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Everyone that rides uses the brakes...or doesn't ride long. But have you considered how you use them?
In off road riding braking should (almost) always be done from a standing position. This not only gives you extra suspension in the form of your arms and legs, but it provides the bike room to move without pitching you around with it.
Your weight should be back as far as possible, head low, in an aggressive riding position, squeezing the bike with your knees.
The majority of your stopping power is in the front brake. This is commonly understood while street riding, but equally as commonly forgotten once the pavement disappears. Just because the surface may not have quite as much traction doesn't make the front brake less effective. You just need to take more care in modulating it. You learn to modulate your brakes with time and practice until a point where they are more effective than any anti-lock breaking system.
The other common error is to lock the rear wheel. While this may seem like the hardest possible braking, it is perhaps the least effective. A locked rear wheel not only looses its ability to track a straight line, but also provided less braking action than a well modulated one. The other little known effect is a locked rear wheel has virtually no suspension movement, meaning the wheel is no longer following the surface and is little more than a "hardtail".
Learning to modulate brakes is a practiced skill that will take time to develop, so practice it often. You can do it almost anywhere. Gravel parking lots are perfect. Brake till you feel the wheel locking, then back off just a touch. Another good drill is to practice locking the front wheel at slow speeds on the gravel. Keep the power on for this and try to see how far you can skid the front tire before having to put a foot down.
In order for this to work well, you also have to have your controls set up for maximum efficiency. Remember, most braking should be done while standing. So set your brake pedal so you can effectively operate it from a comfortable standing position. For most riders used to street riding, this will be much higher than they are used to. In fact, when sitting (using stiff MX boots) your foot will have to be lifted off the peg to operate the brake if you are in a forward position.
Use your brakes, don't fear the front and don't lock the rear. You'll be stopping more effectively and safer.
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