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My front brake is not operational and it will be a couple of days before the replacement Shimano Deore arrives. There are probably other use cases for braking with a rear brake. For example, pad glazing or boiling fluid due to excessive use of front brake downhill. Or sudden brake cable failure (has happened to me - the cable got cut at the caliper).

I have determined that my stopping distance is about 3 times that of both brakes operational.

Because the center of gravity of the rider is not located on the line between the two contact "points" of the bicycle with the ground, when decelerating an overturning moment is generated. The result is more weight on the front wheel and less on the rear wheel. More weight equals more traction or more stopping power.

Are there any techniques for effectively stopping with only a rear brake? Some way to put more weight on the rear wheel?

Brakes: basic Shimano hydraulic discs
Tires: Schwalbe Land Cruiser
Use: commuting and local autumn trails

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    Well, you should fix the front brake anyway, for some of the reasons why you're looking to live with just the rear brake. In some areas, its illegal to only have one braking system on a bike.
    – Batman
    Dec 12, 2014 at 11:48
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    "I am too lazy to fix it"
    – Batman
    Dec 12, 2014 at 12:33
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    Begin stopping sooner. Dec 12, 2014 at 12:59
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    Without a front brake, On road I find slamming into the car that pulled out in front of me very effective. Off road I find slamming into trees nearly as effective as cars.
    – mattnz
    Dec 12, 2014 at 22:43
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    In snow, I pretty much exclusively use the rear brake since its easier to control.
    – Batman
    Dec 13, 2014 at 12:33

4 Answers 4

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Quickly move your weight back first and then low. The momentum and force put in this movement should exactly match the force you put on the lever. If you do it well enough then the rear wheel will not skid and you'll have achieved maximum stopping power with the rear only. I do this often when I'm bedding new brake pads on the rear brake.

p.s fix your front brake

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  • Or have a good dentist! A bike without a front brake should stay off the road. Much too dangerous to rely on the least efficient of both brakes.
    – Carel
    Dec 13, 2014 at 15:07
  • @Carel, I agree, off-road downhill is much safer than riding on asphalt.
    – Vorac
    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:30
  • That one week of only rear braking gave me three things. First, the ability to estimate stopping distance when using only the rear. Second, the feel how to modulate the brake so that the tire does not skid (usually the rear skids much easier, because of front braking). And thirdly, an effective technique for braking (explained in the answer).
    – Vorac
    Jan 15, 2015 at 10:21
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Yes, there's a technique, however I strongly recommend you to fix the front brake. Rear only is dangerous. The rear wheel tends to block much sooner than the front one because of reasons you mentioned in the question so the obvious way is to avoid blocking as much as possible. First, you can emulate ABS on the car by quickly pressing and releasing brakes in series, this way the wheel will likely block, but with less tendency to slide sideways. Another is moving your mass center towards back while braking - not cool, but it helps, actually. And again - fix the brakes, repairing them is not a hard job.

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  • Well, I have oil all over the pads plus I lost one of the master cylinder cap bolts :D But the replacement Deore hydraulic is on the way. Still, I am having fun with the reduced control over the bike.
    – Vorac
    Dec 12, 2014 at 12:03
  • And I would think pressing hard and then releasing the break lever will lead to a lot more skidding, than continuous modulation ... but that is for the vote system to decide.
    – Vorac
    Dec 12, 2014 at 12:04
  • @Vorac you are right, but the point is to find modulation while pressing in series. By pressing continuously there's more risk to block the wheel and to skid.
    – Rilakkuma
    Dec 12, 2014 at 12:49
  • @Vorac, it will lead to skidding, which is actually the fastest way to decelerate. That is why car ABS brakes work in such a manner. If you can't control the skidding, you probably shouldn't use this method and may try, instead, to fix your front brake. Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19
  • A car ABS system pulses the brake much faster than a human could pump it.
    – Batman
    Dec 13, 2014 at 12:34
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As someone who uses their rear brake far more than their front, I feel qualified to answer this. My normal riding style (for better or worse) is rear brake heavy on my winter bikes. I have a tendency to allow my front wheel to track and lock/drag/skid my rear wheel when cornering on snow. I am very comfortable with my rear wheel sliding and to some extent, riding sideways.

Sheldon Brown has a section on when rear braking is appropriate. Basically, slippery surfaces (8 months of the year here in the beautiful sub arctic desert that is Fairbanks, Alaska), front flats, during bumpy sections, and front brake failure. That being said rear wheel braking is really only effective (in my opinion) if you are going to take advantage of breaking the tire loose. And if you aren't comfortable with that, it's probably not for you.

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  • It should be noted that you live in the polar wasteland known as Fairbanks, Alaska (which is not a typical place to live).
    – Batman
    Dec 13, 2014 at 12:36
  • So you are saying that rear braking is appropriate when cornering on slippery surfaces. Can you please compare this to front braking at the same conditions? Furthermore, I would appreciate it if you comment on braking without cornering at the same conditions (winter is coming).
    – Vorac
    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:08
  • So noted! @Vorac there is usually less weight on a front wheel and it's harder to modulate in slippery conditions without locking it up. If you lock your front wheel on ice, you are generally going down. The front wheel washes and it's harder to fight that momentum with just your arms than it is with your hips and full weight (like a rear wheel). Dec 15, 2014 at 16:25
  • I'll also note that the type of crashes associated with braking action (in winter riding) vary as well. If you lock and lose the rear wheel, you tend to tip and slide. I've taken a lot of shots to my hips like this and it works out ok (for me). When you lock and lose the front wheel, you tend to go over the front of the bike. I tore my acromioclavicular joint at one point this way and vowed never again. Dec 16, 2014 at 17:32
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The first thing you need to recognize is that you literally have less than half of your original stopping power. Riding without a front brake puts excess strain on your rear brake. You are very dependant on your front brake for the majority of your stopping power, especially when trying to stop quickly, as momentum will load your front wheel while decelerating and lift weight off of your rear.

Rules for stopping effectively with only a rear rim/disc brake:

  • Ride slower
  • Give yourself more time to stop
  • Get your weight as far back on the bike as you can to try and weight your rear tire in emergencies.

Riding with a rear brake only is a good way to wear out brake pads, rotors, and tires. The sooner you fix your front brake, the less likely you will be to have to replace other parts due to excess wear.

The only bikes that have rear braking only, are kids bikes and coasters/cruisers, which sometimes have hub brakes. These are designed to take the full force of stopping the bike, but they work better than rim brakes on the rear because when you brake with your pedals you're forced to use proper body mechanics and leverage on the back pedal which puts your weight behind the bottom bracket, ergo more effectively weighting the back wheel.

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  • What about fixies - those guys brake with only their pedals!
    – Vorac
    Dec 16, 2014 at 8:14

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