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Should You Use Both Rear and Front Brakes on a Mountain Bike at the Same Time? What is the Proper Braking MTB Method?

Properly using brakes to ensure safety can be crucial in every ride. Read this article about what is the proper braking method for mountain bikes.

A cyclist drifting on a dirt road.

Hearing the screeching of rubber against gravel and the sound of metal impacting against metal, I looked behind just in time to see a rather shocked-looking Sonny fly over the handle-bars of his new mountain bike, do a 180-degree somersault, and thankfully, land on his soft behind.

Getting off my mountain bike, a Dynacraft-Silver Canyon MBT I quickly ran to, and was kneeling beside him in a flash.

“Are you okay my boy, are you hurt?” I enquired, a note of worry and concern in my voice.

“No, no, at least I don’t think so”, Sonny responded.Dynacraft 26" Men's Silver Canyon Dual Suspension Mountain Bike

All the while fighting back tears from the shock of his fall, rather than from pain. Just as well we had left my wife and daughter at home.

It was as I helped Sonny up, that he, in his usual intelligent but this time, accusatory way,  asked me a question that in a way inferred his fall was  my fault.

“Hey, dad, should you use both rear and front brakes on a mountain bike at the same time?”, asked a shaken but not bruised Sonny as he got up, an accusatory scrawl on his face.

Like a ton of bricks, it dawned on me, I had forgotten and omitted to teach Sonny how to properly brake his mountain bike during his riding lessons with me. And to think I had researched and read up on it intending to pass on the valuable lesson to my son and heir!

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Wisely aware of why the question was being asked and where it was headed, I calmly and in a soothing and fatherly way responded, “No, son. You shouldn’t use both the rear and front brakes on a mountain bike at the same time-unless, perhaps, you are going uphill.”

Being the bigger man, I quickly proceeded to apologize and make amends.

“I am so sorry that I forgot to teach you not to during our mountain bike riding lessons. Let me teach and show you now how to brake properly, depending on where you are riding.”

A la former President Donald Trump, I sort of pivoted and turned a bad incident or oversight into a learning opportunity.

“That’s okay, dad!” came my understanding little man’s response-an all-too-knowing grin on his face.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Both the Rear And Front Brakes on a Mountain Bike

A cyclist drifting from a hill on a mountain bike.

After two weeks of lovingly teaching my now six-year-old boy how to ride the new mountain bike  I had got him for his birthday, it was time to take him and our bad boy mountain bikes for a day’s outing. Just us guys, no women!

I tell you, if you are looking to get away from it all, then I recommend you get a mountain bike, head for your nearest outdoors, and make some memories. There is nothing more liberating than enjoying the scenery while on your bike.

The past fortnight riding my mountain bike again, and teaching Sonny how to ride his, had reminded me just how confining and stuffy can be. Just what a great option mountain bikes are.

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Huffy Kids Hardtail Mountain Bike for Boys, Stone Mountain 20 inch 6-Speed, Metallic Cyan (73808) Built for rough terrain, over the last two weeks, I had taught Sonny to appreciate mountain bikes’ light, but sturdy frame’s ability to endure bumps and obstacles.

Together, we had taken our “bad boys” (nicknames for our mountain bikes-Huffy Hardtail MBT just didn’t sit well with Sonny) over to the local building waste dump-site and experienced how our mountain bikes’ wide tires and knotted treads-aided by the front suspension- had made riding smoother by absorbing the edge off of the rubble and old concrete bumps. The comfortable seats of our bikes offering that much needed cushioning. QYLS Kids Bike Seat and Handlebar Accessory Combo Pack - Complete Set | Front Mounted Bicycle Seats for Children 2-5 Years (up to 48 Pound) | Compatible with All Adult MTB

Our mountain bikes coming with adjustable handlebars that can be conveniently adjusted to suit your height, a 21-speed drivetrain that allows you to effortlessly pedal uphill and down, it had been while I was in the park teaching Sonny how to use the drivetrain, that I had noticed his tendency to haphazardly brake, either using the front, back or both brakes to stop. Subsequently,  I had made a note-to-self to teach him how to brake his mountain bike properly, depending on where he is riding.

Good dad that I am, I had even spent some time researching why you shouldn’t use both rear and front brakes on a mountain bike at the same time. The findings of which I had unfortunately forgotten to pass on to Sonny until his wrong-braking-fall that day at Devil’s Slide in Yellowstone Park.

Before I forget again, let me share with you some information concerning some features of mountain bikes and riding them.  These will help you understand and be quite handy when it comes to why you shouldn’t always use both rear and front brakes at the same time and the proper MTB methods.Mountain bike trail - Devil's Slide in Yellowstone Park.

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FYI,

  1. Purpose of Brakes on a Mountain Bike. Generally, brakes on a car, train, bus, plane, and, yes, bicycles-especially mountain bikes, are an indication that the type of transport that they are on has the potential to gather speed. That being so, the purpose of the brakes on them is to control their forward or backward speed to, as much as possible, bring them to a safe stop.
  2. Two Independent Brakes. Unlike a car whose one brake pedal controls both its back and front-wheel brakes, mountain bikes have two brakes-one (usually the left) for the back wheel and the other (usually the right) for the back wheel. This becomes very important to remember depending on the terrain/topography of where you are mountain biking and the speed you are riding at. You “need to pay attention to how you use each of them.”
    When it comes to stopping, the back wheel “cannot contribute to stopping power since it has no traction.” The front tire gives and has all the stopping power. Learning to correctly use/modulate the front brake will make you a safer cyclist as some 95% of skilled riders only use the front brake.
  3. Terrain and Speed.  Mountain bikes are built for rough terrain and speed. With a 21-speed drivetrain that allows you to effortlessly pedal uphill and down, there is a very important connection between the terrain you are riding on, the speed of the mountain bike, and how you use/apply your brakes.  This is important to take note of if you are riding either up a slope, but particularly if going downhill or down a slope. More so, when you speed.  
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With the above information in mind, let me now share with you the proper MTB method I had intended to teach Sonny but forgot. Please don’t forget to share it with your friends and family.

What Then, is the Proper Braking MTB Method? FIVE Techniques to Apply  

A person with a gloves on a mountain bike holding a brake.

Gentle and not sudden braking is the best braking policy, especially when traveling at top speed on your mountain bike.

Only use both brakes when (i) you are on flat terrain and not speeding (ii) when going uphill and would like to rest but not slide backward. N.B: Simultaneously applying both brakes while going fast can cause fish-tailing whereby the rear wheel “goes past” the front, resulting in skidding.

To perform an emergency stop, “apply the front brake so hard that the rear wheel is just about to lift off the ground”. As much as possible, when mountain biking, always avoid speeding that will require maximum deceleration/emergency stopping.

Only apply the rear brake where grip/footing is poor or when the front tire has blown. Otherwise, it takes twice as much time braking with the rear brakes than it does with the front.

Brace yourself when braking hard by “moving back on your saddle to keep the center of gravity as far back” as possible. According to Jobst Brands, “the typical ‘over the bars’ crash is caused by braking hard without using your arms to brace against deceleration”. Consequently, the bike stops, and, like in Sonny’s case, the rider continues to move-and flies over the handlebars.

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Now that you know all you need to about how to correctly brake when riding a mountain bike, get one! Whether you’re looking for an economical means of getting to work or just want to see the outdoors, mountain bikes and biking are great.