Proper Braking Technique For Mountain Biking

by | Mar 21, 2022 | Bike, Skills, Skills & Setup

With the KAP sani2c Adventure and Race coming up from the 11th to 14th of May 2022, we’re taking a look at some important skills, preparations and bike setup tips that you should be thinking of in preparing to take part in the event.

In this video / article we’ll be taking a look at the key principles of good braking technique to help you save energy and brake pads on your 3 day stage race!

Preparing for sani2c: Proper Braking Technique


First thing to note is how your brakes are setup on the bike. Your levers should be easy to reach and pull with one finger. Use the adjustments on the brake lever to adjust the angle and position on the handlebar to achieve this.

Proper Braking Technique For Mountain Biking
Make sure that your brake lever is easy to reach and pull with 1 finger and not obstructed by your other fingers.

If the brakes are feeling very spongy or pulling to the bar and not offering much power, you’ll either need to adjust the bite point or take them in for a service. How your brakes feel can be a particular preference but you’ll want to achieve full power from the lever before hitting the bar. If you still aren’t getting a lot of power, you could try bigger rotors. 180mm front and rear should be sufficient for a marathon bike.

On / Off Braking vs. Dragging

Now let’s talk about good braking technique. There are two types of braking generally speaking. There is the on / off style and brake dragging. Brake dragging is a common way people use their brakes in which you seldom completely release the brakes on a descent, there is always a level of pressure being applied to the brakes even if it is very light. “On / Off” braking is the practice of releasing the brakes completely when you are not urgently needing to slow down and rather braking harder and more deliberately just ahead of a feature that you would like reduced speed to ride.

Proper Braking Technique For Mountain Biking
Braking before a corner or obstacle allows you to release the brakes and let your tires and suspension do their best on the technical terrain.

On / Off Braking

In most situations, the on / off style of braking is superior. This is because your tires and suspension actually don’t perform well while you are on the brakes. Therefore we want to be off the brakes when riding technical segments of trail or riding through a corner. This doesn’t mean you have to go fast, it just means doing more effective braking before the technical section or corner. When in doubt, enter a little slower.

The sani2c route is well known for its switchback corners which are a great opportunity to reap the rewards of on / off braking!

A key principle of good on / off braking is looking ahead to spot a good braking point before the corner or technical trail you want to slow down for. From then, you want to brake early and confidently with both front and rear brakes to scrub off any speed that you don’t want going into the feature. If it is a corner, you’ll want to make sure you are off the brakes completely before reaching the sharpest point of the corner. That means slowing down enough that you are confident to let go of the brakes when turning through the corner and riding out the other side.

Proper Braking Technique For Mountain Biking
With long descents ahead, giving your hands and brake time to recover is very important.

There will probably be an unfamiliar sense of acceleration now that you are not on the brakes the whole way through the corner or technical terrain. Trust that your tires and suspension are now working better and get used to the feeling of the bike moving more freely.


Your front brake is your biggest asset in on / off braking. In these weeks leading up to sani2c, practice using your front brake in a controlled environment such as your driveway or a parking lot, and learn how much power you can put through the brake before you become unstable. Try to come to a stop using just your front brake to practice that control.


The situations where dragging your brakes is necessary are longer sections of steeper terrain where you can’t stay off the brakes even if you came in with low speed. This should be less common than you think, especially on a marathon stage race such as the sani2c. Try to divide the the trail ahead into segments that you will use on / off braking to get through safely. Your tires and suspension will perform better and your brake pads should also last a fair bit longer!

If any of the setup advice seems too complicated, get a bike savvy friend to help you out or speak to your local bike shop! Keep an eye out for more videos and articles in the coming weeks and be sure to follow the racing from sani2c on their Instagram Stories come 12 May!

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