How to improve your braking and deceleration

People don’t think too much of their brakes when riding their bikes, or even driving their cars. They usually relegate braking only for situations where you have to stop or slow down. Indeed, when learning how to operate any vehicle, braking is the least intuitive skill, and it deserves to be consciously studied and analyzed. Braking can actually unlock speed you never knew you had.

How well do you know how to use your brakes?

AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, DO YOUR BRAKING IN A STRAIGHT LINE

Before we delve into the finer points of braking technique, we should look at the two finger-length pieces of rubber through which everything you do on a bike is transmitted: the tires’ contact patch.

Tires have a finite level of grip. At any one time, a rider can apply three forces to a tire: acceleration, braking, and cornering. The way tires work, they are able to do one of these three tasks to the theoretical limit of traction by committing 100% of their grip to that one task. However, they don’t do so great when asked to combine two tasks, because each task requires a certain portion of grip to work, and the tires have to split their grip between them. With this splitting of grip comes an according lowering of the traction limit.

This is why it’s best to do your braking in a straight line. Doing so lets your tires concentrate on deceleration, especially if you have to scrub a lot of speed rapidly. The moment you turn your handlebars, you will not be able to brake anywhere near as hard, because your tires’ grip will already be committed to cornering. The most you will be able to do mid-corner is to feather the brake levers, preferably the rear, as loss of front grip is almost impossible to recover from.

APPLY THE BRAKES SMOOTHLY

One other thing about tire grip: It doesn’t respond very well to sudden inputs. Smooth control inputs will maximize whatever grip you have available. This is one reason why you want to squeeze your brake levers progressively, and not grab them suddenly.

This smooth application is called “modulation.”

A disc brake offers much better modulation due to tighter tolerances and harder friction material.

By design, disc brakes have much better modulation than rim brakes, because the pads are harder and there is much less distance between them and the braking surface.

ON THE ROAD, THE FRONT BRAKE IS YOUR FRIEND

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard stories of people somersaulting over their handlebars because they used their front brakes. That will only happen if you’re clumsy with its use and application. Learn to love your front brake, because it is far and away the fastest way of retarding your speed.

If you tried to come to a stop with the rear brake alone, you’d need a lot more space. You can start by squeezing both brake levers equally, then learning to bias your braking more toward the front.

SHIFT YOUR WEIGHT BACKWARD

On a car, most of the braking happens on the front wheels. Because it has a pair of front wheels, the forward weight shift under braking translates only into the “dive” of the front suspension.

Maximum braking with rearward weight transfer on a road bike with drop handlebars.

With its single front wheel, maximum braking with the front brake on a bicycle requires active weight transfer. You do this by getting out of the saddle, leveling the pedals, and pushing your hips rearward, as far behind the saddle as you can. You’re effectively pushing the bike away from you as you brake. This will counteract any tendency to somersault forward.

Keep in mind that this weight-shifting technique should be done only in a straight line. If you initiate a turn with your hips shifted backward, you will end up unweighting and losing grip on the front wheel – and that is guaranteed to end with you hitting the floor.

PRACTICE YOUR MAXIMUM BRAKING

It’s worth going to a quiet street to practice this.

Sprint to 20 km/h or so, then squeeze your brake levers hard, remembering to perform your weight shifting. Maximum braking is achieved when your rear tire lifts a few centimeters off the ground, and skids when it meets terra firma again.

DECELERATION DOESN’T ALWAYS REQUIRE BRAKING

While pedaling at speed on flat terrain, the large wind resistance usually means all you need to shed some speed is to stop pedaling. Sitting more upright also increases your frontal area to the wind, increasing drag.

This is also important if you ride in a group. When in a paceline, you’re in close proximity to other riders and their wheels. A mistimed fistful of brake can mean collision within the pack. It’s better to control your speed by freewheeling and sitting up, very gently using the brakes if needed.

BRAKE EARLIER IN WET CONDITIONS

To work in the wet, rim brakes have to drive away water from the brake track first.

I cannot over-stress the importance of this tip for cyclists who ride bikes with rim brakes. Because of the closer proximity to the ground, the braking track of your wheels gets wet fairly easily. Your brake pads have to push this water away from the braking track before they stand a chance of generating friction and actually slowing you down.

To compensate for this, brake earlier than you normally would. It’s also a good idea to dry out your rims by periodically applying the brakes lightly while riding.

With disc brakes, the braking surface is much farther away and is less affected by water, so your braking is much more reliable. The limiting factor isn’t in the brake hardware, but in the grip of the tires. Because disc brakes also have much better modulation, however, you’re better able to make use of whatever tire grip and braking power you have.

TO GO FASTER, BRAKE LATER

Conversely, free speed exists for the taking if you can delay your braking as much as possible, while still remaining as smooth as you can on the levers.

This last tip requires practice and a healthy appetite for risk. On a course you know well, start entering the turns slowly. Then as your confidence builds, delay your braking point further and further, as you adjust your brake input to scrub off excess entry speed.

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I hope you learned something with this writeup. If you want me to write about a certain topic, let me know in the comments.

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Bike fit comparison: Dahon Vitesse T20 vs Giant TCX SLR 2

It took some time and a fair bit of tinkering with parts, but I’ve finally dialed in Bino and Hyro‘s bike fits as closely as possible to my physiology. While they may share the same rider, they are obviously very different beasts. I thought of doing a comparison between them.

For these photos, I tried to equalize the two bikes while trying to prop them up vertically. Using the Vitesse’s kickstand will lean it over to the non-drive side, while using the Minoura DS-30AL will result in the rear wheel being suspended at different heights off the ground. Both are deployed in the photos, but aren’t really used to bear the weight of either bike. I leaned the Vitesse against a wall using its handlebar grips, while I propped the TCX’s left pedal on a little stool.

One of the fundamental differences between them is in the cranks. Hyro has 170 mm crank arms, while Bino has slightly longer 172.5 mm crank arms.

 

Compensating for the extra 2.5 mm of length requires a correspondingly lower saddle height on the Dahon. As most experienced cyclists will tell you, saddle height is the most fundamental bike fit measurement, the one which everything else is based around. The bikes aren’t worlds apart, though, and it’s not easy to tell the difference at first glance.

 

 

Moving to the front, we look at the handlebar heights.

 

 

I ride with Bino’s stock telescoping handlepost slammed at the very bottom of its travel. Even then, Hyro’s drop handlebars are at least 3 cm lower.

Top-down view of both bikes with saddles’ rears aligned. Note the Vitesse’s seat tube, which is actually behind the bottom bracket shell.

Combining the saddle height and handlebar height, we have the reach, which is very different on both bikes. Even without factoring in the TCX’s drop handlebars, the Vitesse is the more upright bike with a much shorter reach, mainly because of the lack of a proper stem.

And no, the handlepost doesn’t really count, unless you refer to it as a super-short stem. There’s a slight 10-degree forward bend where the Dahon handlepost clamps around the steerer tube, and incidentally where its folding hinge and latch are, so it’s not quite a “zero-centimeter” stem. Turning the 580 mm handlebars on the Vitesse gives quick direction changes – which may feel twitchy to riders not accustomed.

Aftermarket “stems” are available for folding bikes to further adjust the fit. These are basically pairs of handlebar clamps connected with a cross bar which is held by the handlepost’s clamp.

By comparison, the TCX has a 90 mm stem clamped around the steerer tube, plus 70 mm of reach on the drop bars – both of which work to give a more stretched-out riding position and slow down the steering. Despite the much narrower 400 mm handlebars, cornering with the TCX is done more by leaning in with the hips than turning the bars.

This was an interesting look at how different these bikes are. Yet, it also provides an insight as to how close Dahon’s small-wheeled folding bikes are to a full-size bike’s geometry.

 

 

Rolling through Alaska Cycle Philippines 2016

The 2015 running of Alaska Cycle Philippines did a lot of things right. It boasted a compact, criterium-style layout for the 40 km Challenge course; a smooth, well-organized registration and ride kit claiming procedure; and one of the best-looking, most flattering cycling jerseys I’ve ever had.

Will the 2016 edition better it?

REGISTRATION AND RIDE KIT

Organizer Sunrise Events opened the 2015 event’s registration a few days before 2014 ended, and it made a huge splash about it. By comparison, in 2016 they seemed half-hearted in raising awareness, and early bird registration opened in the middle of February.

It had also become a little dearer to participate. The price of admission had gone up considerably, even for the most cost-effective option: early bird registration for the 40 km Challenge as a group of four. Registering this way effectively joins the fourth team member for free. Even so, effective price per head was now PhP1575, compared to the PhP1350 of previous Cycle Philippines events.

This time around, I signed up with Rommel Cruz, Mike Nera, and BJ Serrano of SudRouleurs.CC.

As with the 2015 edition, Microtel Suites at the bayside SM Mall of Asia area played host to the ride kit claim, and the Sunrise Events team certainly repeated their good job with the venue. When I went at around 10:30 am, there was a lot of people, but Microtel’s function room was just big enough to keep things from disintegrating into chaos. They even retained the bike parking area too.

So what’s in the kit? The essentials are still there: the RFID-tagged bike number tag, the three helmet stickers, and the race number pinned to the jersey.

 

They did away with the junk food and threw in useful extras instead. Helmet and eyewear maker Spyder threw in a small wrist cuff with reflective print and a tiny zippered pocket, as well as a strange combination of a sun visor and a “Buff” headgear. Both are certainly useful for cyclists and are thoughtful additions.

 

We also got some samples of Cetaphil’s skin care products, a small pack of tissues, and a collapsible fan.

 

As before, F2P make the event jerseys. It’s a nice combination of hues, with the dominant black and gray fade flattering most people’s physiques. While not bad, I still prefer last year’s design.

 

Previous jerseys were made in the Lao PDR. F2P seems to have moved production to Thailand this time around.

 

It’s still got three pockets at the rear, but little else in terms of features. Quality is still up there, though.

THE ROUTE

I had concerns about the BGC Cycle Philippines 2015 route for the 40 km Challenge because it threw in Gil Puyat Avenue. Even on a Sunday morning, this road is busy enough that closing its span from Makati to Pasay resulted in a lot of irate drivers.

As it turns out, Sunrise Events decided to tap Gil Puyat Avenue again for this event.

 

From the start/finish line along Seaside Boulevard, the Challenge route runs along J.W. Diokno Boulevard and up to Gil Puyat Avenue, where riders pedal along its length until the Paseo de Roxas intersection. There, they all double back the opposite way, turning right at Roxas Boulevard. Riders then complete three laps, bookended by U-turns at the City of Dreams casino and the Gil Puyat Avenue flyover. After the final lap, cyclists forego climbing the flyover and turn into the World Trade Center area before swinging into J.W. Diokno and Seaside Boulevards for the finish.

This is in stark contrast to last year’s layout, which was largely self-contained within the area of Roxas Boulevard and SM By the Bay and did away with as much use of Gil Puyat Avenue as possible.

Even worse, the 2016 edition changed up the schedule and had all rides on a much busier Saturday morning. How much more irate people would get, we will see.

THE RIDE

The four of us all started late.

We were registered as the last of Wave A, so our ride-out time was supposed to be at 5:30 am. Subsequent waves were released two minutes apart. Unfortunately, we arrived late due to long queues at the outdoor parking areas. Apparently they had opened only at 5:15 am. Once parked, we unloaded our bikes from Rommel’s pickup, stuck on his bike number tag and helmet stickers, and pushed our bikes over to the start/finish line as quickly as we could.

Hyro, my TCX, stripped down for Alaska Cycle Philippines 2016.

Rommel and I arrived in time to join Wave F, with Mike and BJ nowhere to be seen. Oh well.

The initial plan was for me to draft for Rommel at around 25 km/h. Unfortunately, when we turned into Gil Puyat Avenue, congestion due to other riders, the single available lane, and the generally cyclist-unfriendly state of the road slowed us right down. Rommel waved me off, so I pushed on, slicing my way through gaps as I rode to the Osmeña Highway train crossing. Riding in the drops, I pushed a 32 km/h pace while passing lots of slower riders.

As expected, lots of motorists and pedestrians were frustrated with the Gil Puyat Avenue road closure. Little wonder, as it was a busy Saturday morning. After rounding the Paseo de Roxas U-turn, we had to stop for half a minute at the Makati Avenue intersection as the cops and route marshals had to let a few irate drivers through. We started again and rushed through the remainder of the Gil Puyat route before swinging over to Roxas Boulevard to start our three laps.

(L-R) Michael Caya, Timothy Lacbay, and Sean Ilaguison.

From previous editions of these events, I knew that the wide expanse of Roxas Boulevard was home to some stiff headwinds, and this day was no exception. I rode in the drops for most of this leg, while chasing slower riders and holding on to their rear wheels as I approached them for added shelter from the wind. I held 27-28 km/h on the flat sections, but felt my right calf starting to cramp. I clicked into easier gears to decrease the load, and managed to stave off a full onset.

On the climbs of the Gil Puyat and EDSA flyovers, I opted to stay seated, click into easier gears, and spin the cranks as best as I could, maintaining 16 km/h and no slower. I shuffled to the rear of my saddle and rotated the load toward my glutes and hamstrings.

BJ Serrano on his Specialized Allez.

There was one instance where I had to suddenly put on the brakes, as there was this rider on a mountain bike that swerved into my path as I was attempting to pass him on his left. I felt my right calf cramp once as I braked and wrestled Hyro into a better position to pass.

At the end of my second lap, I saw a rider in a pink and blue jersey pass me on my left. It was Michael Caya of the United Folding Bikers. He was drafting for my pals Timothy Lacbay and Sean Ilaguison, the three of them keeping a well-coordinated paceline, and I greeted them hello. They were already on their way back to Seaside Boulevard, and I told them I had started late.

Michael Nera with his fluoro green helmet, riding his white Giant Defy Advanced 2.

My third lap went without incident, although my left hand was starting to get numb from all the forward-leaning weight. I improved my seated climbing to 18 km/h, too. I almost had to come to another stop on the turn to J.W. Diokno from the cars, but I managed to keep moving.

I had done enough to stave off my cramps, so I thought of shooting for a sprint finish – an achievement I’ve never pulled successfully. Another rider on a white Specialized Tarmac road bike seemed to have the same idea. Waiting for the final intersection, I stood up, cranked on the drops, and launched a huge 992 W sprint – propelling myself from 35 km/h to 48 km/h on the final 200 meters to the line.

Maximum speed.

POST-RIDE

After crossing the line, I had no cramping at all as I whooped from the adrenaline rush. Rolling into the finishers’ area, I was given a Sausage McMuffin. White Tarmac guy pulled up and congratulated me on the sprint. His name was Andy, a triathlete. We remained near the finish line area, chatting away as we waited for our companions to cross the line.

Timing results. For some reason Sean’s timing tag wasn’t detected. Click on the image for the PDF file.

 

I walked over to congratulate Timothy, Michael and Sean. Michael in particular had put out some amazing numbers, averaging 30.8 km/h. Kuripot Biker author Jojo Bartolome was also there, finishing in good form and keeping pace with road bikes with his blue Brompton.

Lastly I met up with my guys Rommel, Mike and BJ. It was the first time for almost all of them and they were abuzz with pride. BJ’s training regimen had paid off, and he completed the distance without cramps and without difficulty on the climbs. All of them wanted to do it again.

(L-R) Rommel Cruz, Mike Nera, BJ Serrano and yours truly.

I’m of two minds with this year’s running of Alaska Cycle Philippines. On the one hand, the ride kit is excellent; logistics were well-managed; and there’s very minimal route interference like what happened with BGC Cycle Philippines 2015.

On the other hand…I hope they just do away with Gil Puyat Avenue altogether. The stretch the marshals close from Osmeña Highway to J.W. Diokno is pretty bad for all parties, and I believe replacing the whole Gil Puyat leg with another lap around Roxas Boulevard would be much better.

(L-R) Yours truly, BJ Serrano, Mike Nera and Rommel Cruz.