Your front brake might save your life!

This article on using your bicycle’s front brake article  should be considered a must-read for all cyclists. It’s great to have 3rd-party validation of something I’ve been talking to customers about for years. I cannot tell you how many times I’m replacing the 3rd or 4th set rear brake pads on road bikes and the front pads are the original and untouched. How many accidents have occurred, and possibly even lives lost, because cyclists didn’t know they could stop in ¼ (or less!) of the distance they think they can? Different rules apply if it’s raining or wet, of course. And a hard grab of your front brake on gravel isn’t a good idea either. But on normal dry pavement, where most of us ride 98.5% of the time, it’s your front brake that is going to save you.

It’s tough to sell because some are so concerned they’re going to go over the handlebars, a scenario rarely actually caused by the front brake but more often something else (front wheel digging into a pothole, too much weight forward of the center of the bike when encountering an obstacle etc). The way I get people over the hurdle, with some success, is to suggest using only their front brake on a very gentle grade. Keep the speed down. Maybe descending Alpine from Portola Valley towards Arastradero. A non-critical environment where you don’t have to apply a lot of brake to slow down or stop.

The other thing missed out on when you don’t use a front brake is the effect it has on maneuvering. If you’re leaning over, going through a turn, and apply the front brake, it will try to straighten you out. That’s a tool you can use to change your line in a hurry if need be.

Your bike may be capable of a lot more than you think!

3 thoughts on “Your front brake might save your life!

  1. Mike,
    I read the brake story early this morning. I agree with most of it, but the idea that the front brake alone stops better than both brakes is different than my riding experiences.

    Did you send UAL the same comments about your France trip you posted a while back?
    They heard from somebody. Quite a few legacy United 767 aircraft have recently had interior audits done. The worst plane spent about a week at SFO. More than 100 items were replaced, cleaned up, or re-worked. This plane wasn’t supposed to be in for routine major mechanical service until late this year. Keep your comments coming.


    1. Chris: In theory, a rear brake on normal pavement can add, at most, a few percent of stopping power. I think the problem is with us; I’d have a hard time convincing myself that the front brake alone is all that’s needed. I understand the physics, but there’s something comforting about two brakes instead of one. As long as you’re not putting too much strength into the rear brake, I don’t think it’s an issue.

      Regarding those UAL 767s, yes, I a very similar message to UA, including photos. That plane really was awful. Was I the reason you got some extra work? Don’t know, but here’s the response I got-

      Mr. Jacoubowsky,

      Thank you for contacting United Airlines.

      I regret learning about your disappointment with the appearance of the
      cabin aboard flight 655 11July13. In efforts to provide you with a
      seamless travel experience, United expects our staff to maintain the
      aircrafts to ensure the cabins are safe and comfortable.

      The comfort of our passengers is a primary focus for us, and I truly
      regret you were disappointed in our service. Each aircraft adheres to a
      rigorous maintenance schedule to help ensure our customers enjoy safe
      and comfortable travel.

      I will include your comments in our monthly Customer Care report. The
      report will be reviewed by our Technical Operations Team. I am confident
      necessary repairs will be made.

      Please be assured your comments have been reported to the members of
      senior management team as well, for internal review. As a goodwill
      gesture I have added thirtyfive hundred bonus miles. to your MileagePlus account.

      We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a
      future United Airlines flight.

      xxx xxx
      Corporate Customer Care

  2. Practiced this in Lorri’s Savvy Bike Skills 101 class. The ‘get your weight waaaay back with your belly on the saddle’ does indeed keep the rear wheel down nicely–was amazing how short one can stop.

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