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Ask Levi: How Do I Correctly Use My Brake Levers on Singletrack?

Today’s question is about braking technique when mountain biking…

Hey Levi, I was wondering what the correct fingering is on a brifter while doing singletrack. I know this is a dumb question but I found myself trying to hold onto the brake and the grips with differing amounts of fingers and am wondering what is the proper technique if there is one. The problem was i would turn or start going down faster than I wanted to and needed to hit the brakes but hesitated a little because I was afraid to let go of the handlebar to grab the brakes. I am riding a Schwinn Aluminum Comp. Yes it is a cheap bike and yes it came from Wal-mart (but it seems to fit me well.)

Also any tips for going up the hills. I was doing great, I think for my first time on singletrak on the easy terrain but then the hard climbs came up and I just instantly ran out of gas and had to walk my bike up to the top. It was a great day though. Thanks for your website. I found it by accident and visit it so often my wife now knows where I am every night if I am on the computer. I think I have read almost every article you have written on here. It is great.

Thanks,
Circuit Braker

Hey Braker,

I guess I’ll have to hurry up and write more articles to keep you busy! Thanks for your support! 🙂

As for braking… It’s mostly personal preference so you should get better and feel more comfortable with some more experience. Not many people do everything right their first time on singletrack!

Personally I have come to like having my middle fingers over the brake levers, which allows me to keep a solid hold on the bar but still have power to pull the brake levers when needed. Play around with your hand position on easier terrain before hitting the singletrack next time. The key is to stay relaxed (easier said than done!)

Take a look at my How to Descend Steep Hills article for more tips – there’s a section dedicated to braking.

(By the way, the term “brifter” is generally for road and cyclocross bikes with drop bars where the brake and shift levers are one unit. 99% of the time, mountain bikes have separate brake and shift levers. Just a heads up.)

For the hills, well, ride more hills! Just keep at it.

You’ll find that singletrack climbs can be a lot steeper than paved roads. That could be part of the reason you end up walking these hills but do fine on the road.

You also have loose terrain, so your body position is very important. Not only do you need the strength, you need good skills to keep weight centered over the tires for traction. Generally you would slide forward on the saddle and keep your upper body leaning forward over the bar, while also pulling back (but not up) on the handlebar to keep the front wheel from lifting up off the ground.

You’ll enjoy my article titled How to Climb a Steep Hill which is chock full of tips to get up those hills.

Again, it takes practice to make all this a habit, so keep trying. Good luck!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA