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I have seen people stop with one finger, two fingers or the whole hands on the levers. Is there a recommended number of fingers on the brake levers when stopping/anticipating an emergency stop? Do brake types or riding style (DH, road ..) affect this number?

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Whatever it takes. There's no one answer to suit all riders and conditions. And note that the orientation of the levers vs the bar (and the type of bar) will have a big effect on this. –  Daniel R Hicks Nov 29 '12 at 12:33
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Wow, for the question asked the accepted answer was a really poor choice. Good answer -- IF the question had been about one specific form of biking, which it was not. –  Carey Gregory Apr 15 '13 at 6:25
    
@CareyGregory, the rest of the answers are all great, but the accepted answer is most concrete. All others are basically a variation of "as many as it takes". –  Vorac Oct 17 '13 at 6:51
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6 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

For downhill and all forms of trail riding (freeride, enduro, all mountain etc) the prefered way is 1 finger (index) on each lever. Anything else can be dangerous. If the brakes are not powerful enough for dealing with this then they either need fix or replacement to proper brakes for this type of riding.

Also, riders position the levers closer to the stem (leaving 1 to 2 inches space between the grip and lever clamp) in order to enforce that only 1 finger can go on the lever. This also helps the finger pull the lever from its most powerful spot.

enter image description here

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Hooray for the pictures! And again hooray for the idea to position the commands closer to the stem. But why do LBSes not position the levers in this way when assembling a bike? Also, you say pinky, but on the pictures everyone uses their index fingers! –  Vorac Nov 30 '12 at 8:48
    
Fixed the typo. I meant index. Sorry, my English is not my first language. –  cherouvim Nov 30 '12 at 9:52
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LBSes and factories do not necessarily deliver 100% battle ready trail bikes. So, some times shocks may be under-lubricated, bars may be narrow, stems too long and levers not properly configured on the bars. –  cherouvim Nov 30 '12 at 9:56
    
Also, have a look at the XTR trail brake which now has a very short lever. –  cherouvim Nov 30 '12 at 9:56
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To be fair though note that I only answered part of your question. –  cherouvim Nov 30 '12 at 12:58
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I look at it the other way - whats the required number of figures to maintain a hold of the handle bars. On a sealed road it's close to 0, leaving 4 for braking. In a serious rough/rocky track, it might take four, leaving none for the brakes (along praying it smooths out soon). Lose the handle bar, you lose brakes and steerage - theres only one way that ends, and you are a passenger. Going too fast with steerage - there is more than one possible outcome, which you have a degree of control over the outcome, and can usually minimize the damage.

Off road, I typically use my outer figures first - pinky + 1 is the minimum for useful braking, never more than pinky + 2.

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I know what you are talking about - I have been in a situation, where I was so scared to let go even one of my fingers from the stem because the path was so much rough. However, since I begun maintaining my brakes properly, I have not encountered such a situation again. The pinky really has good leverage, as it grabs the lever at the far end. Long live Archimedes! –  Vorac Nov 29 '12 at 9:04
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In general the fewer fingers on the brake lever the better, as it means more fingers can keep you holding on. However in the real world, it depends on your grip strength and how powerful your brakes are, for how many fingers you can stop with.

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On both road and mountain bikes I tend to keep 1 finger ready to break when I don't think I'm going to need to stop quickly, mostly for feathering my brakes to slow.

When I think there is a more immediate need, such as going down a steep incline on road or technical singletrack section off-road, then I tend to use 2 fingers. This tends to be my default.

Sometimes, I'll use 3 for an emergency stop if I'm surprised, but most of the time 2 seems to be better for that as well.

Some brakes may be easier to pull than others depending on the style and how well they are tuned. Hydraulic disc brakes tend to be the easiest and require less effort (so I use one finger more often).

You could just flip the whole gang the bird and use Middle finger braking.

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Having 2 fingers on the levers while going downhill is very dangerous. –  cherouvim Nov 30 '12 at 6:11
    
@cherouvim Surely that depends on your grip strength? –  cmannett85 Nov 30 '12 at 8:01
    
@cherouvim - When I'm braking with only one finger, I often get cramps in my hand. Using 2 fingers helps balance that out. Especially when I'm flying through the woods on my cyclocross bike with canti brakes. It's hard to put enough pressure on those brakes sometimes with only one finger as well. –  Benzo Nov 30 '12 at 13:38
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I'm still a bit hesitant to go hydraulic,my BB7s stop me fine on my MTB, and I know how to do all the maintenance on them myself, so I'm unwilling to go to a system that I can't maintain. I mostly do XC riding, so it's just fine for most of that. –  Benzo Nov 30 '12 at 14:27
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I use BB7 with 203 mm rotors in my DH ride, and I have never had bake issues... Correct setup and maintenance pay big bucks if well played. Using BB7 instead of hydraulics has saved my budget more than once due to repair cost needed because of crashes and bad bike transportation methods... ;) –  Jahaziel Dec 1 '12 at 0:19
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Throwing in some anecdotal stuff.

I had been fine riding XC with two fingers in the lever (middle+index) but when I began riding DH, I often experienced grip loss of hand / forearm fatigue.

Somehow I discovered that I was way more comfortable using just the middle finger on the brakes. It seems to be that my index fingers are much better gripping the handlebars than actuating the lever. I supposed that lever placement had a role, so I moved the levers towards the stem so I could actuate them with my index finger. The result: I was able to apply the brakes fairly well, but my fatigue problems worsened.

I reverted the setup to actuate the lever with the middle finger. May be just my case, but it happens to be that my middle finger is just stronger applying the brakes. This leaves me with 3 finger in the handlebar: pinky, annular and index, wich provides me with enough grip for DH riding. Now I use this technique even in XC or commuting. Results more relaxed to me, less fatigue at the end of a ride or practice session.

So, conclusion after the long fairy tale: *Try different positions at lesat for a ride or two, the perfect hand grip for you may not be in book! *

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Yey, +1 for the inspiring story. I'll be sure to try out different lever positions and finger positions. Thank you for the answer. –  Vorac Dec 3 '12 at 15:01
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Under normal riding situations on paved roads, I always reach for the brake levers with at least two fingers. Just in case you hit a bump and a finger is "jarred" off of the lever, or a finger just slips off of the lever because of sweating, you still have one finger left on the brake lever to exert some braking force to a wheel. Of course, each individual usually will seek whatever feels most comfortable to them. Keeping control is the main thing. On a downhill, you should only need really "light" pressure on the brakes to stay under control. I still use my two fingers for the safety aspect, but "feather" the brakes using one dominant finger.

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