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Front Brake/Rear Brake while Descending?

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Road Cycling 的t is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. -- Ernest Hemingway

Front Brake/Rear Brake while Descending?

Old 10-19-07, 05:28 PM
  #1  
forrest_m
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Front Brake/Rear Brake while Descending?

So last weekend, I知 coming down a steep road that curves down a ravine. I知 working on staying off the brakes in the turn and braking only on the straights. Coming out of one turn a bit hot, there痴 basically no straightaway to brake in. Oops. I値l have to brake through at least the start of this curve - 0% chance of making it at this speed.

It痴 been sunny all morning, but here in the trees, the road痴 still a bit damp. I hit both brakes, probably 30% front 70% rear, still thinking I'm going to make the turn. I lock up the rear wheel, slide towards outside of road. I manage to control the skid, so I知 upright but out of position to make the turn, i.e. almost off the road and pointed towards the shoulder. In the quarter second I have to make a decision, I realize that there is a grassy slope off the shoulder leading down to a side road. Instead of laying it down, I straightline it into the grass, shave some speed and am able to turn it uphill on the lower road. 3 seconds later, I知 back on the original road, none the worse for wear (but with a new personal record on the HRM).

Realizing that I was saved from a bad crash completely by luck, I'm wondering I could have done differently?
  1. Nothing. It was basic Pilot Error. Should have gone slower in the first place on an unfamiliar descent.
  2. Stay off Rear Brake. I applied both brakes, only the rear locked up. Should I have stomped the front brake but stayed off the rear? My instinct is to be leary of hitting the front brake hard on descents (too many MTB endos), is this inappropriate on my road bike?
  3. New Brake Pads. Just throwing this in there, the rear pads are getting thin, though replacing them would seem to make the rear *more* likely to lock up. But maybe I知 thinking it through wrong?
  4. Back off the tension on the rear brake cable for smoother braking?
  5. Stay off the brakes entirely and ride it out you wuss.
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Old 10-19-07, 05:37 PM
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Edonis13
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weight transfer and bad brake distribution owned you.

oh and brakes are for wussy.
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Old 10-19-07, 05:49 PM
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Descending is about the line you pick and speed.

If you know your front brake really well, what it can do in different conditions, you'll do much better. FB is what decides everything. The rear brake is one of the most useless things on a bike - in this situation it was never going to help you.

I don't do any serious mountain descending anymore, but in the past during lengthy decents, the rear would help give the real brake a 'break' sometime, so the front pads didn't melt
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Old 10-19-07, 06:07 PM
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You should have been reverse in your brake rations: 70% front, 30% rear. To give a bit of perspective, I was out on the (gasp) mtn bike and was in a very shallow sandy area. For some reason I decided to see how much rear brake would cause lockup. It took a very small amount of pressure on the rear brake (hydraulic, but same basic principle) to achieve lockup. I then hit just the front brake. I gave it increasing amount of pressure and found that 1.) I achieved rapid braking before hitting full force several times and 2.) I'm too chicken to lock the front brake up due to fear of flipping over the bars. Summed up, this means that you can apply MUCH more force to the front brake than rear before lockup. It does take a very educated understanding to know exactly when you start to lock up the front brake though. I have read that a rider that is truly efficient in braking uses pretty much only the front brake and can feel the subtle signs of when the rear wheel starts to loose traction due to a front brake lock up and then applies the rear brake in perfect proportion to drop the rear wheel and complete a perfect speed decrease. Doesn't quite apply to me yet though. :|
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Old 10-19-07, 06:20 PM
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A fast descender I know does not use his rear brake at all. When I was motorcycle racing, I did the same. If you are braking hard it provides very little braking, and you have to spend attention on it (and even more attention dealing with a rear wheel lockup should it occur).

Look farther ahead and plan your line better. Sometimes you have to take a non-optimal line in one corner to give you a good line in the next one, especially if it is tighter.
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Old 10-19-07, 06:23 PM
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You lucked out with the escape route! The front brake will stop you the fastest. I think more like 85% Front 15% rear. Braking while leaning is called Trail Braking and can be done if you modulate the brakes. It's better to get all your braking done while upright before you initiate the turn. Sometimes you just have to go for more lean and just ride it out without hitting the brakes. Scary though!
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Old 10-19-07, 06:29 PM
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Food for thought - if your back tire is skidding, ease up on the front brake, not the back. The reason the back tire skids is because you have too much weight going forward and the back tire is just beginning to lift. If weight shifts off the back tire, the same pressure that was fine a moment ago is going to lock the wheel. It's not because you've got too much pressure on the back brake - you've got too much on the front. It doesn't take much braking to lock a rear wheel that is about to lift.

Mostly advise for straight line braking, but I suspect is has some application in turns as well.
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Old 10-19-07, 06:52 PM
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During the descent and braking did you shift your weight off the back of the seat like you would MTB'ing? If not, do that next time.

You should also barely be using the rear brake, with weight shift the rear doesn't do very much. The majority of braking in all vehicles is with the front brake. Cars/trucks/whatever you drive on the street, even race cars have about a 70-80% front braking bias. The weight is up there, the inertia from braking is transferring the majority of the weight up there. When hitting the brakes on a bike you are moving forward onto the front wheel and easing the weight on the rear, thus your rear wheel lockup.

MTBing you also want to use the front brake much more than the rear, otherwise you'd be skidding down every trail you're riding, not good for the trail and it doesn't slow you down at all.

Next time go slower and take a better line and apply your brakes before entering the turn, use them in a straight line then accelerate out of the turn. It's the fastest way through generally.

Lucky for you that you had a bail out area and came through it safely.
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Old 10-19-07, 06:55 PM
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Some guy who works at my LBS told me to use only the rear brake while going downhill. I went to a mountainous area and locked up the rear on the decent. I don't listen to that advice anymore.
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Old 10-19-07, 07:12 PM
  #10  
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Originally Posted by spdrcr5 View Post
apply your brakes before entering the turn, use them in a straight line then accelerate out of the turn. It's the fastest way through generally.
heh, that's what got me into trouble in the first place, I was waiting for the straightaway to brake... and it didn't appear got lucky on the bail out, for sure.

seriously, thanks for the responses, guess I need to find a safe hill and test the limits of my front brake. people actually tell me I have a nose for the good line, and I'm pretty comfortable going fast (longtime skier), but it sounds like my fear of locking up the front wheel is probably unfounded.
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Old 10-19-07, 07:28 PM
  #11  
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Originally Posted by rbrsddn View Post
Braking while leaning is called Trail Braking and can be done if you modulate the brakes.
I understand what you're trying to express...but technically it's not true. Trail braking is when you have the brakes on when entering a turn and you gradually release them until the apex is reached. Trail braking is modulating them.
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Old 10-20-07, 06:06 AM
  #12  
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i realize its very obvious, but it sounds as if you hit the levers too hard, rather than feathering. perhaps you need some extra slack in the cable to allow for better modulation.
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Old 10-20-07, 06:19 AM
  #13  
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Ironically I did a similar thing the other day. Coming off a decent, got on the brakes hard, and late to make a 90deg right hander. Back end slid sideways, eased off straightened out, back on the brakes hard to avoid hitting a curb. Sideways again, eased off, straightened out, and was now going slow enough to make the turn, and not die. Basically I went into the turn way too fast, and tried to take it. Late braking was the culprit. Slow in, fast out. I broke the cardinal rule of fast cornering. It could have gotten ugly, I was deathly afraid of high siding once it went sideways. I now know 37mph is too fast to make a 90deg turn. I was simply pushing too hard. I know my limit is lower now.
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Old 10-20-07, 06:43 AM
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+1 to concentrating on the front brake. Under braking, front traction goes up, and rear traction goes down. Challenging the rear traction further by adding braking forces will send you sliding.

Glad you made it out.
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Old 10-20-07, 07:08 AM
  #15  
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Originally Posted by spunky View Post
I understand what you're trying to express...but technically it's not true. Trail braking is when you have the brakes on when entering a turn and you gradually release them until the apex is reached. Trail braking is modulating them.
You can also brake once you are in the turn to scrub off speed and tighten your line. Just don't grab a handful. It's definitely best to get your braking done before initiating the turn.
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Old 10-20-07, 07:11 AM
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Here's something I've got on my site regarding pretty much that situation. This is taken out of a piece on carrying big speed off high passes in the Alps, something I'm rather fond of doing. Not all that different than the much of the advice already given but for what it's worth I'll add it below. (Other paragraphs have more comments on the subject too so if you're interested you can see the rest here: https://velotel-touring.com/descending.htm)

From the piece: What do you do if the margin is too thin and your speed is rapidly threatening to exceed the selected arc's limit? This is where things get dicey. You have to jump on that back brake and flatten out the arc, which means heading towards the outside of the turn. The instant you've straightened your line, get on the front brake hard and hope like hell you don't run out of asphalt before you've dumped enough speed to get things sorted out. If departing the asphalt is unavoidable, try to do so at the last possible moment so your speed is minimal. With luck, you'll have slowed enough that you can tip-toe through the grass until you've either stopped completely or have steered back onto the road. If there's a guardrail, do like the motorcyclists and lay the bike down on its side. You'll end up with major road rash but that's better than crushing your bike against the guardrail and probably being pitched over it.
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Old 10-20-07, 07:33 AM
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I'd vote mostly for #1 (pilot error) and a little for #2 (less rear brake) in your specific instance. No amount of expert brake bias will help if you're just going too hot into a turn. There's only so much friction available from the tires (the "friction circle", as they say), and if you have to brake too hard, you won't have enough grip to turn.
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Old 10-20-07, 07:45 AM
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Ride more, get used to cornering, chances are they bike has the capability to go around that corner at the speed you were going, but you don't.

So that's my advice, ride more, learn more.
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Old 10-20-07, 08:11 AM
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here's some weird bike forums karma....

It rained here last night, and there are a bunch of pine needles lining the sides of all the back roads here.

I just got back from a ride, and almost bit it big time on the slightest of curves. No braking, just 20mph and some wet needles. I managed the save, but instantly was thinking - "damn you, bike forums karma, for offering up a simple answer!"
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Old 10-20-07, 09:40 AM
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Great points above and I'll add one. First, I agree you should be 85% front brake or more - that's where stopping power comes from. second,, you should bet comfortable trail braking.

The point I didn't see above is that it is critical to continue to look through the corner. your bike will go where you look and the tendency is to target fixate on the tree (or grassy slope) on the side of the road. More often than not you can ride it through a corner - but you have to have your head up and be looking for the exit.

Given a choice of crashes you want to low side not high side. grabbing a bunch of brake is a recipe for a high side (going over your bike). It sounds like you just grabbed too much brake because you felt you were going too fast - on wet roads especially you have to be really smooth.
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Old 10-20-07, 02:03 PM
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At least now you know the road. Where you have turns back to back, planning for one tricky turn one turn before that will help you a lot, so you shouldn't have to brake hard at all. (To echo ericm979: pick the line in the first turn that may not be the quickest for that turn but that will put you in the right position for navigating the next turn.)
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Old 10-20-07, 02:42 PM
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Keep your weight back and keep your center of gravity low (stay in the drops).

Feather your brakes periodically when it's wet to keep your pads/rims dry. That way the braking modulation will be there when you need it and you'll be less likely to panic and lock up your brakes.
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Old 10-20-07, 08:14 PM
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great thread, thanks for everyone's analysis.

reading this helped me piece together what i think happened to me descending today. was coming into a slightly decreasing radius left hander with about 35 mph; hard on the front, some on the back, maybe 66/33 (?).

weight dist moves to front, back loses traction, slides out; trying to turn left at the same time, while probably increasing front brake to compensate for rear (yeah that's where i could have saved myself i guess) slide. straight into a ditch after a bounce on the black stuff. not a fun 2 hours back to home. oh well, i'll be back.
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Old 10-20-07, 09:26 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by pidda View Post
great thread, thanks for everyone's analysis.

reading this helped me piece together what i think happened to me descending today. was coming into a slightly decreasing radius left hander ....
Those decreasing-radius turns on unfamiliar roads are a killer, that's for sure. I always go slow around turns if I don't know the area.
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Old 10-20-07, 09:54 PM
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I have no problems braking while descending.

I just slow down when I get to the bottom of the overpass.
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