There are many MTB training devices on the market right now. I keep seeing an ad for a “Brake Trainer” that tells you when and where during your ride you used the brakes and how hard you applied them.

I applaud the designers for trying to create something to help mountain bike riders improve but, do they help you ride better? If so, HOW?

You say, well, my brake trainer told me I’m dragging my brakes on this section of trail and I shouldn’t be.

Why shouldn’t you be braking there? How do you know that the best rider in the world wouldn’t be dragging their brakes there?

More importantly
, why are you dragging your brakes here?

Even more importantly, how do you fix the cause of your mistake?

The brake trainer points out what you MIGHT be doing wrong, not the CAUSE of what you might be doing wrong.

Going faster is not a case of “Just let off the brakes you wuss!” I tried that and my subconscious kept grabbing at the brake levers.

Bicycle Tire Cloud Wheel Sky

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely dragging my brakes on King Kong, Virgin UT

So, the FIRST question you need to ask yourself is: Can anyone ride that section of trail without braking? If the answer is yes, then your SECOND question should be: what skill/s do I need to improve to be able to ride that section without braking as much?

Or, maybe you do have the skill to go that fast, it’s just your perception of your speed that is off. This is the number one cause of braking when you don’t need to.

Something grabbed your attention
(a wet root? that rock?) and now you aren’t looking as far ahead as you were before. This creates the impression that you are going much faster than you were a tenth of a second ago, causing you to slow down.

The further you look ahead, the slower it feels like you are going.
The closer to yourself you look, the faster it feels like you are traveling.

If you are a passenger in a car doing 80 mph on I-70 in Utah and you look at a mountain that is a few miles ahead it feels like you aren’t going fast. If you then look down at the dashed lines separating the lanes it feels like you are going ludicrous speed!

The speed you are comfortable at is a combination of your skill level and how far ahead you are looking. Whenever you look down you tend to squeeze the brakes and when you look ahead again, you release them.

A brake trainer can be a useful tool if you feel you have all the core skills of mountain biking wired and braking where you shouldn’t be is the last piece of the puzzle holding you back.

Here is an article about those core skills ranked in order of importance.
The Hierarchy of Skills

For most of us, focusing on the fundamental skills of mountain biking would be a much better use of our limited practice time.

As always feel free to call or e-mail with any questions and please share your thoughts and experiences.