Slowly extend middle finger

September 14, 2007

Unsurprisingly, you can make your life better in sports by learning new skills. It’s one of those fun little benefits that you can set out objectively to get better at something and within a short time have obvious results. Cool. How many aspects of your life offer this?

Today we’re talking about braking and mountain biking. Going fast in the typical off-road situation requires that you not just know how to stop yourself but that you have an ability to actively use your brakes to the maximum advantage. One of the most dramatic, non-obvious and trainable things you can do is change your use of your hands. I’m not going to really address brake setup, because I want to talk about biomechanicals. But let us assume that you have your brakes set up properly with the appropriate lever orientation, i.e. approximately in line with the angle of your forearms and with the clearance such that you don’t need to pin the lever to the bar for effect.

Most people will naturally brake with forefinger and middle finger by default, perhaps incorporating the ring and/or pinky finger as well. This, of course, compromises slightly or dramatically your ability to hang onto the bar in rough terrain, effects which are increased by the fact that braking itself introduces additional forces. This makes your perception of control less and therefore increases your desire to slow the bike down. You end up braking too much. Here’s a little something I adopted in the middle of my MTB racing phase.

Try the technique of using your middle finger to brake, keeping the index finger on the handgrip as usual. This requires practice and attention because it isn’t your natural approach, you’ve overtrained the old index-first approach and at first you are going to feel like this doesn’t give you enough braking control or power. With practice you will come to find your middle finger technique can be trained to be stronger and more sensitive, while simultaneously increasing the comfort of that particular hand position (although depending on where you drive this may already be a comfortable hand position). You may even be able to add the ring finger to the equation. What you will find is that keeping the index finger on the grip really increases your bar control allowing you to ride bumpy terrain much faster.


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