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.
Richard Masoner (@cyclelicious) says
Yep, brake before turning. And if you don’t know the road, slow down even more (as you learned from your experience)
Steven King says
I once went round a blind turn on a moderately steep descent….only to discover the apex had a river running across it! My use of the brakes was on instinct, and it involved the back tyre skidding from side-to-side a lot. I eventually “guided” the bicycle into the verge, and took a brief flight back onto the road when my front wheel hit something solid.
Surprisingly, both the bike and I were completely unharmed – a wet road is less abrasive than you may think!
Bike Noob says
Less abrasive, perhaps — but the surface is still plenty hard, and it really messed up my shoulder a couple of years ago after I fell during a turn.
I all too often make the mistake of breaking while leaning, which is not good. Now I just try to lean like crazy and keep my speed.
I don’t really agree that braking before a turn can cause problems (in the form of losing speed and losing ground) — unless you’re in a race, who cares? I’m pretty sure I usually brake far too much going in to a turn, but on the many occasions when I’ve been surprised by what’s around the bend (car, dog, slippery leaves, an even sharper bend…) I’ve always been glad.
Of course, I have the luxury of a riding partner who has to wait for me if he wants to keep the domestic peace!