Front vs Rear Brake... Which Do You Use Most?

View Poll Results: Which Brake Do You Use Most?

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  • Front Brake

    28 50.00%
  • Rear Brake

    11 19.64%
  • Both Evenly

    17 30.36%
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  1. #1
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    Question Front vs Rear Brake... Which Do You Use Most?

    In reading Sheldon Brown's article on "Braking and Turning Your Bicycle", he pretty much states that if you're not using your front brake for 90% of your braking, you must be a "newb".

    I've been road and mountain biking for ~30 years (yikes) and was into BMX freestyle before that, so I think I know how to handle a bike pretty well... yet I rarely ever just use the front brake as suggested in the article. Am I a "braking newb"!?!?

    While the suggestions in the article make sense, I wonder if they still apply in the age of disc brakes. I have two bikes with disc brakes and if I have my weight over the rear wheel when braking, it's pretty hard to lock-up the rear wheel. Hence I don't see why I wouldn't apply both the front and rear brakes most of the time.

    In addition, I know what it's like to apply the front brake and have the front tire slip out from underneath me. (It sucks.) As such, unless I'm riding in a straight line in perfect conditions, using the front brake solely seems like a recipe for disaster... even a little bit of sand or unseen gravel could land you on your doompa.

    Thoughts? Am I the only one on the planet who is still a "braking newb" after 30 years of riding?

  2. #2
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    There is only one correct answer if you take the question literally. In certain situations you'll use more rear brake or use them evenly but on the whole the front brake should be used more. All you have to do is look at car and moto brake systems. It will become instantly obvious which brake should be used more.


    ETA: 3...2...1 til @waspinator shows up asking why anyone would ever use the front brake.
    Last edited by cxwrench; 01-16-2019 at 02:58 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
    There is only one correct answer if you take the question literally. In certain situations you'll use more rear brake or use them evenly but on the whole the front brake should be used more. All you have to do is look at car and moto brake systems. It will become instantly obvious which brake should be used more.

    ETA: 3...2...1 til @waspinator shows up asking why anyone would ever use the front brake.
    Agreed.
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  4. #4
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    Pretty much as the others have said. It's not that you wouldn't use the rear brake, just that you don't ONLY use the rear brake line many people do. The front brake is what stops you, the rear brake is used for control.

    Road biking, I use the brakes pretty evenly most of the time. Mountain biking, I use a whole lot more front brake.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by PoorInRichfield View Post
    In reading Sheldon Brown's article on "Braking and Turning Your Bicycle", he pretty much states that if you're not using your front brake for 90% of your braking, you must be a "newb".

    I've been road and mountain biking for ~30 years (yikes) and was into BMX freestyle before that, so I think I know how to handle a bike pretty well... yet I rarely ever just use the front brake as suggested in the article. Am I a "braking newb"!?!?

    While the suggestions in the article make sense, I wonder if they still apply in the age of disc brakes. I have two bikes with disc brakes and if I have my weight over the rear wheel when braking, it's pretty hard to lock-up the rear wheel. Hence I don't see why I wouldn't apply both the front and rear brakes most of the time.

    In addition, I know what it's like to apply the front brake and have the front tire slip out from underneath me. (It sucks.) As such, unless I'm riding in a straight line in perfect conditions, using the front brake solely seems like a recipe for disaster... even a little bit of sand or unseen gravel could land you on your doompa.

    Thoughts? Am I the only one on the planet who is still a "braking newb" after 30 years of riding?
    First, It's hard to impossible to evenly distribute your weight on steep downhills and just hard to do so in nearly any braking situation since simple physics moves much of the load to the front wheel (all else remaining the same).

    You can mitigate some of this by moving your ass as far behind the seat as possible but even on flat ground you'll be hard pressed to match the load on the front wheel on a road bike while braking hard.

    If you could build a bike with very large wheels so you could keep you body mass centered below the front axle your theory would be mostly correct.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwiftSolo View Post
    First, It's hard to impossible to evenly distribute your weight on steep downhills and just hard to do so in nearly any braking situation since simple physics moves much of the load to the front wheel (all else remaining the same).

    You can mitigate some of this by moving your ass as far behind the seat as possible but even on flat ground you'll be hard pressed to match the load on the front wheel on a road bike while braking hard.

    If you could build a bike with very large wheels so you could keep you body mass centered below the front axle your theory would be mostly correct.
    Well said, Swift!

    Braking the front wheel stops the bike very efficiently. So in hard braking, as you say, move way back, pressing the rear tire on the tarmac. The inertial mass of the bike and rider wants to flip over the handlebars. The rear tire lightens up considerably and loses its grip! This could happen at any time. Gotta be ready!

    Sure, use the front brake 90% of the time and the rear mainly to keep the rear wheel on the tarmac and the bike on track. If I brake at the rear stronger than the front, the front wheel gets wishy-washy.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by PoorInRichfield View Post
    While the suggestions in the article make sense, I wonder if they still apply in the age of disc brakes.
    Of course it still applies. Physics hasn't changed in the last 30yrs... or 30 million.



    Thoughts? Am I the only one on the planet who is still a "braking newb" after 30 years of riding?
    Nope. I got a buddy riding longer than that and I can't get him to comprehend most of your braking comes from the front wheel.
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  8. #8
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    Too many MTB riders base their braking preference on a skill they learned as a 10 year old, namely the lock-up skid. It may LOOK cool, but a sliding tire has less braking traction than a rolling tire.
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  9. #9
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    Incremental slowing/scrubbing speed while cruising? Rear Brake
    Anything else, including (especially) stopping? Front Brake.

  10. #10
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    Some beginner riders are inherently afraid to use the front brake for fear of flipping over the handlebars. And sure, if you use only the front brake and don't re-distribute your body weight to compensate, you can do this for sure.

    But your rear brake in some situations will not have enough braking power to stop without skidding your rear tire. While doing an endo is no fun, neither is hitting a large object because you couldn't brake in time.

    One of the advantages to hydraulic disc brakes is better predictability and even modulation. It is much more difficult to lock up your brakes by accident. Note that is is much easier to overheat your rear brake on a disc bike as you need more pressure to apply the same amount of braking than you do on your front.

    I would say that generally, I apply my front and rear brakes almost equally and slightly favor the front brake.
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  11. #11
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    as a Harley rider would say: don't use the front brake or you'll flip!
    lol that was a joke

    Seriously, there is only 1 situation where you'd want to use more rear brake then front. And that 1 situation is where there is no traction on the front!! duh, makes sense right. As long as the front has more traction than the rear, then braking should be front bias.

    look at the cars and motorcycles, their biggest brakes are on the front, not the rear. This should tell us that front braking is where braking takes place.

    so what would be the situation that the front has less traction than the rear? Wet and muddy, gravely, snowy, icey. In these conditions, the front as little traction, the rear has more traction (because your weight is more on the rear wheel), thus you'd use more rear brakes in these situation. BUT... keep in mind that braking in these situations is still very very limited and it is no where near the same as braking in the dry on the front.

    on the topic of mtb, i've seen so many mtbers who don't know jack about braking techniques. Many of them, even the experienced ones, would rather lock their rear wheel and slide around, seems like that's their go-to technique. And I don't blame them really, because worse this can happen is they slide out, and sliding out due to rear slippage is less painful than sliding out due to front slippage. But this is far from optimal. The correct braking technique in mtb is still to use the front brake more, however because mtb condition is on dirt and loose gravel, then these conditions do warrant the use of rear braking a little more then compared to braking on the road. However, this is not to say use only rear braking to the point of sliding out. The proper braking in mtb (as you come into a corner) is to brake using the front real hard when the bike is in a staightline and upright, then as you lean over and transition into the corner you still maintain the same brake pressure, then as your speed decrease as you go thru the corner you can ease up on brake pressure. All this happens really fast, within less than 1 seconds on short corner. What you don't want to do is while negotiating a corner to brake really hard (which compresses the fork) and then suddenly completely let off on the front brake, because letting off on the front drastically like that unloads the fork suspension and causes a change in front traction in a negative way, so let off slowly as you go around a corner.

    Another issue that many mtbers don't get is that on full suspension bikes, using the rear brake has the effect of restricting the movement of the rear suspension, and this restriction will decrease bump absorption and thus decrease in traction at the rear. Rear suspension is more finicky than the front, so it's better to just use more braking at the front and let the fork handles the suspending.

    Honestly I think learning to brake in the dirt is harder because you have to deal with suspension both at the front and rear so you'd always have to juggle between front and rear, but still the front should get more bias. But on the road bikes, where there is virtually no suspension movement to account for (except the little gives from skinny tires at 80-100 psi), the almost all braking should be done at the front unless road conditions are like those mentioned above.

  12. #12
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    In spring/summer/fall I use the front brake almost exclusively.

    But in the winter I use my rear brake almost exclusively because it's nearly impossible to see when there is ice under the snow. I only use the front in the winter when I can clearly see that I'm on dry pavement.
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  13. #13
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    I use the rear brake primarily for laying rubber when coming to a dramatic screeching halt, to impress the ladies.

  14. #14
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    Front vs Rear Brake... Which Do You Use Most?

    I used to use my rear brake more, as evidenced by the rear pads wearing down faster than the front. I may have changed my behavior because I'm trying to use the front brake more, but haven't checked the pads on my bike in a while. I usually brake lightly to control my speed. As such, it probably doesn't matter what brake I use more. I try not to brake in corners, but am pretty wary of giving too much front brake in a corner because a front wheel skid will usually result in a crash.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by davesupra View Post
    But in the winter I use my rear brake almost exclusively because it's nearly impossible to see when there is ice under the snow. I only use the front in the winter when I can clearly see that I'm on dry pavement.
    For this reason I typically favor a 50/50 split between front and rear braking (i.e., both at the same time). I don't want to have to think, "Hmm... is my front tire going to get proper traction on the surface I'm on?" before braking, I just default to hitting both brakes. That's not to say that front braking isn't more efficient, I just think that real-world riding makes it more difficult (and sometimes not safe) to depend so much on the front only. Unless you're traveling a straight line on fresh asphalt, there's a pretty good chance your front tire will lose traction on gravel, sand, etc., and down you go!

  16. #16
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    If you're in a group following wheels at speed and don't have your fingers on your front brake then you're definitely a newb.

  17. #17
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    I mostly use the rear because most of my braking is just minuscule speed adjustments. When it comes to coming to a stop both brakes are used but that happens even less than the minuscule speed adjustments.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post

    Seriously, there is only 1 situation where you'd want to use more rear brake then front. And that 1 situation is where there is no traction on the front!! duh, makes sense right. As long as the front has more traction than the rear, then braking should be front bias.

    look at the cars and motorcycles, their biggest brakes are on the front, not the rear. This should tell us that front braking is where braking takes place.

    so what would be the situation that the front has less traction than the rear? Wet and muddy, gravely, snowy, icey. In these conditions, the front as little traction, the rear has more traction (because your weight is more on the rear wheel), thus you'd use more rear brakes in these situation. BUT... keep in mind that braking in these situations is still very very limited and it is no where near the same as braking in the dry on the front.

    Actually weight is still biased towards the front even in the wet. Can't change weight transfer regardless of it being wet or dry.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by frdfandc View Post
    Actually weight is still biased towards the front even in the wet. Can't change weight transfer regardless of it being wet or dry.
    i didn't say just wet, but wet and muddy.
    But if it's just wet but pavement is relatively clean, then go for the front (but while keeping a watch for road lane painting and potential oily spots at intersection.)

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
    There is only one correct answer if you take the question literally. In certain situations you'll use more rear brake or use them evenly but on the whole the front brake should be used more. All you have to do is look at car and moto brake systems. It will become instantly obvious which brake should be used more.
    I'm always confused by people who are apparently able to determine how much braking force they are developing in each wheel. And they are apparently able to determine this to the nearest 5%. Me, I nearly always use both brakes and modulate them depending on how fast I need to stop and what the road surface is like. While sliding off the back of the saddle is certainly the right technique for emergency stops, I would submit that if you need to use this often then there is something seriously wrong with your overall riding skill set.

    When I used to commute year round, I had my road bike and my commuter set up with opposite brake levers - hitting the front brakes hard makes the most sense on dry roads but on snow/ice you want to rely on the rear brake much more.

  21. #21
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    As someone who does most of his riding on mtb and dirt in general, I probably approach this differently, but I often use only rear brake if I need to scrub some speed in a turn. I can't think of any scenario short of a flat rear tire where I would use only front brake. For actually slowing down in a straight line, though, yes, it's both with emphasis on the front. Because of weight transfer, the front is where the power is. That's why most MTBs have a bigger disc up front than at the rear.

    The comparison to cars is only partially valid. Weight transfer to the front still occurs under braking whether it's a car or a bike, but there are still some pretty big differences.

    1. Most cars are considerably heavier at the front. That's why, along with the weight transfer that occurs under braking, the front brakes are bigger and vented. "More wight at the front" doesn't apply if you're driving a 911.

    2. Weight distribution and transfer in a car is fixed. You're not going to alter weight distribution by leaning forward in your seat, and you can't go back without laying it down. Even if you could move back and forth more, the effect on overall weight distribution percentage is not going to change appreciably. On a bike, this is very different - your body position can affect weight distribution immensely.

    3. Brake bias in a car is fixed. Even in a racecar with adjustable brake bias, a driver isn't changing it mid-braking event. On a bike, brake bias can be changed instantly and constantly.

    4. In a car (and this is a racing scenario, not something most people would use, or know how to use, on the street), the only way to change weight balance and thus traction on the front wheels vs. rear wheels is through application of the brake or throttle. On a bike, if you need more traction on the front or rear, you're going to influence that with body position or pumping - braking, not so much.

    As I said, the only time I can think of that I would use only front brake is a flat rear tire. But there seem to be plenty of people who often use only front brake. May I ask why? It seems to me that 1) you are greatly reducing your stopping power by using only the front; and b) putting a lot more heat into the front brake/rim.

    (Edit: I've read the Sheldon Brown article where he says the rear tire should have almost no traction because of the weight transfer. "Almost" isn't "none." I also question using the arms to brace against the handlebars under hard braking to keep the body from moving forward ... by doing so, you're putting more weight on the bars, making an OTB more likely. If you have little or no weight on the bars, you're not going OTB. The legs and core should be keeping your body from moving forward under braking, not your arms.)
    Last edited by BigTex91; 01-18-2019 at 10:23 AM.

  22. #22
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    Well, the poll is showing that 80% do NOT use the rear brake as their only brake. This corresponds to a general observation about our society in general, namely that about 20% of people are opinionated ignoramuses.......
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigTex91 View Post
    1. Most cars are considerably heavier at the front. That's why, along with the weight transfer that occurs under braking, the front brakes are bigger and vented. "More wight at the front" doesn't apply if you're driving a 911.
    Being a Porsche fan, I was going to cite this exact same example. However, I deleted that portion of my post because I noticed that on the 911 GT3, the front and rear rotors are the same size, however, the front brake is a 6-piston caliper and the rear is a 4-piston caliper... hence still give more braking power to the front than the rear.



    380 mm internally vented and cross-drilled brake rotors front and rear with 6-piston aluminum monobloc fixed calipers front and 4-piston aluminum monobloc fixed calipers rear

    Quote Originally Posted by No Time Toulouse View Post
    namely that about 20% of people are opinionated ignoramuses.......
    Or maybe smarty-pants like yourself aren't doing a good job of educating other riders. (I'm just kidding, of course)

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigTex91 View Post
    As someone who does most of his riding on mtb and dirt in general, I probably approach this differently, but I often use only rear brake if I need to scrub some speed in a turn. I can't think of any scenario short of a flat rear tire where I would use only front brake. For actually slowing down in a straight line, though, yes, it's both with emphasis on the front. Because of weight transfer, the front is where the power is. That's why most MTBs have a bigger disc up front than at the rear.

    The comparison to cars is only partially valid. Weight transfer to the front still occurs under braking whether it's a car or a bike, but there are still some pretty big differences.

    1. Most cars are considerably heavier at the front. That's why, along with the weight transfer that occurs under braking, the front brakes are bigger and vented. "More wight at the front" doesn't apply if you're driving a 911.

    2. Weight distribution and transfer in a car is fixed. You're not going to alter weight distribution by leaning forward in your seat, and you can't go back without laying it down. Even if you could move back and forth more, the effect on overall weight distribution percentage is not going to change appreciably. On a bike, this is very different - your body position can affect weight distribution immensely.

    3. Brake bias in a car is fixed. Even in a racecar with adjustable brake bias, a driver isn't changing it mid-braking event. On a bike, brake bias can be changed instantly and constantly.

    4. In a car (and this is a racing scenario, not something most people would use, or know how to use, on the street), the only way to change weight balance and thus traction on the front wheels vs. rear wheels is through application of the brake or throttle. On a bike, if you need more traction on the front or rear, you're going to influence that with body position or pumping - braking, not so much.

    As I said, the only time I can think of that I would use only front brake is a flat rear tire. But there seem to be plenty of people who often use only front brake. May I ask why? It seems to me that 1) you are greatly reducing your stopping power by using only the front; and b) putting a lot more heat into the front brake/rim.

    (Edit: I've read the Sheldon Brown article where he says the rear tire should have almost no traction because of the weight transfer. "Almost" isn't "none." I also question using the arms to brace against the handlebars under hard braking to keep the body from moving forward ... by doing so, you're putting more weight on the bars, making an OTB more likely. If you have little or no weight on the bars, you're not going OTB. The legs and core should be keeping your body from moving forward under braking, not your arms.)
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigTex91 View Post
    It seems to me that 1) you are greatly reducing your stopping power by using only the front; and b) putting a lot more heat into the front brake/rim.
    Sure you are reducing your stopping power by only using the front rather than both. But you will still have much more stopping power than if you use only the rear. This is regardless of weight distribution. Don't believe me? Stand along side your bike. From a stand still, grab your front brake as hard as you can and try to move your bike forward. It won't move, right? Now grab your rear brake as hard as you can and try to move your bike forward. It will still slip forward!

    So, given the same amount of grip, your front brake has the greatest amount of stopping power. Would you agree?
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