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?

edit: just added the MTB tag, invalidating some answers and comments; please excuse me doing it years later

  • 5
    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. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 12:33
  • 3
    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. Commented Apr 15, 2013 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
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 6:51
  • 1
    In a comment on one answer, @Vorac says, "I am interested only in mountain bikes.". It would be good to include that information in the Title. Otherwise it's confusing and the selected answer is possibly dangerously misleading. Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:29
  • One thing thing all these answers are missing, some MTB brake leavers are designed for only minimal fingers. One bike I've got, even if I wanted too, I couldn't physically use more than 2 fingers while on my cheaper run about, I can grab a fist full of brake
    – Hursey
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 19:42

9 Answers 9


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 because the handlebar needs grip. And having a lot of fingers on the levers and not on the bars reduces grip. 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

  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 8:48
  • 1
    Fixed the typo. I meant index. Sorry, my English is not my first language.
    – cherouvim
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 9:52
  • 1
    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
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 9:56
  • Also, have a look at the XTR trail brake which now has a very short lever.
    – cherouvim
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 9:56
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    To be fair though note that I only answered part of your question.
    – cherouvim
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 12:58

I look at it the other way - what's the required number of fingers 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 with praying it smooths out soon). Lose the handle bar, you lose brakes and steerage - there's 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 fingers first - pinky + 1 is the minimum for useful braking, never more than pinky + 2.

  • 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
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 9:04

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.


On both road and mountain bikes I tend to keep 1 finger ready to brake 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.

  • Having 2 fingers on the levers while going downhill is very dangerous.
    – cherouvim
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 6:11
  • @cherouvim Surely that depends on your grip strength?
    – cmannett85
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 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
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 13:38
  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 14:27
  • 1
    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
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 0:19

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, which 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 least for a ride or two, the perfect hand grip for you may not be in book! **

  • 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
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 15:01
  • I tried this, and my index finger has nowhere to be when braking, So it may as well be on the brake lever. I guess it depends on the shape of your brake lever.
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 21:32

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.


Professional racers use either 1-finger technique or 2-fingers technique for braking. The 2-fingers technique is more efficient for hard braking and is useful only for racing or riding at high speeds (>200 km/h) while 1-finger braking is smoother and more precise and is useful for normal riding. Furthermore, owner's manual for most bikes advice to squeeze the brake, not grab it and thus instructs to use one or 2 fingers for braking instead of 3 or 4.

Experienced riders know that on a bike, you should squeeze the front brake gradually so that some pressure will push the front wheel onto the ground, thus making a larger contact surface, thus allowing you to squeeze harder without risking the front wheel to block (the front wheel keeps the bike up while it is spinning, so blocking it will make the bike fall in about 1 second)

  • 3
    Is 200km/h a typo? Or are you thinking of motorbikes?
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 9:35
  • 1
    The world speed record for a mountain bike used as a gravity bike is 223km/h so it's possible they're serious. Sorry, mostly links send up at the official youtube video Then there's a wikipedia list covering all sorts of things, none of which seem to be human powered so I'd call them all motorbikes.
    – Móż
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 21:44

This answer focuses on drop bar bikes.

For road rim brakes, when riding on the hoods. I can comfortably get 3 fingers around the lever. I have to reach a bit to get my pinky to the lever. Hence, I tend to do regular braking with 2-3 fingers. Probably 3 if I need a hard stop.

For road rim brakes in the drops, you have more leverage than on the hoods. That said, I would tend to use the same number of fingers.

My primary bike has rim brakes. For road disc brakes, you tend to need a weaker pull to generate the same braking force. On tarmac, your disc brakes at full strength may also cause you to lose traction - this does depend on tire width. Hence, you may wish to deliberately use fewer fingers. Off road, the calculus may change, because your tires are bigger.

  • 1
    meta: we should make(or to have had around for years) another question about drop bars. The physics is different, the road conditions are different, the techniques to sustain traction are different, the geometry is different, the vibrations are different, the question is extremely important(safety critical). Other than that, I fully agree with the answer.
    – Vorac
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:22

I have an odd reason to use 2-finger braking on any levers that allow it: very long finger bones. So don't neglect the ergonomic aspect.

Better quality flat bar brakes (e.g. hydraulics on my hardtail) are less bad:

Knuckle interference 1

MT200 hydraulics on my hardtail- they'd have to move a long way inboard to clear the shifter

Knuckle interference 2

TRP Spyres on the tandem (despite the "V-brake" text on the lever; anyway I had the same levers on my hybrid with V brakes). Moving inboard means moving the shifter to an awkward position and rules out a bar bag. Even with a light stoker, I can easily be stopping 160kg, so want 2 fingers

On both the MTB and the tandem I can use a single finger on my back brake to control speed on steady descents with good visibility, covering the front with 2 fingers.

With cheap v-brakes (on a bike I keep near work so don't have here to photograph) I couldn't stop in an emergency with my middle finger behind the lever.

If I try to brake with just my index finger, I could get easily enough force, but the lever travel is limited by it hitting the knuckle of my middle finger. Rotating the lever around the bar doesn't help, just puts my wrist on a worse angle. Moving the levers inboard a long way would help, but then they clash with lights/bar bar/phone mount.

The solution would be to commit to one finger braking at all times, with cut down levers, but that removes the option to use 2 fingers at the end of a long day in the saddle, and I use my MTB for mixed surface long distance.

  • 1
    Have you tried using the reach adjustment to bring the lever farther away from the bars? That might help with the knuckle interference if you haven't done so already.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 22:15
  • 1
    @MaplePanda I am sure he has. I've encountered the same issue. The reason has always been poor maintenance(i.e. not bled hydraulics) or extremely low quality breaks(very low end V-brakes). However I've never had long fingers.
    – Vorac
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 2:47
  • @MaplePanda I always have it set as far out as it goes (and note that it reduces total travel, which a heavy rider + load can need with cables)
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 12:33
  • Pics added. BTW I fitted the new hydraulics pre-bled (the over-long hoses aren't visible in the photo) and brake very nicely.
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 13:14

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