Braking: front, rear or both?

I'm not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.

I’m not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.

Yesterday I did one of the most difficult descents in the Santa Cruz Mountains — Bear Creek Road (Summit Road to Hwy 17) –using only my front brake.

The road is steep — about 16 percent in several sections — and has washboard bumps on tight turns, the worst kind of road for descending fast on a bicycle.

There has been some debate over whether or not to use your rear brake while descending. Jobst Brandt gave his thoughts on this subject in one of his posts in 2000. For the record, he never said you should not use your rear brake while descending. In fact, there are situations where it is advisable.

Of course, we all know that about 90 percent of braking power comes from the front brake, so using the rear brake is not going to make a lot of difference in most situations. Jobst and Sheldon Brown, both experts on the subject, wanted to get across the point that going over the handlebars while braking does not result from using just your front brake.

I didn’t go any faster on my descent compared to using my rear brake. As Jobst pointed out, one’s ability to descend depends on innate abilities — he compares the mind to a CPU — so using your rear brake or not while descending isn’t going to make much difference on how fast you make it down a mountain.

That said, I made it down the road, as I have dozens of times, without incident and didn’t notice any improvement or increased difficulties from using only the front brake.

The reason most cyclists crash is because they’re riding too fast for conditions, not from improper braking. Jobst rarely crashed, considering the miles he rode, but on two occasions where he crashed and broke bones, it was from riding too fast for conditions. The same goes for driving a car. It happens every time there’s a snowstorm or icy roads.

Meanwhile, my quest to find the Mountain Charlie tree ran into a snag, so this one I photographed nearby will have to do.

Finally, I’m giving the first person who can identify this black device a free copy of my novel Skidders. And I’ll give you another copy if you can tell me where it’s located.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

8 Responses to “Braking: front, rear or both?”

  1. Mike B Says:

    Long term plan is for an off road option through Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve that will allow people to avo
    id that stretch of the road. Not sure what the surface would be like

  2. Ray Hosler Says:

    It should be like the John Nicholas trail in Sanborn County Park. Steady, not- too-steep grade.

  3. Nic Dade Says:

    I’ll play. That looks like a stack of electrical isolators, the sort used on high power lines. And it looks like it’s being used as a mailbox or message bulletin board, maybe. I have no idea where it is located.

  4. Ray Hosler Says:


  5. Jay Says:

    Ray–I’ve have the pleasure of crashing a handful of times the past 30+ years and I agree that since I wasn’t flying off the road it wasn’t because of a lack of braking power. Amped up and riding too fast for conditions. On the most recent crash I think I was influenced by watching too many u-tube videos of cyclists aggressively descending local and out of area roads (I’ve since stopped watching them).

    But I wonder if it could it also be that larger riders (+200) benefit more from using a rear brake? More weight over the back part of the bike. While I do notice more stopping power on descents from the FB it isn’t my impression it’s anything like a 90-10% imbalance for me.

  6. Ray Hosler Says:

    It’s safe to say you typically don’t want to be braking much, if any, while in a corner so you’ll have the best possible traction where you need it most. That means you want to slow down before you hit the corner on a descent. The more weight and speed you have going into the corner, I think the greater the justification for using your rear brake. I couldn’t find anything about the braking force for front and back other than an article in Wikipedia on bicycle and motorcycle dynamics, which states that a front brake can achieve .5 g, vs. a rear brake at .25 g deceleration.

  7. Ray Hosler Says:

    Since nobody guessed correctly, it’s a trap for exotic wood borer beetles. There’s antifreeze at the bottom of the trap, into which the bugs fall and die. I think the term “exotic wood borer” refers to a variety of destructive beetles. Somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A free Skidders book for all anyway.

  8. bob landry Says:

    I’m not sure where you saw you electrical bug trap zapper thingy but today I saw one at the top of Glenwood Rd. I have seen them before up on the summit and once I saw a little explanation.
    We went to see “The Tree”. I’ve live in S.C. for 40 yrs. and always wondered where it was. Thanks for the tip. I always thought it was on Mt. Charley Rd.

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