Bike control 101 - How to stop skidding in the wet?

This Time Next Year

Well-Known Member
Location
Portsmouth, UK
Only been riding a month or two so still a bit of a novice. This morning on my commute on my Boardman Hybrid (28c width tyres ~100psi), there was some very light rain, but the roads were wet from earlier rain.

I was approaching a small, usually quiet, roundabout to turn right, probably doing about 15mph max at the time. Was out into primary early as there was a vehicle approaching from behind that had just turned into the road so wanted to make sure I was in a good position. I check behind again, signal right, as I look forward, car and van are stopped at roundabout waiting, so in a bit of a panic, I put on the rear (mechanical disc brake) brake fairly sharpish, fearing a rear end into the van.

At this moment, I felt the back end skid out to the right, I stick my left leg out in the air to balance, release the brakes based on principles for controlling a skid in a car, and somehow manage to stay upright. Stopped, blushed a little and hoped the car behind didn't notice, and was on my way.

Firstly I recognise it was entirely my own fault for not anticipating the car and van would stop at the roundabout, but what I'm really after is advice on how to best avoid skidding if I am ever in an emergency stop situation on damp roads again. I'm not sure why I only used the rear brake, perhaps my right hand wasn't ready from the signal, or perhaps I used the rear brake only out of instinct from being taught as a child not to use the front brake only / first or risk end up somersaulting the handlebar, it all happened a bit quickly.

If I'd applied both would that of reduced my skid risk? Is there anything else I can learn from this and take forward with me?
 

boydj

Guru
Location
Paisley
Your front brake provides the best stopping power. Heavy braking will lighten the load on the rear making it skid easily. Arguably you should not use your rear brake in an emergency. If you have to do an emergency stop, use your front brake and slide your weight backwards to keep the back end down.
 

Dan B

Disengaged member
I agree with the preceding mostly but note also that if you are going to lock a wheel in the wet, the rear is not only much easier to slide but also (as you've found) much easier to recover than the front.
 
Crikey! This is a complex issue and much of the answer is more a function of experience than web searches.

Much of that experience is gained the 'ouchy' way. People will come online and tell you they've had the art nailed since they were five and have never fallen in the wet. People will also come online and tell you they are lizards, directly descended from a Pharoah and a space hopper.

1. Although bicycles have levers attached to front and rear brakes, once it gets wet that is a relatively small part of the equation.

2. A very big part of the equation is weight distribution. If you're hitting the anchors suddenly, harshly, in inclement weather or all three, get your weight to the rear. If you can, get it low and to the rear.

3. Another very big part of the equation is caution. You quickly pick up that it is not wise to ride in the wet with the same gusto you show in the dry.

4. Another thing is feel. Application of your brakes (and the front-rear balance) is almost infinitely adjustable between 'full astern all' and just feathering. A bloody great handful in the wet will not always have the desired effect.

5. In some conditions, your front can lock and simply wash out from under you. If you lock your front in the wet, you have to be lucky and skilled to rescue it. I do not entirely disagree with the post above from 'boydj', but I am careful how I use my front brake in the wet.

6. If you are locking your rear in the wet, just keep pedalling as you brake. It sounds silly, but it may not be so. As you brake, weight transfers to the front of the bicycle and the rear begins to lift. If the rear lifts sufficiently, the rear wheel will be unweighted and the wheel will stop rotating. On a motorcycle, this will usually stall the motor, lock the wheel and lead to unusual handling during your deceleration. On a bicycle, you are the engine and are unlikely to stall. If you keep pedalling, the wheel will be unlikely to lock.

7. Back to your questions: You answered them yourself, up to a point. Rear brake only in an emergency will destabilise the whole plot. Front is good in an emergency or (in the wet) front and rear. The way you combine the two will depend on the bike, the brakes, the tyres, the available grip and the closing values of the US futures market on June 16th 2004.

Most of this response is sincere, but I hid a lie in there too.

I hope this is helpful
 
OP
This Time Next Year

This Time Next Year

Well-Known Member
Location
Portsmouth, UK
Well blow me down and call me Susan. I wasn't expecting that answer!

Thanks for all the advice guys, will be having a play next time I'm out.

Guess I fell into the mistaken category described so well in the linked page...

Unfortunately, many casual cyclists and non-cyclists have the mistaken idea that using the front brake is dangerous, and that you are likely to lock up the front wheel, pitch over the handlebars and crack you skull. This type of accident is extremely rare, and unlikely on a bicycle that is in good repair, ridden by a cyclist who has learned to use the front brake sensitively.
 

BentMikey

Rider of Seolferwulf
Location
South London
Learn to be gentle and smooth. Smoothness on a bike will make you look more sexy, and is generally better technique too.
 

Bigsharn

Über Member
Location
Leeds
The way I was always taught (in cycling proficiency) was to apply the rear, then immediately apply the front. That way you're less likely to go over the handlebars, as the shift in weight isn't as harsh.

Now I've learned to balance the brakes, I know front is a lot better than rear for stopping power and tend to both start, and stop using my front brake while feathering on the rear... It's also cheaper to get a front wheel than a rear one, when the rim fails from braking :smile:
 

Hawk

Well-Known Member
When braking with both brakes, the rear will almost always (always in my own experience) skid before the front does. Your rear can be used as grip meter, if it starts skidding then time to ease off....
 
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