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The Outdoors Manual: Using Brakes the RIGHT Way

By Richard Luo


Brakes are one of the most crucial components of a functional, secure bike. A working brake averts disasters, injuries, and expensive medical fees. However, most people don't know how to utilize brakes to its greatest efficacy. In this short read, I'll briefly summarize what you need to know about braking.

Types of Brakes


Brakes are more complicated than you may think. The two most common brakes are rim brakes and disc brakes. As the name suggests, rim brakes use friction pads to apply a braking force to the rim of the wheel. They are cheap, simple, and light, but prone to damage. This means that rim brakes require regular maintenance. The rarest (and most expensive) type of rim brake is the hydraulic brake. The word "hydraulic" fits perfectly in this context as hydraulic brakes use brake fluid to transfer pressure to the braking mechanism. Prices for hydraulic brakes are commonly up in the hundreds.

On the other hand, disc brakes consist of metal discs attached to the wheel hub which squeezes the rotors when braking. Such brakes are most common in mountain bikes and recently, have been found increasingly common in racing bikes. A significant advantage of disc brakes is that it performs equally well in all terrains because it is off the ground. However, this concentrates lots of friction solely on the disc making it prone to overheating. Typically, they can cost from $30 - few hundreds dollars.

Braking Properly


The most important skill in braking is learning the different uses of the front brake and the back brake. In practice, the back brake is used for regulating speed while the front brake is used for completely stopping. This is crucial because the front brake decreases a person's speed more drastically. The greatest danger of a person solely utilizing their front brake is suddenly stopping then flying over their handrails. In addition, if you only use your back brake it is dangerous as well. Suddenly jamming down on the back brake may cause skids or your back tire to slip. Many biking athletes do skids and slides in tricks however an unintended skid is an unwelcome surprise. Therefore, the best method when braking is to use a mix of both to maintain a controllable speed. Once you reach the speed you feel comfortable with, it is important that you release the brakes gradually and look at where you want to go instead of what is directly in front of you. Ultimately, if you are able to master these techniques, braking will no longer be a concern.


Many people overlook the importance of brakes when purchasing bikes or even going on a brief ride. Because well-functioning, effective brakes are usually the only thing standing between a biker and disaster, spending an extra 10 minutes adjusting or installing one is worth it. On a broader scope, brakes are applied in even more industrialized technologies such as cars, motorcycles, and even airplanes–exemplifying our current dependency on brakes in the modern era but also its necessity in the future.

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