ZEP's How-To Mythbusters - Braking Through Downhill Corners

Mar 18, 2015
by ZEP MTB Camps  
In the first of our ZEP Mountain Bike Camps Mythbusters Series (see here) we took a look at why certain 'myths' in mountain bike technique exist, and what are some of the key ways to look at learning, to help understand new techniques and progress in your riding. These articles are intended for any rider interested in learning some core techniques to progress their skills, as well as for instructors/coaches who are looking to improve the quality and consistency of their lessons.

In this article we'll be taking a look at the following myth; "I read somewhere that you shouldn't brake through corners and I've been trying to do this for ages, but just can't do it." While the following information may seem obvious to some people, this is one of the most common myths we find coaching riders (even experts!) every year, and when addressed, can be one of the easiest ways to improve a riders confidence, speed and flow through corners. To understand why this myth typically causes more problems than it fixes, let's first take a look at how braking actually affects the bike and rider.

Zep s How-To Mythbusters - Braking Through Downhill Corners

The Negative Affects of Braking

- Typically, less traction (though sometimes braking can actually increase traction on the front wheel)
- Less efficient/supple suspension.
- Harder to lean (both bike and body), and therefore control the direction of the bike.
- Riders centre of mass shifts forward, potentially reducing stability.
- Riders' muscles stiffen, reducing mobility.
- Harder for wheels to roll over bumps smoothly.

It seems like braking is a really bad idea... maybe we should never do it?! Of course, this is not possible because we need to control our speed... a fairly fundamental part to safe riding. So, the challenge is to control our speed while minimizing the negative effects of braking. How to we do this? We simply need to gain a better understanding and skill of choosing when to brake.

When To Brake The idea of when to brake is to allow a rider to control their speed, while minimizing the negative affects of braking.

Riders can do this by actively scanning the trail with their vision and selecting when to brake, by choosing zones (sections of trail) to brake more or less in. A classic example is corners - brake more before the corner, brake less through the corner. This requires a rider to actively choose when to brake more and when to brake less, instead of absent-mindedly dragging both brakes the same amount through the entire corner. Another example could be on a rough, technical section of trail and the same idea would apply, brake more beforehand to brake less during, so the bike and rider can better deal with the rougher terrain.

Zep s How-To Mythbusters - Braking Through Downhill Corners
Maintaining a stable position on the bike is key to confident, consistent cornering... learning when and how to use the brakes can greatly help this.

More or Less vs. Brake or no Brake We know when to brake, but how should we brake?

In a downhill corner, especially one that is banked/bermed, the bike will naturally want to accelerate. This often causes the bike to move forward relative to the rider, leaving the rider in the ever familiar 'off the back' feeling, as they exit the corner. Therefore, letting the brakes off completely can often cause the rider to lose stability and control through the corners, which makes it especially difficult if a corner immediately leads into another one, like on Ninja Cougar in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Simply put, the idea of 'braking before the corner and not through the corner', while intending to help, typically causes more problems than it fixes.

Instead, the language of more braking before the corner, and less braking during achieves the desired outcome - to get your speed controlled before the corner, while providing the added bonus of making it much easier to control the bike through the corner. To understand this a little more let's take a look at the differences between braking to slow down and braking to not speed up.

Zep s How-To Mythbusters - Braking Through Downhill Corners
Claire can corner faster than most...

"There are so many elements of cornering and braking is a big one. I always tell my clients that it isn't realistic to not brake in the corners. It's more about where and how much to achieve maximum exit speed. "UCI World Cup DH Racer, UCI World Champion DH Bronze Medalist, Kovarik Racing Coach, Claire Buchar

Braking to Slow Down vs. Braking to not Speed up Using both brakes vs. only the rear brake

Braking to slow down causes the negative effects of braking to happen significantly (suspension stiffens, traction is reduced, etc)... which is why we try to do this before the corners. Riders should use both brakes to slow down, applying the brakes gradually, keeping the power consistent, for smooth, skid-free braking.

Braking to not speed up (to control or maintain speed) however, causes little to no negative effects of braking... and this is why we can do this through the corner. Furthermore, it helps keep the rider centred by keeping the bike "underneath" the rider, instead of it accelerating ahead of them. A rider can use just the rear brake, to not speed up... we call this technique Trail Braking. While controlling speed, this also keeps the front brake off, ensuring the front wheel has maximum traction and the fork tracks smoothly. This simple braking technique has helped countless ZEP clients improve their confidence, control and speed through downhill corners. Loose, connecting corners are another great example of when a little trail braking can help control, speed and flow. A little rear brake through a downhill corner can do far more good than bad... it's all about pros and cons.

Over time and with focused practice, a rider can ultimately learn to let the brakes off completely, in more and more corners. However, there will always be downhill corners where a rider can use trail braking through the corner for better control, stability and exit speed. Racers can even use this technique to gradually build up there confidence and speed through corners that they don't know well, by gradually trail braking less and less, depending on what the section of corner and trail will allow them to do.

Zep s How-To Mythbusters - Braking Through Downhill Corners
Here we can see Chris gently trail braking (his rear brake is on the left) through this sweeping, downhill corner.

"For most people not braking through corners is unrealistic; even for me, there’s a bunch of times where a little braking through a corner makes sense. Taking your chain off can teach you about your braking and line choice in corners. You won't have pedalling to get you out of trouble, so how you use the brakes to control your speed into, through and out of the corner, is even more important." Downhill Mountain Bike Racing Legend, Chris "Karver" Kovarik.

Practicing more brake before the corner and less brake (rear only) through the corners and you should find yourself:

- Linking corners more easily
- Maintaining speed through corners better (meaning a faster exit speed)
- Maintaining a more centred, stable body position
- And maybe even going into them faster, in the first place!

So, try to open your mind when it comes to biking techniques. Try not to think of them as right or wrong, but more pros and cons. It will allow you the freedom to experiment and ultimately gain a much deeper understanding of how, why and when certain techniques can be used. Mountain biking involves so many constantly changing variables, that 'right' techniques are often not the case in a different situation, and vice versa with 'wrong' techniques.

Stay safe, progress in small steps and happy riding people!


credit www.timhailwoodphotography.com

Paul Howard is the Owner-Director & Head Coach of ZEPtechniques, Technical Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association, Head Snowboard Trainer for Whistler Blackcomb SnowSchool, Technical Education Committee & 2015 Interski Team Member for the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors, and has been teaching mountain biking and training mountain bike instructors around the world, since the late 90's.

ZEPtechniques is a Whistler-based mountain bike camps and instructor training company. Established in 2006, ZEP offers single and multi-week, adult specific rider improvement camps, as well as weekly clinics, private lessons and tours. ZEP's Instructor Training services include the industry's original, multi-week mountain bike instructor training camps; training riders four days per week with evening seminars on suspension set up, bike mechanics, nutrition, as well as strength & conditioning sessions, all with industry experts. As developers of the internationally available Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Certifications and Directors of the PMBI Association, ZEP has long played a key role in establishing and improving the finest teaching practices and instructor certifications, within mountain biking.

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Author Info:
zepmtbcamps avatar

Member since Mar 24, 2006
34 articles

  • 85 0
 This is great information. Thank you so much for your commitment to the sport. As a new rider this ia the information I need to keep up with the guys I ride with.
  • 56 18
 you never admit your a new rider on pinkbike...
  • 88 9
 what about the fact you ride a kona? lol
  • 9 21
flag scott-townes (Mar 18, 2015 at 15:34) (Below Threshold)
 Using just the rear brake is so much fun also. I do it all the time while riding on flat ground. Skid drifts for dayyyys. um uh, not on trails though... yea...
  • 28 4
 @game Nothing wrong with Kona ;p
  • 4 0
 Just follow what Steve Peat said in Seasons Last scene
  • 6 0
 "Skid free or die" - Steve Peat in Season's last scene.
  • 4 2
 thats ma boy @Konakonakona-Chameleon Wink you got my back
  • 2 1
 i have an old skool kona hardtail and love it
  • 11 0
 I'm not proud, I'm new to this. 48 years old and haven't had a bike since I was 13. Completely addicted and cant wait for my next wide, living in Vernon B.C. I am lucky to have amazing terrain and a great biking group, NOCS. I need all the help I can get to keep up with the old guys who have been riding for many years. I'll take any advantage I can. Keep the tips coming so I can improve. I also hear Kona is a pretty good bike. I personally like the B.C. made Rocky Mountain, only because that's what I own.
  • 2 0
 way to be hyped jbelot!
  • 54 13
 Good advice, but it's effect not affect.
  • 23 20
 Funny how you get downvoted for not being an illiterate moron on this site full of stupid children. Upvote for you sir, glad I'm not the only one who noticed this.
  • 12 2
 Fedora intensifies
  • 5 8
 Shredteds - I'm SHOCKED to view your profile and find that you're a teenager. /sarcasm
  • 7 0
 @shredteds M'lady.
  • 8 1
 Chill out man, stressing like that at the ripe old age of 30 will give you heart problems!
  • 2 0
 Only for 2 out of 3. Smile
  • 22 2
 Just for clarification. From motorcycle experience, the front brake actually makes it easier to tip the bike into lean due to the added weight reducing the trail as the fork compresses under braking - this makes it more responsive to smaller inputs. This rule is generally true for all two wheel vehicles, is it really not so for bikes, or just in this case due to the slope and camber of downhill corners?? And trail braking is actually not called trail braking because of the use of the rear brake only, its called trail braking because you trail off the brakes gradually as you increase lean angle (trailing off the brakes into the corner) with the apex being the end of braking. Motorcycles generally do most of this with the front brake. Is this different for mountain bikes because of being on dirt?? Just curious because I trail brake to an insane degree in the opinion of those that I ride with.
  • 13 1
 From moto as a kid, I've always liked to use a touch of front brake when needed to help get traction in the corners. I don't know another MTB guy who does this, but it works.
  • 5 0
 I've also found the frontbrake very useful for controlling traction up front and manipulating the bike through corners, I didn't even realize this until i took my bmx on a pumptrack, felt so foreign cornering with no front brake.
  • 2 1
 how does the front brake control traction? I've typically tried to avoid grabbing front brake during corners like the plague...especially with loose flat corners.

Maybe i'm missing something here...
  • 2 1
 if you feather the front brake, it engages the braking edges of the knobs, transfers weight and brings the front in a bit also. Too be clear, i mean feathering the front brake ontop of whatever braking with the rear you may be doing, alot of it is the balance between the two. Over do the front and yea you'll wash out. Depends on the situation you're in though, its more of a corrective thing than something you do every corner.
  • 2 1
 I think it has more to do with the weight of a bike and the gradient of the trails they ride. The rear brake will still compress the front suspension enough on something as light as a mountain bike, especially down hill. However, I totally agree about the front brake helping with tip-in right before the corner.
  • 3 0
 interesting. I love reading about shit like this, but I do find that I ride best when I don't over-complicate things. Most important advice of all is to look where you want to go....also the most obvious, but something I think most people on pinkbike would benefit from.
  • 2 7
flag delusional (Mar 18, 2015 at 20:41) (Below Threshold)
 In theory rear biased braking should be transferring weight towards the back of the bike shouldn't it? By slowing down the rear wheel relative to the front you'd be encouraging the rear to pull back, sitting the bike back down into it's travel, and transferring weight towards the rear.
I guess the key factor here is whether that is minimal compared to the reduction in rearward transfer that is caused by preventing the bike accelerating away from the rider, and how much of that can be counteracted with rider movement.

In further theory, front biased braking should cause the front wheel to push back against the rear, tuck under a little more, and transfer weight to the front. Provided the braking isn't enough to start the tyre skipping this should bias towards oversteer. Pretty similar to the concept of left foot braking in a car.

Opposing argument to both of those is the geometry changes of the bike and how they allow the rider to react. A rear biased weight transfer that doesn't push the rider off the bike will slacken the geometry and allow the rider to weight the front end more, where a front biased weight transfer will steepen the bike and cause the rider to want to lean back to correct.

Rider movement is probably the differentiating factor here - the rider is such a high percentage of the total bike&rider weight, and is so free to move that weight around, that we can largely counteract any weight transfer that doesn't fundamentally change the riders position on the bike. Concepts that are key in car dynamics (or on street bikes) become pretty different in usage when we can change the balance point as effectively as we can on MTB.

MTB is complicated.
  • 2 3
 On a street bike you are never supposed to brake in a turn. If you arent making the turn then you lean more and add some throttle. And throughout the turn you are supposed to be gradually adding speed. It keeps the rear tire on the ground and ensures traction. If you brake in the turn, weight shifts forward, rear tire loses traction, and you are sliding to the outside. I also wonder why its different on a mountain bike
  • 1 0
 @poundsand aside from the obvious differences in consistency between how tarmac and dirt behaves with tires, you also dont have compression braking on a mtn bike. Ad in gravity acting like a throttle thats always open a little and you find yourself needing the brakes to control things, up until you reach the point in the corner where you can begin to accelerate.
  • 1 0
 i think there's quite a few guys on here that ride or have ridden motor bikes that will find feathering the front brake into a corner a natural thing to do to gain front wheel grip, i did a mtb skills course and was told not to brake into and part way through a bend, and dam it was so hard not to feather the brakes in corners, in fact it felt a unnatural, the course was great but i still brake like i'm riding a motor bike when ever i ride hard into corners
  • 2 0
 Just see why the top tube has naturally leaned backward in mtb history and you'll find that you need to put the rider in the center of mass for better mass transfer. The lack of grip in dirt can't enable you too use the front wheel as a pivot.
  • 1 0
 In an other hand, decreased braking like in motorsports is good thing to learn. Even how to take the apex.
  • 1 0
 So would ZEP's term of trail braking be the same as "rear wheel steering", a guy like joe barnes does all the time?
  • 1 0

Are you referring to a pre-drift before a corner? As in, swinging the rear towards the corner before whipping it around and through the corner? If so, my understanding of trail braking is not in line with that.

Trail braking, as far as I know, is feathering rear brake throughout a corner (not necessarily through the whole corner, but where necessary) simply to control speed and lean without losing traction created by your front tire / fork.
  • 1 0
 No @nvranka , what I'm thinking of, is what Barnes does at :09 seconds in on this video through the corner. I know it as rear wheel steering but I guess trail braking is the same. www.pinkbike.com/video/380134
  • 1 3
 Go ride your bike you'll figure it out! Crashing teaches you what not to do at least...
  • 3 0
 Using a tiny bit of front brake in the corners, acts as a form of traction control, just like a car. It's the same principle.
  • 23 0
 Real trick is to turn hard and pray for the best
  • 19 1
 you forgot to say close your eyes first, lol
  • 19 0
 "Jesus take the handlebars!"
  • 5 0
 Foot out flat out.
  • 3 0
 And Stick your tongue out as well as look away from the trail! Wink
  • 10 1
 Brilliant info, please do more stuff like this (bar set up/angle of brakes as its one of the area that everyone has a different approach)!
  • 9 0
 Most times I prefer written tutorials to videos, so this was a welcome addition.
  • 7 1
 If the berm is steep (designed properly) then you should rarely ever have to brake. However, many bike park berms are far too shallow with low entrances so often times you need to brake.
  • 7 0
 and ghetto berms with radii that change up and down through the corner
  • 1 0
 "ghetto berms", Lol. I know a few of those myself. Hope they fix 'em this year.
  • 5 0
 Good info -- I'm gonna Bshare this with some friends who are just learning... should accelerate their learning process and give them more confidence. Thanks -- keep the tips coming! Wink
  • 7 0
 Great article! We need more information like this on PB.
  • 7 0
 one of the best articles yet!!
  • 5 2
 Well personally I find it very much dependent on the situation. A standard speed check before the corner should always be done to get the right speed for the corner. Some corners one would have to be almost at a stand still to not having to grab some brake, so its alot faster to brake before the corner down to a comforable speed and just keep checking the speed through the corner.

Overall I think dh/mtb is way to situational to have a can and cannot rules. Just remember that rolling tires get more grip, so the harder you brake your tires are going to start loosing traction. And the miore the bike will want to stand you up and out of the corner.

something that I think has made the most difference for my cornering is to really pre-lean myself and the bike before the entry of the corner. That lines up the g-force generated more straight into the ground (has to have some sort of support) and I can really push of the suspension with good balance. The difference is for me really night and day. However it does require alot of confidence in yourself and tires.
  • 3 0
 Great info! I have always felt forced to not brake. So usually end up "feathering" or trail braking somewhat to stay in control for a nice exit line. Looking forward towards the end of the turn also helps to stay off the brake and flow more naturally with the bike. Excited for the upcoming articles.
  • 7 0
 I love these articles they are so helpful
  • 2 0
  poundsand (4 mins ago) On a street bike you are never supposed to brake in a turn. If you arent making the turn then you lean more and add some throttle. And throughout the turn you are supposed to be gradually adding speed. It keeps the rear tire on the ground and ensures traction. If you brake in the turn, weight shifts forward, rear tire loses traction, and you are sliding to the outside. I also wonder why its different on a mountain bike

Actually as any track rider will tell you you do. As lean angle increases breaking decreases to the point that you are off at the apex while simultaneously opening the throttle to accelerate out. Watch any motogp or ama rider a and you will see the exact idea I'm asking about. For reference I'm a trackday junkie. (I group). For reference check sport riders skills section on trailbraking or take the msf sport bike riders course - they teach beginning trailnraking.
  • 6 1
 as useful as ever, thanks a bunch bucko
  • 6 2
 But people don't read Pinkbike articles to check grammar, probably the only person that noticed...
  • 8 4
 Best to think of front and rear brakes as independent of each other. Rear brake prevents more speed, front brake stops.
  • 3 0
 Problem I have is my brain says: "you don't need to brake on this corner" and get somehow I still have my finger squeezing on the brake lever.
  • 1 0
 Now that So Cal is all dried out again and all the hero dirt is gone, the front brake feathering comes into play a lot more for me. It gets so slippery out here with most trails being dust, sand, and pea gravel over hardpacked clay. It's like sand on smooth concrete.
  • 3 0
 Great article. It is fun and usefull to get reviews on technique during the down season. I wish we had more often some of these articles on pinkbike.
  • 1 0
 I don't think that "brake more before the corner and less during the corner" is right tbh..

If your skills allow you to, or the corner is made well enough, than you shouldn't touch the brake during the corner.
Just speed check before the turn, then really lean into the corner with your bodyweight. And get a central, aggresive position on the bike before you enter the turn (flex your ellbows, chin over the bar).
Obviously you still need to be able to brake incase you misscalculated your speedcheck.

And if there is immediately coming a next berm afterwards, stand up at the exit of the berm, and push down/lean into the next one.

Use some medium berms to practice. You will quickly see how your speed is increasing.
  • 5 2
 im too ADD right now for words, i was hoping for a video, oh well... wheres my ritalin...
  • 4 0
 Nice work Paul!

This is good info peeps!

  • 3 0
 just ride also this makes me happy memegenerator.net/instance/43281575
  • 9 6
  • 3 1
 i used to race bmx. my front brakes and pads are in really great shape. almost new id say.
  • 2 0
 what are these brakes things?
  • 2 1
 It seems they have forgotten one crucial bit on taking a bermed corner and that is to push hard on the fork into it.
  • 5 1
 This article is about braking not cornering. One thing at a time.
  • 5 1
 The article is called "Braking through Cornering"!
  • 1 0
 The more you ride......
  • 1 1
 tiny Scandinavian Flicks....
  • 1 1
 Brakes will only slow you down
  • 2 5
 "Riders can do this by actively scanning the trail with their vision" What else would you scan it with....
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