Braking as a Skill

Hello, Unicyclists!
I have been riding Muni for nearly one year and finally fitted my Nimbus 27.5 with a disc brake. I was so amazed at the difference, and also at how intuitive it was to use it to control steep descents - like suddenly having a new super-power :grinning: That has been very satisfying. But on the flip side, I have been frustrated with the sense of being flung back to ‘square 1’ where, at times, all of the grace and competence I felt in my riding vanishes, and I am fumbling with this new option! And invariably screwing up and crashing. That’s why they call it learning haha, I get that - but I’m interested in hearing thoughts about brake technique:

  • When are you engaging the brake? Do you use the brake in the course of maneuvering or hopping through obstacles? Do you use it intermittently throughout, or only at punctuated moments (if that makes sense)?

  • How much do you rely on your brake, other than in descents? Is it essential to your riding (other than in descents)?

  • Please share any other thoughts/personal reflections you might have on the subject of braking!

Personally I see it as a bit of a gremlin. I am getting to where I can manage pretty technical terrain, pretty well. I live in Rhode Island so these are (rocky) hills, not mountains, I’m riding and I assume a brake is indispensable in true mountain riding. But using the brake forces you to think about using the brake! Or not! :rofl: Maybe I’m thinking too much… What I do see already is some potential for what the brake may do to advance your riding, if you learn to use it well. How do you feel that the brake advances your riding?Thanks for the feedback!


On hills, I use it as a drag to take the hill out of the equation. Now all that’s left is to stay balanced. (legs are free to balance as opposed to being used for braking)
You do use it intermittently when landing larger drops on a steep descent. (hard brake on landing with a super quick feathering to the required brake for the rest of the hill)

I only use my brake on very steep or long descents and also for emergency stops.
For my riding it’s essential because of the efficiency it provides over the long run(ride). I can recover physically and aerobically, on the move, when descending so I can ride further and farther.

I don’t think you need a brake on 26" or less unless you’re pushing the muni vertical envelope. Just my thoughts… My smallest wheel is a 29" with a 3 1/4" tire and I find I rarely use my brake anymore. (I’m also not pushing the vertical stuff - cross country/all mountain is my preference over just downhill)

Yes, you are thinking too much.
Keep using it when you need it.
Practice the drag on descents and possibly some emergency braking on a regular basis and just like riding it will get easier and easier.
Don’t forget to switch hands so you can develop the skill with both left and right hands. Sometimes is makes more sense to use a certain hand so being ambidextrous is a must.

This is just what works for me.


My favourite topic :slight_smile:

Biggest impact of a brake by far for me is traction on steep hills. You just can’t output even braking with your feet, so a brake is a game changer in what it makes possible there.
Second biggest is probably saving the legs from getting too tired, even on short hills it makes a difference if you ride them often enough…

Certainly, most of us do. Keep the brake available (i.e. a finger on the lever) and you will figure out when it’s useful as your skill progresses.

Outside of hills, I’m not always sure if I used it or not, it’s become part of the big puzzle so much and I can’t say how much comes from my feet and how much is the brake… I certainly use it when hopping on something uneven or landing drops with the weight too far back (otherwise all the work is only on one leg in both of those cases). Also on quick stops, cuts the braking distance a fair amount. I think I sometimes use it when hopping onto something, but I’m not sure if it actually does much…

Yes, you can do quite a lot without it, if you don’t have sustained hills, but I find I can usually do it better with one.


I’d say it’s a must-have, whether it is for Muni or road riding. Whenever you feel like you could rest your legs thanks to the brake, use it! It is true for hills - whether they are steep or not -, but also for commuting in town or in the country - if there is a stop sign, a traffic light, or anything that forces you to slow down or stop!


Great advice!

I have observed riders using this technique when landing big drops. It makes sense, though seems like a tricky trick to get down: operating a sensitive little brake lever while plummeting downward, slamming into the ground, maintaining balance and proceeding down trail! (Still can’t believe we can actually do these things :exploding_head:) As I think you both said, the only way to really practice developing a skill like that is to start using the brake and getting your body accustomed to it. I guess the magic happens when you get to the point that you are applying the brake and the balancing counter-force simultaneously, rather than just reacting to the braking force, the way I often feel I am doing.

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On my 36er I use the brake on steeper down grades of 10 to 12% or greater. The brake is also very useful in making normal off the back dismounts in a smooth and low impact action.

I have also used it for jump mounts on smaller and larger uni’s.


I wouldn’t be without the brake on my 36er. I use it on most downhills and for every stop.

I have a brake on my muni, which I do use, but I’m not nearly as confident with it. I find I have to really concentrate on keeping a gentle touch on the muni, whereas the big heavy 36" wheel lets me use the brake more enthusiastically. It’s all about what you’re used to, though.

Which brings me to to my point - just spend more time on the wheel. You will get used to it and it will become second nature with time.

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