Video: Front Brake Skills for Steeps & Rock Rolls

Apr 24, 2020 at 10:30
by ZEP MTB Camps  
Views: 8,289    Faves: 12    Comments: 0

ZEP's infamous Mythbusters Series returns in video form! In this first episode, we take a look at common front brake myths and how to address them for more speed control and less skidding, on steeps and rock rolls. The video takes riders back to basics with some simple drills and techniques that can be developed by any rider, at any level. For sure, practicing front brake drills isn't the flashiest thing to do, but you can do it anywhere and it's something we see riders of all levels (even advanced and expert riders) needing to develop, every summer.

Part 2 will follow up soon with more examples on the trail... stay safe, keep your distance and wash those hands people!

BC s Rock Rolls

About the Author

Paul Howard is the Owner-Director and Head Coach of Whistler-based ZEP Mountain Bike Camps and the President & Technical Director of the internationally recognized Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association - PMBIA. Paul has been teaching mountain biking and training mountain bike instructors and guides around the world, since the late 90's. Paul lives in Whistler, B.C., with his wife and two kids.

About ZEP

Established in 2006, ZEP Mountain Bike Camps is Whistler's premier coaching and instructor training company; running kids and adults camps, weekly programs and youth development racing teams from May to October. ZEP continually strives to offer the ultimate mountain bike learning and riding experiences through the industries finest instructors; those who train and certify other instructors.

ZEP is proudly supported by

Transition Bikes, Shimano, Marzocchi, Troy Lee Designs, DT Swiss, EVOC, Five Ten, Chromag, MRP, Cushcore, Oakley, Bike Park Photos

Previous ZEP Mythbuster articles

ZEP Mythbusters - Position & Balance for Steeps & Heavy Braking
ZEP Mythbusters - Position & Balance for Descending & Corners
ZEP Mythbusters - Braking in Downhill Corners
ZEP Mythbusters - Climbing in Technical Terrain
ZEP Mythbusters - How to Learn, featuring a discussion on Pedal Positions in Corners

Author Info:
zepmtbcamps avatar

Member since Mar 24, 2006
34 articles

  • 14 0
 I’ve been mtn biking since the mid 90s the “myth” of don’t shift your weight back is more of an outdated skill left over from the olden days where bikes were more likely to chuck you over the bars then get you cleanly down a steep sketchy section.

It is a myth now and one of those skills I had to unlearn moving to modern bikes, the sweet spot for traction and maneuverability is a lot more centered on the bike than it used to be.

As to the comments above get a better mic for your recording either a clip on remote or a “shotgun” it’ll help make your audio a lot cleaner and help your commentary “pop”.
  • 7 1
 I recently read an article about whether we need to relearn how to ride on bikes with modern geometry. I think with the way geometry has changed over the years it's a valid point. Like the example you gave Smile
  • 2 1
 @Jacquers: you really do, my Trek Slash will push the front end in corners if you “get in the back seat” but rail them if your centered/weighting the bars. I used to buzz my ass on the rear tire all the time riding old 26” bikes but now with “long low 29er” geometry you are never that far back behind the saddle.
  • 5 7
 Nah, centered between the wheels (or actually, between the tire contact patches) has always been a good idea. It is just that the front center grew more than the rear center of the years so "centered" is now a different position with respect to the bb. Mind though that with bigger wheels (larger rims with higher tires too) and when descending, the tire contact patches both move a bit rearwards with respect to the axles (when looking relative to the earth, not relative to the bike obviously) so you'll still need to shift back more than with 26" or 24" wheels. But the increase in front center more than compensated for that.

A good practice is to learn to climb and descend on a mountain unicycle (MUni). Feedback on where you are with respect to the tire contact patch is quite immediate.

As for relearning to ride with "modern" geometry, I don't know. I feel I should have made the transition much earlier. My previous hardtail frame was a DMR Switchback with 420mm chainstays and I don't know what the front center was, but reach was 375mm and head angle must have been 69deg (with a 115mm headtube and a 130mm travel fork, unsprung). At about 6ft tall I could just about handle it, until I got myself Catalyst pedals and shifted my feet forwards (from ball over the axle to midfoot over the axle). That effectively increased rear center and reduced front center. That tipped the scale from "just doable" to "too sketchy" and I've had some bad crashes since. I got myself a new frame about two years ago. A BTR Ranger still with 26" wheels, but with 415mm chainstay, 460mm reach and head angle is 63deg (with a 150mm head tube and a 120mm travel fork). It may have taken me one week to adapt and after that I felt right at home.

I started late 2001 and even though people indeed told me to lean back on the descends, it never worked for me. I had front suspension but no rear. And after half a year I got a hydraulic disc brake in the front but stuck with the useless V-brake in the rear (because it wouldn't take disc brakes and didn't want an hydraulic rim brake there as I expected the brake booster would catch too much mud as a caked 2.3" tire would hardly clear). So the front wheel offered me much more control than the rear and I developed my style around that.
  • 3 0
 @Honda750: Modern 9ers are less forgiving of poor cornering technique is my take. Pro level riders don't seem to have nearly as much of an issue with the shift in geo, while others like myself have to learn to corner properly. Smile

With the Slash in particular, it has a short reach which makes getting weight on the front a little awkward. I ended up going with a 60mm stem and running the bars as low as my back would allow to try to make the body position feel more natural when cornering. Recently I switched to a '20 Enduro, it has ~30mm longer reach and now front/back weight balance feels far more natural. For some it may not be an issue, but short reach was one of the major design flaws of the Slash for me.
  • 3 0
 Looking at it from a physics point of view, your center of mass' force vector has to pass through the front tire's contact patch to maximize traction and control. How far back your butt has to be for that condition to be fulfilled is dictated by the inclination of the surface you are rolling over and the bike's geometry. A steeper head angle will certainly mandate a more rearward position on the bike.
  • 1 0
 @southoftheborder: Only in statics. If you need to compensate for sudden decelerations (through obstacles, rough terrain etc) you need to be even more rearwards whereas when accelerating you can/should be a bit more forwards (for instance when dropping in a quarter). Also, the headangle is only part of what leads up to the longer front center.
  • 10 0
 Great video! Don't care about mics and editing... these videos are about content and this is some of the best out there.
  • 5 0
 Always helpful to be reminded of practicing the fundamentals - thanks Paul!!
  • 1 0
 Skidding is poor braking form on any vehicle with tires. (Unless your accelerating) if you want to fishtail for fun, go for it. You can hear it and feel it when your tire is on the edge of loosing traction, if your hiking uphill and you see a biker heading down towards you and hear skidding, just dive out of the way. They are outside of the control envelope. Steeps on rock surface? Your gonna have to let her run if your front tire is getting close to locking up. If you cant find a position that prevents otb when braking well, you are f**ed, should be on mellower trail or get full face helmets and lots of pads/body armour. Just remember the transition at the bottom... Like skiing, when its hairy you have to open up those levers and ride it out, and slow yourself when you can apply traction and g forces to your advantage
  • 4 1
 None of the links at the bottom of the page work.
  • 1 0
 Awesome! Now I can go out and practice this, because I live in New Mexico where everything is locked down except the trails.
  • 1 0
 And now I need a front brake service. Well at least I have plenty of time.
  • 4 5
 Next Up: How to set up your fork to not dive like in the previous video.
  • 1 1
 Ha, you downvoters apparently didn’t see 7:30 in the video!
  • 1 1
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