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4 steps to better braking

We all love our bikes. Cheap or expensive, pound for pound there are few better ways to ignite a toothy mud-filled grin!

Below the mucky exterior though lurks a huge amount of technology and technique. Take, for example, suspension and brakes. When riding over rough terrain, the bouncy part of a mountain bike helps to absorb the impact of rocks, roots, trail debris and uneven surfaces, providing a smoother ride. However, when the brakes are applied, the suspension changes. It gets a bit sulky and effective, why?

Braking forces

When we yank on the brakes, or even feather them gently, force is generated. That force has to go somewhere; namely into the frame of your bike. This can play havoc with the suspension system. In simple terms, braking pushes the force forward extending your shock where you really want it to compress. This is known as Anti-rise or brake jacking. The result is The back end of your bike turns into a bucking Bronco-type situation. Exactly the opposite effect of what you want riding rough terrain.

Weight transfer

When you apply the brakes, your weight is transferred from the rear wheel to the front wheel. This can cause the front suspension to compress through the soft supple part of its travel. With the back of your bike jacking up and the front sinking even the best suspension setup can and does fail to carry you through the lumps and, in the worst cases, send you out through the front door.

Overall, the suspension system is less effective over rough terrain when you’re applying the brakes.

What can riders do to compensate for this unwanted tangle of suspension forces when braking?

Here are some tips

Weight distribution: Shift your weight back to the rear of the bike when braking to minimize the weight transferring to the front wheel. This will help to maintain the effectiveness of your front suspension.

  1. Wheelbase: Yep a new bike may be the key. A longer wheelbase increases stability and reduces the effect of weight transfer.

  2. Tire pressure: Set and forget, right? Nope. Adjust your tire pressures to find the best pressure minimizing rolling resistance and providing maximum comfort over each day of riding.

  3. Suspension adjustment: Like your tire pressures, no two days or trails are the same. Become familiar with what fork and shock settings you might need to adjust to improve matters.

  4. Approach: Similarly to cornering and climbing, if you are in the right position and at an appropriate speed your bike will be better able to cope with what’s thrown at it.

TLDR: When riding over rough terrain, the suspension system of a mountain bike helps to absorb the impact of bumps and uneven surfaces, providing a smoother ride. However, when the brakes are applied, the suspension becomes less effective due to the interference of braking forces, reduced anti-rise, and weight transfer. Riders can compensate for the reduced effectiveness of suspension when braking by shifting their weight, adjusting their tire pressures, measuring their approach, and making suspension adjustments.
Jet Stokes
Jet Stokes

Jet is a long-time frequent mountain biker and father of four. With all that time spent on bikes, he knows what gear does and doesn't work for him and his family.

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