I was on a training ride with friends recently when we had to stop suddenly at a roundabout. One of my companions skidded to a halt beside me complaining about the flat spots I’d just put in her new tyres.
She may have been joking, but her emergency braking skills are no joke. An experienced cyclist, she probably didn’t even think about what she had to do – something all cyclists should aspire to. It just takes lots of practice.
Brakes will reward you if you give them a little regular care. Keep your wheel rims and brake blocks nice and clean for a start. Make sure your brakes blocks are properly aligned with the wheel rim. Next, you shouldn’t have too much brake lever travel before they start to “bite”. Take them to your local bike shop if you’re not confident about adjusting them yourself.
With well adjusted brakes, it’s time to put in some practice. Ride up and down a short straight stretch to get the feel for how your brakes react.
Front brakes are more effective than back brakes. They’ll stop you very quickly and, if you’re not careful, throw you over the handlebars as well. That makes some people wary of using them at all.
If you have to stop quickly, raise yourself out of the pedals and push your backside back over the saddle as you’re pulling on the brakes. That shifts your weight over the back wheel, and keeps it on the ground and you on the bike. Some suggest using only two fingers on the brake levers to keep better control of the handle bars.
The back brake on its own will stop you, but it might not be fast enough. So it pays to be on good terms with your front brake too.
When you have to stop in a hurry, you want to keep the bike in a straight line. Deviate just slightly with your wheels locked up and they could skid out from under you.
A wet and oily road poses new challenges. Your wheel rims and brake blocks are wet and dirty, which reduces braking efficiency too. In the wet, it can be better to pull on the back brake first to try to reduce skidding. Skid and you won’t reduce your speed quickly enough.
Practise until it all becomes second nature and you’ll still be smiling after a sudden stop too.
See you on the road soon, God willing.