My daily commute consists of a quite steep last part (around 1 km with average 12% steepness). On my way back home when going downhill, I have to extensively use my brakes to (more or less) keep the speed limit of 30 km/h, and to avoid risks of course. Is there an optimal "brake strategy" to reduce the wear on my brakes? For example, is it better to use them in "intervals" (going to 35-40 km/h and then braking back to 25), or use them constantly (keeping around 30 km/h)?

EDIT: Rim brakes

  • 1
    For long downhills, I tend to favor alternating front and back -- 15-30 seconds on one, and then the other. With maybe a 10-second pause in-between. This isn't for wear so much as safety -- if I were to sense the brakes losing effectiveness I would immediately bring the bike to a near halt, using both brakes, and then inch my way down. But avoiding overheating one brake or rim by alternating should reduce wear as well. Feb 24, 2017 at 13:00
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    brakes are consumables and a vital part of safe travel by bicycle, frequent service, and if necessary replacement, wont break the bank and should not be (harshly put) skimped out on.
    – zython
    Feb 24, 2017 at 17:11
  • I cycle the brakes - on reasonably hard for ~1-3 seconds then off until I need to brake again. Whatever you do, don't hold the brakes half-on, its full on or full off.
    – Criggie
    Feb 25, 2017 at 1:23
  • @Criggie could you expand on that comment? I know you don't mean locking the wheel by "full on* but it could be read that way and modulating brakes is normal riding behaviour,so I'm not sure what you mean.
    – Chris H
    Feb 25, 2017 at 7:13
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    @DanielRHicks I do exactly that, but dividing all the durations by ten.
    – BSO rider
    Feb 25, 2017 at 11:57

4 Answers 4


Wear on rim brakes can be reduced by washing your bike to remove grit from the wheels, and by cleaning out the cleaning grooves in your brake pads.

You can also increase braking effect by sitting up as much as possible, so your body acts as an airbrake. This will reduce the braking effort required by your rims.

Are there any routes with perhaps a greater distance but lower elevation changes?

Remember, no braking on the turns. You need to drop your velocity before hitting the corner, then drift through the corner. Braking on the turn makes you more likely to loose traction.

  • 1
    If one routinely takes this downhill it might be worth considering wearing a loose-fitting jacket, to increase wind drag. Or, if you're really a fanatic about it, employ some sort of small parachute. Feb 24, 2017 at 21:54
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    A year or two ago I did some quick tests of upright vs. tucked (only on a hybrid so not very tucked). I used neither the pedals nor the brakes after passing a start line at a set speed (not set very accurately) On hills comparable to the OP's but a bit less steep the difference in peak speed was around 10% (quite consistently if I selected days with almost no wind).
    – Chris H
    Feb 25, 2017 at 13:17
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    @Criggie absolutely. 10% faster on my fairly minor test means around 20% more kinetic energy to dump if you have to hit the brakes at the bottom. This would only increase for bigger hills. I don't have a better test case on a regular ride as our roads are too crowded and often have junctions in the wrong places, with drivers who don't expect bikes to be going 50-60 km/h.
    – Chris H
    Feb 26, 2017 at 7:18
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    Good answer, thanks. The route I chose already is maybe slightly steeper than the alternative route, however, I believe that it is quite a bit safer, since it is a one-way road for a large portion, whereas the other route is extensively used by cars and quite narrow. Good point about sitting up! Feb 27, 2017 at 8:40
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    Yep, sitting up makes a big difference.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 1, 2017 at 10:16

Front rims tend to stay cleaner than back rims, and dirt is abrasive so (as well as being good technique) a preference for the front brake will extend the life of your pads.

On downhills it's a bit different - heat is an issue not just for pad life but for safety. Hills round here tend towards short and sharp, so I use the back brake (lightly) for not going faster and keep the front for stopping. On longer descents I rest the back brake by giving the front a turn.

There are good reasons to avoid going fast-slow-fast-slow:

  • following traffic (whether cars or bikes) won't expect sudden slowing on a clear road and you (presumably) don't have a brake light
  • as your stopping distance increases a lot with speed you don't have to go much faster for hazards (like side streets because many drivers don't understand bikes that go quick) to get more significant.

Even good brake pads (which last longer than cheap ones) aren't expensive, and it's easy to change them yourself (front or rear in a session, then test, at least until you're experienced) so pad wear shouldn't be your top consideration - riding for the conditions should be.


Another more expensive option is to add a third brake. Tandems frequently have drum brakes in the hub of the rear wheel, and while they don't really stop the bike, they work to limit the top speed on a downhill.


  • continuous gentle braking to limit your top speed
  • Rider can set the amount of braking effect - they're not on/off switches.


  • Cost of hub and have to replace all spokes with shorter ones due to the larger flange.
  • You need a reaction arm, which means either a tab or a clamp on your chainstay on the left side.
  • Have to rebuild your wheel to put them in instead of the existing rear hub
  • Another brake control - my tandem used a bar-end lever for the rear drum.
  • Its easy to forget to unset the brake, limiting your speed once off the grade.

I never had a problem with heat.

Hub from rear. Note cassette is a 6 speed. enter image description here

Hub with reaction arm onto chainstay enter image description here


You don't say whether you are using disc or rim brake.

With disc there are various grades of pad - sintered, organic and semi-metal (resin). Sintered last the longest.

Rim brake there are various different compounds available for the pads and it is a case of experimenting with the options. Swissstop offer high quality pads for various conditions.

Hard braking will also cause excessive wear - so the approach would be to be as smooth as possible on the brakes. This usually involves the technique of "feathering" the brakes - whereby the brakes are applied with just enough force to control speed.

  • I have rim brakes (edited the questions) Feb 24, 2017 at 11:00

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