by Fred Matheny
Being able to stop suddenly in a short distance can get you out of big trouble. Think about those times on a ride when you are happily pedaling along and need to “stop on a dime.” It could be that a car suddenly pulls out in front of you off a side street. Or comes around you and cuts you off. Or a rider in front of you approaches what seems like a clear intersection and then yells out: “Car right.”
If you’re not able to safely stop almost immediately, things can get very bad very fast.
Learn this skill if you’re new to road cycling (and refresh your ability even if you’re a grizzled veteran) with a few minutes of practice on a quiet stretch of pavement.
Here’s how to practice a panic stop on a bicycle:
- Pedal up to a decent speed. About 15 mph is enough.
- Stop pedaling, with the crankarms horizontal.
- Extend your arms to push your body back as you grab the brake levers. Let your butt go off the rear of the saddle, putting you in a long, low position over the bike.
- Squeeze the front brake harder to stop faster. Maximum stopping power is in the front wheel as weight shifts forward. Having your body low and rearward prevents tipping over the handlebar.
- Squeeze the rear brake a little less to prevent the tire from skidding. Of course, in a real panic stop this is a low priority.
Be very careful as you practice! This technique is meant to prevent crashes, not cause them. Always keep the bike on a straight line. Trying to stop like this while turning could easily make you lose control.
Once you’ve added panic stops to your bag of tricks, you’ll do the right thing when a car, dog or any other danger suddenly appears out of nowhere.
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tony m says
Great tip Fred. I teach bike safety, and the “panic stop” is one of the drills we always practice. I would add one counter-intuitive tip: if your rear wheel starts to skid (which means you’re not in control of the bike), ease up on your front brake. This will force the back of the bike down and against the road and should stop the skid.
Can’t stress this enough! Thanks.
First rule of a panic stop is “Don’t Panic!”
But that’s easier said than done. I think it only comes with practise and miles of riding.
Tony, I’m not sure I agree with your tip of easing up on the front brake as now you are going to increase your stopping distance. For me, I would ease up on the rear brake so that wheel is not skidding.
That being said, every situation is different and rider skills differ, so best to practise before you get into a real situation.
Will Haltiwanger says
Once you are skidding you may not recover and may not have the time to think about it. Practice this regularly so it is instinctive. And always if you are on a different bike, such as a rental.
Brian Nystrom says
Using the front brake needs to be repeated again and again until people embrace it. One of the most common issues I see with new riders is that they think that using the front brake will automatically launch them over the handlebars and they staunchly refuse to use it. They’ll lock up the rear and fishtail all over the place but won’t use the front brake. The best way I’ve seen to convince them that the front brake is their friend is to do comparative stopping drills using the rear, the front and both, so they can see how much faster they can stop when they incorporate the front brake. Of course, you still have to convince them to try it…
Donald Dickson says
Tony M got it right. For an expanded explanation, check out Sheldon Brown’s website:
Your front brake is your main brake. You can always tell if a cyclist knows how to brake properly. The wear on the front rim is greater than on the rear rim, and they always need to replace the front brake pads more often than the rear . . .