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Safety Guide: Braking Woes

Having sustained an injury recently, owing to the innocent and earnest over application of my bike brakes, an article on braking safety seems to be the order of the day… And like all, (speaking broadly) essays covering weighty subjects, an opening quote on the matter, spoken by a renowned philosopher will undoubtedly serve to shed some light on the matter.

In response to the accusation by Vanessa – “No, I ride, but not like you, Wilee. I put a brake on my bike and I use it.”

“Yeah, and that brake’s gonna get you killed.  You should get rid of that. The worst shit that ever happened to me happened when I had a brake. Brakes are death.”

Wilee, protagonist in the movie “Premium Rush”

It pretty much is poetry. A few more quotes selected at random will really help you appreciate the depth of this character.

– “ I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”

– “I do not carry drug shit, or whatever the hell this is!”

– “Douchebag! Have a nice day!”

– “Just runnin’ reds and killin’ peds.”

– “Suck it, douchebag!”

As inspiring as he is, one must take into consideration the fact that he rides a fixie – a bicycle which skids to a halt as soon as you stop pedaling.

If you are riding a free wheel, which might easily be the case for over 95% of Indian bicyclists, brakes are  more than ‘recommended’, they are compulsory, despite the great one’s words. Bike brakes, whether operated through cables or hydraulics are primarily of three types – the common V-brake, the disc brake and the drum brake.

The V brake, being the most common is surely familiar to most, if not all, Indian cyclists.  The mechanism is simple and the rubber pads are forgiving. In fact, with the inevitable wear brought about by use, it becomes so ‘forgiving’ that it is the closest most of us will have come to achieving the ideal of using no brakes.

The disc brake, has been  gaining popularity over the past decade, especially with the influx of  phoren bike manufacturers in the market. They are precise and powerful, almost to the point of being deadly, and that brings us to the nub of this article, which simply is  – always press the back brake first, and never press the front brake alone.  Now this is an easy enough convention to follow but it will help you to go over the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of it.

Why – The rear brake is your primary brake. The front brake isn’t your primary because quickly engaging only your front, with the ‘precision and power’ of the disc will send you toppling over even at low speeds. Another factor that adds to the probability of toppling is your seating position.  Excepting cruiser bikes where the bulk of your body weight is placed directly on your seat, on most bikes, your weight is thrust on the handlebar and thus an immediate halt will send you flying headlong due to that high forward momentum.

How – The usual convention is that in countries that drive on the left, the front brake is on the right and for those that drive on the right, it is a “rear right” set-up. This guideline stems from the reasoning that when providing hand signals to vehicles behind you, the steering hand can still operate the brake (provided it is the rear one) without concern of  hurting oneself in the process.

Additionally, it is also advised that your bell is placed on the same side of the handle bar as your rear brake as ringing it does not require you to release your grip on the handle. This also leaves room on the other side of the handle for additional accessories, such as front – lights which may require letting go of the handle to operate.

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Stay safe and Enjoy your ride 🙂

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