairly evenly distributed, and the braking power of each wheel is about the same. When you apply brakes and the bike slows, momentum carries the rider's weight forward, placing more weight on the front wheel and greatly increasing its braking force. In a hard braking maneuver such as a panic or emergency stop, enough weight can be transferred forward that the rear wheel loses traction (skids) and can actually come up off the ground. This is the phenomenon that throws a rider over the handlebars.

I never recommend that a rider use the front brake alone. Use both front and rear brakes together to come to a smooth, controlled stop. To prevent losing traction with the rear tire, shift your weight to the rear to keep traction back there.

For an emergency stop, squeeze the front brake lever two to three times as hard as you do the rear brake lever, because as you slow down, the front wheel becomes your strongest brake. Level the pedals, get your butt off the seat. and throw it back to get as much weight as you can over the back wheel. A good MTB'er can just about lay his chest or belly-button on the saddle this way, and keep control. If you feel the back wheel start to slide or skid, let off the front brake lever until you're back in control.

Jeez, guys... this is very basic mountain-biking technique for going down a slope.

When teaching this in bike handling classes, I set up a short, narrow course and have the rider practice stopping with just the rear brake, then both the front and rear, and then practice a time or two just getting out of the saddle and shifting weight to the rear. Then you practice stopping using both brakes and the weight shift. Once they have that down, then we try the emergency stop. For MTB's once they have this technique down on a flat surface, then we go looking for a hill or slope to practice on.

As for the top tube business, the usual cause is letting your foot/feet slip off the pedals. With the trend toward sloping top bars on MTBs this happens more to roadies than to mountain bikers. Some may recall it happening to this fellow named Armstrong during the Tour de France stage on Luz d'Ardiden back in 2003.

Clipless pedals, or good grips on your flat pedals can help prevent this problem

Last edited by Pscyclepath; 12-22-09 at 03:12 PM.
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Old 12-22-09, 04:44 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by San Rensho View Post
The front brake myth has been perpetrated in both cycling and motorcyling circles forever and it is really dangerous. Everyone should train themselves to use only the front brake. It gives you the most reliable stopping power. On any two wheeled vehicle the rear brake is close to innefective and in a panic situation, it will lock up which gives you essentially no control at all and very little stopping power.. The only time to not use the front brake is in really slippery conditions, greasy wet roads, grass, gravel/sand. Even on wet roads you can get a lot of stopping power using the front.
Sorry, but using the front brake only is yet another myth that is perpetrated in bicycling...particularly road cycling. (No mountain bike rider who likes their teeth would ever advocate front braking only)

It comes from not understanding the physics and dynamics of braking. While it is true that you reach maximum braking power when the rear wheel leaves the ground, it is not true that this is the only way to reach maximum braking power. The contribution from the rear wheel is only about 20% of the front and it does decrease rapidly as weight is shifted to the front wheel, however while still in contact with the ground, the rear wheel is contributing to the deceleration of the bicycle. Moving the body back and down, i.e. adjusting the load to a lower center of gravity, will make the rear wheel even more effective and reduce the tendency of the rear wheel to slide. Mountain bike riders have been doing this for ages. In fact, mountain bike riders are told to release the front brake when the rear starts to slide and push off the back of the saddle. This brings the rear wheel back into contact with the ground, stops the slide and makes overall braking more effective.

Road riders would be wise to train themselves to know how to deal with a sliding rear wheel. A sliding wheel doesn't mean that you are going to crash...any 10 year old kid will tell you that...but it does mean you should do something about it. Release the front brake, move backwards on the saddle and move your center of gravity downward. I do this just about every time I stop and not just in panic stops.
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Old 12-22-09, 04:52 PM
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Originally Posted by SweetLou View Post
I agree, but unfortunately, there are brakes out there that have "anit-lock" feature. They put a spring in the noodle which denies the ability to use the maximum that you can do. It also degrades all stopping power. I replaced that noodle with a different one and now it has much better braking.
My Bianchi Milano came with one, and I haven't gotten around to removing it yet since the brakes are adequate with it there and I'm lazy on my commuter bike. With a rear roller brake and anti-lock front, the Milano can't skid either wheel on dry pavement, so I suppose it's technically illegal since the definition of bicycle brakes in Washington says they have to be able to skid the wheel.

Maybe I'll get to it over my Christmas vacation....
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