Aug 3, 2019

Put on the brakes! Are you doing this the right way?

Rusty G

We’re all guilty of it, but braking incorrectly can really dampen your four-wheeled ride. Learn how to improve your ATV safety on your next off-roading adventure.

Whether you learn the hard way or not, four-wheeler safety is crucial for seasoned and beginner ATV riders who want a safe, fun, and satisfying ride, and braking incorrectly can absolutely make or break (no pun intended) the experience.

The first step to protecting yourself is choosing an ATV that fits your needs. But even an ATV for beginners can present challenges if the rider isn’t totally comfortable with the machine’s ergonomics. Familiarizing yourself with an ATV’s braking system, for example, is one way to protect yourself against accidents, and it can also improve your ATV’s performance.

When it’s all said and done, every ATV rider would benefit from learning a few braking techniques, even if they’re riding a four-wheeler for beginners. Some of these techniques you’ll be quick to learn, and for those that require a little more time, remember: practice makes perfect.

Know what type of braking system your ATV utilizes.

Today, ATVs use disc brakes, drum brakes, or a combination of both, and they’re activated by using either a hand lever or foot pedal. Not all ATVs are designed with a foot pedal, but if yours is, be wary because foot pedals will not always activate the front calipers on all bikes: “The most common setup on newer [ATVs] is one caliper on each wheel. The hand lever will operate all calipers, while the foot pedal will operate just the rear calipers.” (

Understand how ‘drag’ affects stopping distance.

Drag is a frictional force an ATV endures in certain riding conditions. For example, you can expect more drag when you’re riding through wet, sticky mud than you would if you were riding through dry dirt. The more drag your four-wheeler undergoes, the less stopping distance you’ll need when you brake.  

ATV drag

Choose your braking spot wisely.

Ideally, you’ll want to begin braking on a smooth, hard surface. If smooth surfaces are in short supply wherever you’re riding (and they likely will be), train yourself to scan your surroundings for a place to begin braking well before you actually need to.

That said, braking on softer surfaces isn’t taboo, in fact, it’s expected. When softer terrain is all that’s available, be sure to overestimate the amount of stopping distance you’ll need in order to account for the decrease in drag (if you took Driver’s Ed back in the day, then you know Stopping Distance = Reaction Time Distance + Braking Distance, and it applies to ATVs, too).  

If you can help it, brake in a straight line.

The goal is to keep traction on your back tires and prevent your machine from sliding out from under you, so keep all wheels facing straight ahead when braking, especially if you have to stop quickly.

ATV braking in a straight line

Weight should be concentrated uphill.

Whether your ATV is climbing up a mountain or scaling down the side of it, your weight should be focused uphill when braking. So, on your way up, lean towards the front of your machine so it doesn’t flip backward, and on your way down, lean back so you don’t go tumbling forward.

Maintain a strong grip on your machine.

The more firmly planted you are on your ATV (be sure to utilize those footrests!), the more traction it’ll have when you apply the brakes on a given riding surface.

Apply front and rear brakes in unison.

This is the best way to avoid locking up your wheels, especially when you have a lot of momentum.

ATV braking tips

Do not ride if your front and/or rear wheels are locked up.

Some situations call for ‘mind over matter,’ but let me assure you: that policy does not apply in ATV riding. You may be able to suffer through a rock-hard seat, but riding through locked wheels is a surefire way to end up with a face full of dirt. And braking is impeded when your wheels lock up, so ease off (again, ease off) until you regain control.

In 4WD, lean out when braking; in 2WD, lean in.

Seasoned riders know just how quickly smooth trails turn into rugged hills, which is why it’s important to stay in control when this happens. If you find yourself traversing rougher surfaces in 4WD, leaning out of a turn while braking will help you maintain control of your machine. The opposite is true for 2WD since you’re more likely to lose traction in this mode.

Take care of your ATV. Perform brake maintenance often.

If you’re an avid rider, the condition of your brakes may go unnoticed as your body gradually adjusts to fluctuations in the machine’s handling. To avoid any missteps on the track or trails, examine all components of the braking system—brake lines, pads, calipers, rotors, fluids—regularly; the last thing you want is a bent rotor spoiling your ride!

ATV safety tips

Note: RumbleOn is an Amazon Affiliate, dedicated to reviewing the best and safest gear and more, for riders everywhere. We may receive commissions if products are purchased from them.

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