One of my mountain bike buddys has severe issues with downhill riding technique. By downhill I don't mean downhill racing in this context but riding down trails that are rather smooth but with some roots and rocks or short bits that are really steep and require to take one's heart in hand and get one's buttocks far behind the saddle. He has taken a fall over the handlebars some time ago and since then is even more cautious in those things.

By chance I learned that he is mostly braking with his rear brake even on flat terrain because he is too anxious about another rollover. I think I have figured out that this non-use of the front brake is the main reason for his downhill issues as the rear brake does by far not provide enough power and control here. I would like to get him back to using the front brake more and to give him more confidence and fun on downhill sections. Unfortunately I don't know how to do this.

I don't know if he's really aware of his problem yet (hadn't time to talk to him since I figured out the problem myself) and I don't think he has time and motivation to do just stupid practicing sessions somewhere in a park or another "boring" location. So I would be especially be interested in small exercises one could easily include into the weekly ride.

  • I know you ask specifically for front brake technique, but I recomend reading this: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/9790/…
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 15:34
  • I very much agree with @mattnz, that's all good advice. One other easy thing I would throw out is to check what kind of brakes he has. If he has brakes with very poor modulation/power control, he might be totally justified in fearing a trip over the bars. Better brakes (preferably hydraulics) with good power modulation might make a huge difference in his ability (and willingness) to use them properly. I personally love the new Shimano line--I have SLXs, and they're an excellent brake, and fairly affordable, as those things go.
    – stranger
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 15:55
  • What kind of brakes is he running? My bike came stock with tectro brakes. The modulation was awefull and it was really hard to brake cleanly. Since upgrading to Avid BB7s, I have found that I can brake much much more easily. Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 17:15
  • 1
    @sixtyfootersdude He's running some decent hydraulic disc brakes, so good brake power and modulation are given. Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 19:35

2 Answers 2


Lets get the social aspects out the way - you can lead a horse to water and all that stuff.....: Hows your relationship - will he listen to you and is he prepared to take clearly well intended advice. Also does he believe he has a problem and does he want to fix it. If any of these answers is no there little you can do except ruin you friendship. Till hes ready, wait at the bottom of the hill for him, cut him plenty of slack and make sure you both enjoy the riding - if appropriate laugh with him, but never at him.

After a night in hospital and metalwork keeping my wrist together, it took years for me to be able to ride a track with large drop off to the side - especially the right - comfortably, yet and off over the handlebars never phased me. After a big off you subconscious needs to be convinced you will not be hurt if it happens again, or it will not happen again, the only way it learns is through repetition without the consequences. You mate has learned hitting the front brake throws you over the bars, so his subconscious will not let him do it.

Presuming hes ready to learn, the and hes is willing to learn from you - Look online for some videos - watch for the rubbish that is out there but you seem to know what you are looking for so should be all right there.

Chose something he can currently ride comfortably, that you ride faster, with more control and/or more comfortable. Ideal would be a could of tight switchbacks that can only be ridden fast using the front brake to slow into them, yet back only braking merely means you have to go in slower. Safe run out if you don't make it is essential, bonus if its a lake or river that gets you wet or in front of a big crowd of onlookers who will give a good cheer at the screw ups.....The idea is to get something that is safe (physically safe as well mental and ego-safe). He needs to ride something that is not doing in his head, that his subconscious is going "bring it one, this is easy" while his conscious is think how to do it faster/better.

If possible video you and him riding it on the first run and keep it for later. Point out where you are braking differently and ride it for a half day. Each time, both of you try to go faster/more controller/better. If you get bored or it gets too easy, find another spot just a little bit harder. The aim is ride technically easy ground perfectly before progressing to harder sections.

At the end of the session, review the video of the first and last run over a beer....

Work out if you are going to mix this in with some rides, at the end of a ride is good, but make it really easy as your both tired. A special trip is well worth it.

  • Make sure he understands the power of the front brake - you can demonstrate this by passing at a constant speed and hitting one of the breaks at a constant pull force - the rear will skid.

  • This one helped me a lot with my riding. Show him how easy it is do do an endo. On a grassy field the risk is zero, the time to learn to get up on the front wheel (and hold there for a nanosecond) is maybe one hour of trying, and the learnt coordination skill is priceless. One learns at what exactly point the lifting of the rear wheel transfers into a fall.

  • Make sure he rides in a correct position. Being scared of over-the-bars, I can imagine him riding over his rear wheel, hands straight. This is detrimental for cornering, which in term can lead to poor confidence when braking. Furthermore, with no weight on the front wheel, front braking could easily cause front wheel skid. Yet another peril of this posture is the lack of suspension action from the locked-in-the-elbows arms.

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