While out riding recently, I found myself in a rare position: I was moving pretty quickly. Speed is a fun sensation, and when coupled with a twisty route, the fun is doubled. Another bend was up ahead. That’s where the trouble started.
The curve tightened. Since I’d never been on this stretch of road before, I was unprepared for it. I grabbed for the brakes, and applied them.
Dumb. Noob mistake.
You don’t want to brake in turns. Braking while turning can cause you problems. For example, you must lean your bike into turns, but if you brake while leaning, you’ll affect your balance. The front wheel could slide out from under you.
Braking before a turn can cause problems as well. You could scrub off all your speed, and lose ground in the turn.
So, what is a cyclist to do?
Learn to lean. When I took my League of American Bicyclists Road I course years ago (now called Traffic Skills 101), we practices the emergency right turn. We flicked our handlebars left, which got the bike to lean right. Then we made the right turn at almost a right angle. It’s amazing how far over you can lean the bike without it sliding out from under. But, you must keep the momentum going. Braking won’t let you do that.
Like all things, it’s a matter of practice. Overcome your fear of falling by practicing the hard lean.
If you do have to brake while turning, use the rear brake only. Braking with the front during a turn could cause that slide that you don’t want. Even if the rear should lock up, you probably won’t fall.
But…for a contrary point of view, refer to our old friend Sheldon Brown, who advocates using the front brake in turns. He maintains that using the front brake shifts weight to the front, which gives it greater traction. Using the rear brake could cause the rear tire to slip, so he preferred not to use it at all.
The key is staying centered over the bike, whether riding down a straight street or leaning hard in a turn.