Steep Downhill: Front or Back Brake?

Viewing 18 reply threads
  • Author
    • #223930

      Hiya.  I asked two of my “serious” mountain biking buddies about how they brake when going down a steep dirt section (no manuals required, no big rock slabs, just steep singletrack dirt with mostly decent grip and occasional rock sticking out)… They both had completely different answers.  One guy said to stay off the back brake and use mostly the front, since using your back brake makes the rear tire lose traction.  The other guy said use mostly the back brake because getting on the front brake makes the front lose traction.  Both were in agreement that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but their general approach is different.

      Considering that this is not a completely black or white answer, what do you think?  More on front brake and feather the back or more on back brake and feather the front?

    • #223935

      Definitely a depends on the conditions situation. I don’t ride any real downhill, but what downs I do ride, I use more back than front, but tend to try to feel and feather both. I personally would rather lose traction on the rear than the front, and certainly don’t want to get too much front and not have it lose traction. I’ve gone over the bars doing that, back in my motocross days. Even though it would be at a much slower speed on my mountain bike, I don’t want to do that again.

    • #223939

      Stay away from the front brake for sure! if you latch on to that going down a steep hill you will end up over the bars. That being said if you need to stop quick just get your butt back over that rear tire use the back brakes as needed but dont lock them out so your tire is sliding all over caus then you will lose grip, but you can also just every so slightly feather the front brakes if its really needed. Hope that helps have fun on the trails 🙂

    • #223943

      Both are right! You don’t want to break traction. If it’s really steep, you want to use both brakes, right up to the point where you’re about to lose traction.

      It is important to note that in general you get more stopping power from your front brake during a descent because more of your weight is on the front when you’re pointing downhill.

    • #223944

      I use both so about 50/50. There are two breaks for a reason.

    • #223945

      Use both brakes 😉 Avoiding either brake is the wrong answer.

    • #224002

      Use both. The back will only skid on steep down. The front will dig in.

    • #224008

      All right, I Sju

    • #224020

      I’m in the “it really depends” camp. A crazy steep run that is relatively smooth; then both front and back work for me…..However, throw in roots and rocks on a really steep chute then it’s dropper down, arse back and back brake exclusively all the way.  I have been met with disastrous results if I so much as look at the front brake on a steep run that is rooty and/or rocky.

      That said, I am not a professional cyclist and I’m certain my reflexive speed could be a lot better in modulating the front brake lever on steep choppy runs….I’ve just found it’s much healthier for me sit on the back and avoid the front brake under those conditions.

    • #224026

      I tend to modulate more to the front but use both. It’s more a feel as you go thing than a simple on/off scenario. The other thing to keep in mind is your body position on the bike when going down a hill. I feel like that is just as important as which brake I’m grabbing.

    • #224028

      Best to think of your brakes as two different individuals.  Sometimes all rear is the right thing, sometimes all front is the right thing… most of the time, it will be some combination of the two.  Modulation is key.  Just remember that the front brake will scrub speed, and the rear brake will only maintain speed (ie- keep you from going faster).

      In answer to the question, you should be heavy on the front brake with your leading foot bracing your weight to keep you from otb.

    • #224030

      I use both front and rear , standing with weight back, drop my heals so that they are pushing into the pedals, wrists straight and pushing against the back of the grips.   That’s how you avoid going over the bars.     If the wheel skid, you just back off the brakes a little bit.   It’s essentially the same technique as charging hard into a corner and braking as late as you can.    Keep practicing and it will become second nature.

    • #224032

      Good answers by many  imo.  I ride REALLY steep trails in Mongolia.  Some are loose scree over hard pack and some are organic.  How one uses his or her brakes depends on many factors imo — the surface, how long of a section it is, how much control you want to maintain and how fun you want to have.  I like Jeff’s answer the best if you want to maintain control.  Then again mountain biking is about fun too.  So I often seek to break traction of my rear tire to add to the fun of a really steep section.  On really steep stuff I don’t think I ever seek to break traction on my front  tire. =)

    • #224033

      Proletariat – Just for clarification (since “steep” is a fairly subjective term). How “steep” are you riding?  – I define steep as anything I would have to crawl up on my hands and knees if I were hiking (which, I realize, is only slightly less subjective).

    • #224093

      Front brake is good for around 70% of your stopping power, and the rear 30%. Use both brakes at the same time and get your backside behind the seat with heals down on steep downhills. The limit of your braking is right before you lock the tires up. So modulate the front and rear pressures and back off a bit on the one that starts to lock up. Keep your braking smooth to minimise locking up.

      If you only use the rear brake (not recommended), then you just throw away 70% of your stopping power. You will also most likely lock up the rear tire, slide, and lose control.

    • #224410

      Like many said you want your weight shifted back digging in your heels and locking out your arms. A dropper post is good for steep stuff to get you back.  Personally my back wheel is locked up some of the time but I feather the front brake to prevent lockup so I can steer and not go otb.

    • #224414

      If this is a really steep smooth Singletrack don’t brake at all – free speed yeah 🙂

      jokes aside, I use both with front brakes being applied harder. I know one guy who rides his hardtail in the mountains  with only front brake installed. And he is still alive.


    • #224470


      Rule of thumb – Front stops, rear slows you down. But then again ….. it depends. Its all about traction, if the trail you’re describing is a twisty downhill I’ll be careful with the fronts because if it washes out you know whats next. You also don’t want to drag the rears or it might overheat and lose power.

    • #224494

      Start easy and see what fits you best and makes you most comfortable.  Go from there and as you feel more confident and your skill increases, that will change.  Everyone on here has answers and they are all right, however style plays a big part.  One time you may want to rip down with no brakes, next time carve a line with your rear, then another endo down the slope.  An aspect of mountain biking that makes it awesome is that you can do what makes you feel good and still have fun without being in trouble lol.  Have fun and take care.



Viewing 18 reply threads

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.