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Lesson Two: Braking And Descending

01 February 2013

Even if you've got an old clunker - you'll weigh considerably more than it does. A typical rider to bike weight ratio is around 6:1. The obvious implication is that the position of your body on the bike has a major effect on how the whole arrangement performs. Weight transfer is the secret to controlled descent and stopping.

Whoa there baby! (the fine art of stopping)

The secret to stopping in a hurry is to focus on your front wheel. On the flat, it accounts for about 70% of your stopping power - even more when you're on the slope! When you hit the brakes, your effective centre of mass moves forward - the back wheel lifts and the front digs in. So there's more traction up front and more effective stopping using the front brake. It's a good plan to shift your weight back at the same time to avoid pitching over the handle bars. Government Warning: ensure the bike is upright and pointing straight ahead while grabbing lots of front brake, ie. not cornering. More about this next time. Remember to squeeze the brakes progressively rather than 'slamming on the anchors.' You achieve maximum braking just before your wheels lock up (same principle as ABS on cars). Skidding is not an effective way to stop, is totally uncool for the track and shows your lack of skill to others.

Get Down, James Brown (descending with style)

As you descend, your centre of mass shifts forward causing the back wheel to become unweighted. When you brake, your effective centre of mass moves even further forward and the stopping process wants to rotate you and your bike over the front wheel. Clearly this is not a good scene. Compensate by lowering your dropper seat post for a more upright stance that nudges your weight backwards. You've got it right when your back wheel stays in contact with terra firma, so the bike is stable and you avoid doing the full frontal spontaneous dismount (ouch).