How The Correct Mountain Bike Braking Technique Will Make You Faster

First off, you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m going on about… The definition of braking is literally to slow down and stop, not speed up. On what planet is braking going to make you a faster mountain biker?

Luckily, it’s this one.

Braking and speed are two topics that receive plenty of lime light in the mountain biking world, but are rarely discussed as a common subject.

I’m going to put an end to that, because even though these two traits seem to be opposites, you cannot deny the fact that speed comes from a good braking technique.

flying down a run at Ourimbah mtb park showing how to brake on a mountain bike and how it makes you faster

The actual motion of braking doesn’t increase speed… obviously. But utilising the correct mountain bike braking technique will directly result in you becoming an all round faster mountain biker.

Incorporating a great braking technique into your mountain biking game is essential to say at the very least. Let’s face the facts, without it you ain’t going to last very long.

Storing a strong braking game in your repertoire exponentially improves grip and control, providing the means for you to hoot along.

But it’s not just the physical benefits…

The confidence that will be inspired from feeling comfortable with braking is astronomical and over time, consistency will set in. Utilising these two important mountain biking traits – confidence and consistency – you’re able to forget about those nasty surprises and focus on smashing the trail at hand.

Basically, learning how to brake on a mountain bike correctly will directly result in your ability to ride fast!

Candace riding a mountain bike fast at Dungog mtb park through the sunset

Applying the correct technique is complimented extremely well by using high quality brakes and if you can partner the two, you’re in for a world of improvement.

That being said, only relying on high quality brakes is a mistake.

You can be set up with the most expensive brakes in the world, but if you don’t know how to use them, what’s the point?

Learning the correct mountain bike braking techniques and methods far outweigh the use of high quality gear. So if you’re looking to invest in braking, invest time into learning how to apply your brakes before dropping serious coin on high powered stopping gear.

Here are the best mountain bike braking tips and how they will help you to become a faster rider…

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Prepare For Braking Early

This comes back to one of the most important mountain biking fundamentals…

Look where you want to go!

Keeping your eyes up and focusing on the future allows you to prepare for the next challenge and attack it like a pro. This is no different for braking. In fact, I’d say it’s almost the most important aspect of it. since if you screw up the entry, it’s mighty hard to recover.

Scanning the trail and coming up with a quick plan of where, when and how hard to brake is the first vital part of a successful braking technique and is as easy as continuously scanning your surroundings.

Setting up for successful braking means setting up early.

Serious concentration on Candaces face as she mountain bikes downhill at Glenrock MTB Park

Brake Before, Not During

The trick, and I mean THE TRICK to an outstanding braking technique is knowing when not to use them!

Staying off your brakes as you attack an obstacle is the perfect example of this, but it’s hard. Fear creeps into the equation and as a natural reaction, slowing down seems logical.

But braking through hazards is the worst possible thing to do.

As you begin braking, you introduce force onto the wheel which – in tough situations – reduces control drastically.

Take cornering for example. If you apply the brakes mid turn, you are likely to loose traction and wash out. And if you’re one of the lucky ones that doesn’t slide to a painful halt, the force introduced from braking attempts to stand the bike upright, working in complete opposites with your balance.

The correct practice is to get all of your braking done before the technical section begins. This way you can maintain maximum control during and after smashing the hazard.

Railing a berm at Dungog Common MTB Park in my Shimano Am901 SPD mtb Shoes

But how does this affect speed?

Have you ever heard people referring to exit speed and how it’s more important than entry speed?

Well this couldn’t be more true. Completing your braking before an obstacle and staying off them for the entirety gives you the chance to build solid momentum and shoot you out to hit the easy section at max pace.

If you’re stuck braking the whole time, it’s impossible to build any momentum. And while your fast, out of control entry may have looked cool, you’ll be left struggling to bring back the pace after exiting slowly.

The trick is to slow down before the hazard and build momentum through it.

Mountain biking through a beautiful green forest over rocks in Glenrock MTB Park

Use Both Brakes Together

When it comes to the best practices of braking, avoiding the front brake is probably the worst thing to do. Your front brake is everything – well nearly everything – when it comes to stopping power, especially when descending.

As you begin stopping your weight shifts forward, increasing the pressure on your front tyre immensely. And because of this weight transfer, most of the grip and power comes from your front wheel.

I always here people saying – “don’t use the front brake”… but if there is any advice I can give, it’s:

Use your front brake more!

Now, I don’t mean only use the front break, there is never a circumstance where this is ok, since you’ll probably end up lying flat on your face. I mean use your front brake in conjunction with the rear, you’ll find comfort in the feeling of superior control and not to mention how much quicker you’ll pull up.

A rule I love to live by and one that will help cement this into your riding is:

Front brakes stop, rear brakes slow.

Mastering this mountain bike braking technique gives riders the option to leave braking to the last dire moment, maximising speed and control by applying superior stopping power on demand.

how to brake on a mountain bike using both brakes together at Dungog common mtb park

There are times when solely using the rear brake is ok, such as if you’re trying to cull speed after coming in too hot. But in most circumstances, if you follow the above steps – preparing and braking before hand – you should always be using both the front and rear brakes together.

Use The Pistol Grip For Braking

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re riding with more than your index finger over the brake lever… you’re doing it wrong.

Gone are the days of mechanical rim brakes and the need to squeeze with a fist full of fury. Nowadays hydraulic disk brakes can apply more stopping force with the use of a single finger.

Pistol grip refers to placing only your index finger on the brake lever while your other digits softly wrap around the bars (looks a bit like holding a pistol).

The reason why this technique is sought after is that it introduces more control over the handle bars, giving riders the flexibility and comfort to push hard.

This inspires the utmost trust in your gear when it counts and introduces a sense of reliability when travelling at serious speeds.

how to brake on a mountain bike correctly using the pistol grip with only one index finger on the brake lever

Skids Aren’t For Cool Kids

Skidding would have to be the biggest detriment to control when slowing or stopping and in no way does it help with your braking ability.

But it looks so cool!

Does it? Really? Sure, skidding can be fun and it may make for a great photo, but if you’re serious about riding fast… just STOP IT!

Other than loosing control, locking the rear wheel is an extremely poor method for slowing down and takes a whole lot longer.

Rather than using the grip of your tyres and force from the rotation of your wheel, you’re relying solely on the friction of dragging dirt. One of those methods comes out a clear winner… and it isn’t sliding.

To avoid skidding, don’t treat your breaks as an on or off switch – squeezing as hard as possible every time you need to brake. Learn how to modulate the pressure and quickly make adjustments in the event your tyre starts sliding.

So if you avoid skidding, you’re improving the stopping distance and maximising your chance of control to ride and exit sections in a fast manner.

Drifting around the dangerously loose gravel corner at the top of Thredbo Mountain Bike Park

Using The Best Gear To Maximize Braking Potential

I’ve already touched on this and mentioned that equipping yourself with the best brakes is going to compliment the above skills beautifully.

But I also want to reiterate the fact that running good brakes alone isn’t going to do anything for you. If you can’t use the gear properly, it won’t just magically happen.

So by applying the above mountain bike braking tips and aligning yourself with a great set of stoppers, you’re giving yourself the best chance of success!

Brakes That I Would Buy

There is no reason that you shouldn’t be running hydraulic disk brakes in this day and age. They have taken over the mountain bike braking systems by storm and are worth every single penny.

The power they produce in comparison to older forms of mechanical brakes is ridiculously good and there is no substitute, especially in gravity disciplines.

So here is a list of my recommended brakes, and ones that I would buy tomorrow if I was in need of new bad boys…

A note on buying MTB Brakes. Most Brakes are sold in a set for either the front or rear, which include the lever, hose and calliper. Generally the rotors and brackets are sold separately.


The SRAM Code RSC brakes are a great companion to any rider’s mountain bike braking technique. With the ability to be tuned – thanks to the brake pad contact point adjustment – to match specific preferences and the massive amount of power they provide, the Code’s are one of the best mountain bike brake systems out there.

SRAM Code RSC brakes support a larger pad contact point and a massive amount of modulation. This allows riders to maintain maximum control with easy adjustments of the lever. Perfect for riding rough trails where jarring hits are unavoidable.

I run these on my current set up and have found them to be power houses down large, technical descents!

See the latest price for the Code RSC Brakes on Amazon

Sram Guide RSC

Supporting very much the same traits as the Code’s, SRAM Guide RSC brakes are a top contender for gravity riders alike. The super easy contact point adjustment means riders can dial in the feel to match their braking technique perfectly.

Sliding in at a lighter weight, the Guides sacrifice some stopping power when compared to the Codes. But these work horses are still great for technical descents… Just maybe not insane downhill runs like the Cannonball!

Shimano Saint BR-M820

If you’re after a set of brakes designed solely for harsh downhill racing, then I think you’ve found your match. Combining a pair of Shimano Saint BR M820’s and a superior mountain bike braking technique, there will be no stopping you… so to speak.

The latest generation of saints have been built with heat reduction as a priority and with that mindset comes a massive increase in performance. Claiming to run with a 20% increase in stopping power, the Shimano Saints are among the best performing racing brakes out there.

See the latest price on for the Shimano Saints on Amazon

Hope Race Evo E4

Built light weight and strong. The Hope Race Evo E4 comes in at half the weight of some of the other brakes I’ve recommended here, but what may come as a surprise is their ability to still perform.

An impressive amount of modulation and power can still be felt in these lightweight demons, making them the perfect counterpart for riders looking for a lightweight set of racing brakes. The awesome specs are thanks to a combination of titanium and aluminium materials used to build the brakes.

Hope Tech 3 V4

Time for Hope to take to the gnarly side of the mountain. The Hope Tech 3 V4 brakes are the definition of robust and strong. The one piece calliper is super reliable… oh and provides a humungous amount of braking power.

These traits make the Hope Tech 3 V4’s one of the best brakes I’ve ever seen when talking Downhill racing. And if you know how to brake on a mountain bike, the Tech 3’s are going to do wonders for not just your mountain bike braking technique… but for your entire riding style.

In the event that I ever need to upgrade, the Hope Tech 3 V4’s are first on the list. After all, I love insane downhill trails!

So now you know how to brake on a mountain bike correctly. And you’re equipped with the best tools to help improve your mountain bike braking technique. All that’s left to do is get out there and give it a crack.

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how to brake on a mountain bike using both brakes together at Dungog common mtb park
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