Knowing which brake controls which tire and the difference in functions between the two brakes is important to keep you safe. Applying too much pressure to the wrong brake at the wrong time can be disastrous and lead to an injury (which could keep you off your bike for some time).
The function of the front brake is to stop you. Seventy to 80% of your stopping power comes from the front brake. If you need to stop or slow down fast, use the front brake.
The function of the rear brake is to slow you down too, but to a lesser degree. Twenty to 30% of the braking power lies in the rear brake. The rear brake is also used to align the front wheel with the rear wheel, before you have to use the front brake to stop. If the tires are not in line with each other, the bike can twist to one side or another when you apply the front brake with you possible losing control. If you want to slow down going down a hill, use your rear brake.
A proper braking sequence to a stop might look something like this:
- Start slowing down your speed and aligning your front and rear wheels by applying light pressure on the back brake lever
- Keep your eyes on the point where you want to stop
- Keep your arm and shoulders relaxed and don’t fight the brake levers
- With even power, start to pull back the front brake
- Still keep your sight fixed on your stopping point
- Once you are at the speed you want gradually release pressure on the front brake
- Keeping pressure on the back brake lever finish bringing yourself to a stop
Of course in order to brake correctly the brakes must be working properly. First, make sure your rim is seated properly in the frame recess and that it rotates without wobble. If it wobbles, reseat it until it rotates smoothly.
Next, make sure the pads are not worn. If so, replace the pads before continuing on with the adjustment sequence. Align the pads correctly on their gripping surface by loosening the pad mount bolts, gripping the brake lever and then tightening the pad mount bolts while keeping pressure applied.
Release the brake lever and look at the brake pads to ensure they are the not dragging on the rim and that they stay about the same distance from the rim through a complete wheel rotation. If the pads are not the correct distance from the rim you can move the pads in or out by adjusting the brake barrel adjuster. If the adjuster is all the way in or out, you can readjust the cable tension on the brake caliper and then adjust the pad clearance.
Having correctly adjusted brakes and knowing when to use each brake is an important part of biking. Check your brakes each time before riding and if unsure how to adjust them, take your bike to a bike dealer or repair shop.