Most bikes use rim brakes that have a brake mechanism on both the front and rear wheels, each operated by one of two hand brake levers. While two-wheel braking provides the best stopping power, riders must know how to combine both brakes efficiently. Too much pressure on the rear brake could cause skidding or less effective braking. Too much on the front brake could send riders toppling over the handlebars as their bike flips forward.

Usually the right brake lever controls the rear brake while the left lever controls the front brake. Riders should know which lever corresponds to which brake and how to best apply the brakes. Good braking should be instinctive because in an emergency, you won't have time to think about how to use your brakes. Be prepared to brake at any time by keeping your hands as close to the brake levers as possible. Some handlebar positions make it easier than others to reach the brake levers. See the earlier discussion of body position.

The most common braking technique for normal road conditions is to squeeze slightly harder on the rear brake at first, then to gradually put more pressure on the front brake as the bike comes to a stop. This will distribute the decelerating force evenly for the smoothest stop. Avoid applying any sudden, intense pressure on the brakes if possible. Instead, apply firm but moderate pressure on the brakes. On downhills, apply light pressure at regular intervals (called feathering) to avoid speeding faster than you'd like. Feathering will keep brake pads from overheating from friction. To stop during a descent, squeeze the rear brake slightly harder than the front, because you are more susceptible to flying over the handlebars during downhills.


Be especially cautious applying brakes when your wheels are wet. Because brakes will be much less effective and more prone to skids when the rims are wet, be sure to brake earlier and more gently than usual. Exert caution, as well, if you must brake while turning, particularly on loose ground. Too much brake pressure in a turn can easily cause your bike to skid or topple over. To brake while turning, apply light pressure, with more emphasis on the rear brake. Whenever possible, brake before entering the turn.

To make an emergency stop in dry conditions, squeeze both brakes firmly, with more pressure on the front brake (which has more braking power). To keep yourself from flying over the handlebars, slide back in the saddle as far as possible and get your body into a low riding position before you begin braking (see Figure 6-5). Also, brace your arms to hold your body back against the forward momentum. If you can tell in advance that emergency braking will not be enough to avoid a collision, try steering out of the way. Or, when there is a possibility of serious injury, you may need to intentionally take a spill off your bike (expect some cuts and bruises). If you're wearing the proper safety gear, injuries can be held to a minimum.

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