My Case for Middle Finger Braking

02.8.2012 | 8:15 am

I am not what you’d call a classically-trained cyclist. You could fairly call me an “informally-trained” cyclist.

Or, if you were in the mood to be accurate, you could possibly call me an “ad-hoc, hard-knocks trained” cyclist.

The truth is, I haven’t every read a book on improving my riding position or technique, and the few times I’ve spoken with experts about these things, well…my mind has wandered.

And in short, practically everything I know about riding — and especially about mountain biking — comes down to this:

  1. You go faster when you pedal faster. Especially if you pedal faster in a harder gear.
  2. If you avoid something, turn.
  3. If you want to stop or slow down, use the brakes.

There you go. My twenty-ish years of riding experience, summed up. So I suppose I should stop writing now.

Except there is one — seriously, just one — thing I actually have considered and made a conscious change in with the way I ride, and I made it just a few years ago:

I brake with my middle finger. I have photographic proof and everything. Check it out:

Photo by David Kutcipal,

Here’s a closeup, for some reason:


Of course, the most surprising thing about this photo is that I apparently wear my wedding ring on the outside of my mountain biking gloves.

The second most surprising thing is that I keep a Strawberry-Banana PowerGel tucked into each leg of my shorts, where I can easily absorb nutrition through my skin, saving valuable seconds during the race.

The absolutely least surprising thing about this photo is that I’m obviously braking with my middle fingers (and middle fingers only). This should be totally non-surprising because I just said this is what I do a few paragraphs ago. And because of the title of this post.

What is surprising — or at least, would be surprising if I hadn’t tipped my hand a few minutes ago — is that I actually trained myself to brake this way, and I’ve got what I consider to be a pretty good set of reasons for why you might want to consider doing the same thing yourself.

Stable Platform

The very best reason you should train yourself to be a middle-finger braker is that by doing so you will subtly be flipping the bird in pretty much every photo of you going downhill on a mountain bike, for the rest of your life.

And that’s reason enough, probably.

However, if you’re looking for a (somewhat) more practical reason for being a middle finger braker, how about this: a wider span, as well as more of your hands, stay on the handlebars when you’re descending.

Think about it. If you brake with your index fingers, the part of your palm below that finger is — best case scenario — unweighted, and is probably not even touching the grip. If you brake with your index and middle finger, about half of each hand is off the grips when you’re braking. Which is kind of unfortunate, since — generally speaking — when you’re braking you’re definitely interested in having as much control of the bike as possible.

When your middle finger is on the brake, however, the widest possible span of your palms are on the grips: from the palm to the pinky. To me at least, it feels a lot more stable.

Additional Positions

The other thing I like about middle-finger braking is that by setting my brake position up to be natural for the middle finger, I’m also automatically set up for index finger braking and two-finger braking.

Here, take a look at this closeup of me braking again:


What this tells you — apart from the fact that I’m so darn lazy I use the same image over and over in the same post — is that my hands are pretty much against the inside stop of my grips. This is because even with the brake levers butting up to the grips, my hands have to come to the inside for middle-finger braking.

To move to a position for index-finger braking, I just have to shift my hands to the outside edge of the grips. This can come in handy on a really long descent (Like, coming down Columbine), when a finger can start to get tired.

And if I need to switch to two-fingered braking (such as when I’m doing a truly enormous descent), the brake lever’s in a good position for that, too.

But What About Power?

There was a time (side-pull brakes era) when single-finger braking was an awesome, alluring marketing promise, but — at least for people without big ol’ slab-o-meat hands — the reality was a lot different. If you wanted both control and the power to stop, you needed to use two fingers to brake with.

Those days are gone. Huzzah!

Disc brakes — at least, really great disc brakes — mean that your pinkie is powerful enough to lock up your brakes whenever you want.

So the question of power kinda disappears. But even if it didn’t, for me at least, the middle finger is every bit as powerful as the index finger. And pretty much on par in terms of dexterity, too. Which is to say, since switching to middle-finger braking, I haven’t started being any more of a klutz on my bike than I was previously.

Gotta Make Adjustments

The thing is, if you want to try out middle-finger braking, you’ll need to move your brake levers from where you’ve got them for index- or two-finger braking. Specifically, you’ll need to move them toward the outside of your handlebars. In my case, it means moving the levers so they butt right up against the inside edge of the grips.

I didn’t have to change the angle of the levers, which is good, because I fear change.

Your Mileage May Vary

Of course you are no doubt now asking yourself, “Is Fatty asserting that this is the best position for braking for everyone?”

The answer to that question is, of course, “Yes. Totally.”

Or it might just be that it works for me, so I thought I’d pass it along.

It’s also possible that this position would be a total non-starter for you. Like, I can imagine if you — for some very sad reason you should describe in gruesome detail with accompanying photographs in the comments section — lost one or both of your middle fingers, this braking technique probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea.

Also, if your hands are so meaty that squeezing the lever with your middle finger will crush your index finger, don’t use this technique. For crying out loud.

And, if you’r'e a six-fingered man, this position may not work great for you because you might be confused as to which finger is your “middle” (my take on this: discount your thumb and go for the finger that is in fact in the middle).

And finally, it’s possible that you have a compelling reason why middle-finger braking makes no sense whatsoever and is just compounding my descending mediocrity (or whatever it is that hopes to someday aspire to mediocrity). In which case, let’s hear it.


  1. Comment by Orbea Girl | 02.8.2012 | 8:20 am

    We’re running a competition over on to win a G4 Dimension windbreaker designed by Geoffroy Lequatre, formerly of RadioShack. You only have to answer one simple question to enter the competition and possibly win a vest worth US$195 – not bad!

    Hurry, competition ends GMT 23:59 on 12 February.

  2. Comment by Ripkenfan | 02.8.2012 | 8:26 am

    I’ve tried the middle finger before, then got beat up for it. No the real story is that the knuckle of my index finger gets in the way. Don’t relish the idea of breaking a knuckle. I am looking forward to off-setting my brake levers a little this year and positioning them for easier index breaking, about a 5mm gap between the end of the grip and lever clamp, thus no need to move hand position.

  3. Comment by GenghisKhan | 02.8.2012 | 8:27 am

    Why do I feel like I’ve just been given the finger?

  4. Comment by DanR | 02.8.2012 | 8:34 am

    I too am a proud middle finger braker (and breaker, but that is another story involving budweiser and a softball), I think my middle fingers are actually stronger than my index finger, and as you said, I have better control of the handlebar through sketchy descents with more of my hand on the bar, also allows your to shift with your index finger while on the brake.

  5. Comment by Skippy | 02.8.2012 | 8:47 am

    Absolutely hilarious ! When i saw the tweet , kike all , i thought you were using it , in another way !

    In Solden , the European Home of the US Ski Team , but they don’t get back till tomorrow ! Client ain’t hanging about until then , bummer , will miss seeing Bode etc !

    The Hammer must be delighted about the ring !

  6. Comment by StephBDC | 02.8.2012 | 9:21 am

    The visual is truly stunning. Is this MTB-specific or do you do this on your other bikes too?

  7. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.8.2012 | 9:28 am

    slab’o'meat hands – the rest of my hand and fingers are too thick, so leaving fingers wrapped around the grip just doesn’t cut it for me.

    But, somewhat off-topic – my specialty – I am intrigued by the thought you bring up, Fatty of compounded mediocrity.

    Does mediocrity compound into something you want, like competence, or is it like money, you only get more of the same ol’ boring stuff?

  8. Comment by Rick | 02.8.2012 | 9:37 am

    I dont have a problem with middle finger braking. If its comfortable and it works, great! However, the space between the edge of your hand and the end of the bars can be dangerous in my opinion. Out east, we have a lot of narrow tree gaps that are barely wide enough for handlebars to squeeze through. Your body knows where your hands are on the bar and will naturally adjust to avoid hitting your hands in narrow or close trees or rocks. But that extra inch or two can still get snagged up. By adjusting your brakes and grips or trimming the ends of the bars so your hands are at the ends of the bars will help prevent those unwanted snags which usually end up in an endo and the rider pretending they are superman.

  9. Comment by TK | 02.8.2012 | 9:47 am

    I love middle-finger braking. I saw a pic of Fatty doing it a while ago and thought he was crazy. Then I tried it. After a couple of rides I was a believer. No more thumb pain and feel more in control of the bike. Flipping the bird in every picture is just a bonus.

  10. Comment by roadrash | 02.8.2012 | 9:48 am

    Madonna’s sidekick was evidently practicing her middle finger braking technique during the Super Bowl. I hope it improves her stability too.

  11. Comment by Jacob | 02.8.2012 | 9:48 am

    I have large hands. I can almost touch my fingers to my thumb even when I have my fingers on the brakes. That being said, I don’t own a mountain bike and wouldn’t be in a situation where I live where I really needed to worry about stability going down hill.

  12. Comment by Joe Jacobs | 02.8.2012 | 9:54 am

    I’ve always been told that braking is highly overrated and only slows you down. Thanks for giving me a visual reason to continue using my brakes and not dying.

  13. Comment by David | 02.8.2012 | 9:56 am

    I had two finger braking beat out of me in Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider training.

    Every time I’d brake to a stop, the instructor would walk over, take my ring and little fingers, uncurl them from the grip and place them on the lever. Every. Damned. Time.

    Their logic may or may not apply to the non-motorized world: they didn’t want you to “trap” fingers between the lever and the bar and lose lever travel (and thus braking power). Might make sense on a MTB, depending on brand of brakes/lever layout and size of your hands.

  14. Comment by sdcadbiker | 02.8.2012 | 10:49 am

    I can’t modulate with my middle finger; tried it, just can’t.

  15. Comment by Jeff | 02.8.2012 | 11:08 am

    Nope. When the best downhill racers in the world ALL brake with their index finger you have to figure maybe you got it wrong.

  16. Comment by ScottR | 02.8.2012 | 11:11 am

    David – I had the exact same experience with my MSF course a couple years ago.

    It has affected my biking habits since then.

  17. Comment by rich | 02.8.2012 | 11:14 am

    I’m also a middle finger braker. For me it’s always just been the most comfortable and I’ve set all my mt bikes up to work that way. May or may not be the best way, but I’ve done it so long it’s now “natural” for me.
    Love the visual….now I’m even more convinced it’s the best.

  18. Comment by Dave T | 02.8.2012 | 11:27 am

    Seem like I have been using one less finger every decade as brakes have improved. I currently use the middle finger braking technique. Perhaps no fingers will be required in the next decade . @rick I also ride in wooded areas with narrow gaps between fat immovable redwood trees. I have found bar spacing approximately equal to my shoulder width to be ideal.

  19. Comment by kolwink | 02.8.2012 | 11:27 am

    And, if you’re a six-fingered man …

    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

  20. Comment by Mark in Ottawa | 02.8.2012 | 12:02 pm

    This is a great techinique that I’ll be certain to try:
    a)when the 4 feet of snow melts…sometime around, say, August :-)
    b) I ever get off the road bikes long enough to even think about buying a mountain bike
    c) My wife lets me even entertain the thought of getting another bike :-)

    Great post!

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  21. Comment by mark | 02.8.2012 | 12:35 pm

    I too am a middle finger braker. But for some reason, I don’t have to adjust my levers outboard to facilitate that configuration. I have a good 1 cm between grip and lever. Perhaps I should donate my hands to science.

  22. Comment by MattC | 02.8.2012 | 1:07 pm

    I only switch to middle finger braking when my index fingers are exhausted (LONG STEEP descents w/ non-stop braking). It just feels like I’m in less control…my index fingers just seem to have WAY more dexterity for subtle braking feedback I’m afraid…AND, whenever I go middle finger the other 2 litt’ler ones follow along like lost sheep, thus I now only have ONE finger on the bars. However, I can do 2 fingers (index & middle) yet the others now stay put. I guess I have strange fingers. But it works for me. Actually I prob do more 2 finger than one anyway…just don’t really think about it much (and I do have some pretty good brakes…tho the newer ones are prob REALLY nice…but also REALLY pricey).

    And just for the record, I don’t eat Honey Stingers either (cuz THEY are also pretty pricey). I can get a giant box of tasty treats at Costco for like $8. Tho I’d be VERY interested in getting lots of free ones. In case you have any extra’s I mean (I did send you cookies).

  23. Comment by roan | 02.8.2012 | 2:22 pm

    I like the strawberry-banana PowerGel tucked into each leg of shorts…absorb nutrition through skin. Have you heard of the photosynthesis patch…sorta like a nicotine patch only is uses algae that convert sunlight into sugars that are absorbed through your skin for endurance cycling.
    I REALLY like those sunglasses, they are awesome !

  24. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 02.8.2012 | 3:31 pm

    Have decided to run ‘coaster brake’ only, on my MTB so will be unable to try this technique. Why??

    Bike shop called with total on Bicycle repair (new pads, rotors, bottombracket, chain, cog set, chainring) still reeling! And why all the work (I do maintain it). Apparently , a true Clydesdale imparts a special set of values on parts. I’ll leave it to the ‘rocket scientist’ to show the numbers (Joe in way upstate NY?)

    …and @MattC- to look at you one would be forgiven if they thought you didn’t eat at all!! Cookies, Tasty Treats, Beer, more Beer. How did you get on Team Fatty anyhow??

  25. Comment by Jake | 02.8.2012 | 6:13 pm

    Middle finger braking is awesome. Been doing it forever. One of the best things (if your not a shimano fanboi) is that you can down shift your gripshift while braking. I still do it with paddle shifters but not nearly as easily. You also have to adjust your brake levers so they don’t have as much pull. Don’t want to squish those other fingers. I can’t even ride by friends bike because his levers go almost completely to the bar.

  26. Comment by Matt | 02.8.2012 | 6:43 pm

    I’m a diehard index finger braker, but if middle finger works for you, go for it – but the real head scratcher here is the wedding ring on the outside of the glove. That I really don’t understand.

    It’s not really outside the glove, just looks that way cuz of the mesh. – FC

  27. Comment by EdwinH | 02.8.2012 | 8:47 pm

    Note the “*apparently* wear my wedding ring … “: the full resolution pic shows it shining through the mesh gloves. The Hammer can be assured: he did not take it off.

  28. Comment by Fuzz Martin | 02.8.2012 | 9:07 pm

    A Better Off Dead quote!?! Awwwwwesome.

  29. Comment by Colorado Mama | 02.9.2012 | 12:15 am

    Has anyone ever thought about why Fatty’s mom doesn’t comment more often even when he writes, “I was pretty sure there were a total of five females who checked this blog, with The Hammer and my mom being two of those people (and my mom checks only every couple of weeks or so). ?

    Well, it is because I am so proud of him for being him, for his love of family, and of people he hasn’t even met, such as those in Zambia. A privilege to have such a son.

  30. Comment by Cali_Lady | 02.9.2012 | 9:10 am

    And you obviously raised him well Colorado Mama!

  31. Comment by FliesOnly | 02.9.2012 | 10:19 am

    Honestly, you truly had me at:
    “The very best reason you should train yourself to be a middle-finger braker is that by doing so you will subtly be flipping the bird in pretty much every photo of you going downhill on a mountain bike, for the rest of your life.”

    The only reason I kept reading is because I actually enjoy reading your stuff.

  32. Comment by Geo | 02.9.2012 | 11:45 am

    All of your “scientific” reasoning aside, we all know that you brake with the middle finger because you are just showing how you feel about all other cyclists on the course with you.

  33. Comment by Harmon3 | 02.9.2012 | 4:18 pm

    Same to you pal!

  34. Comment by John | 02.9.2012 | 10:35 pm

    I’m with David – I also had two-finger braking beaten out of me by a motorcycle instructor.

    Quote (for extra realism, imagine this being spoken in a Scottish accent): “Do you also drive your car with a brick under the brake pedal?”

  35. Comment by curt | 02.10.2012 | 8:07 pm

    While reading your post, I tried to imagine how I brake, but it is so automatic that I couldn’t really picture it in my mind.

    I rode last night and while descending happened to think about the question again. I looked down and saw… middle finger braking. :) So I guess that is how I’ve been doing it all along.

    One finger is more than adequate w/ hydraulic disc brakes, and like you said in your post it gives you a better grip on the bars with the rest of your hand.

    So here’s a big middle finger to you, fatty!

  36. Comment by Simon | 02.11.2012 | 3:56 am

    Oddly enough on my town/city bike I brake with me index finger (although I think it’s more a case of having to deal with a Nexus hub grip shift and short Deore V brake levers.

    On my MTB though it’s middle finger all the way. The only annoying thing is that I lost feeling in part of my right middle finger since I sliced it down to the tendon trying to open a can of tuna (and then got 4 stitches).

    But definitely, flipping the bird give you way more control on the bars.

  37. Comment by Brian | 02.12.2012 | 8:59 am

    I seem to have naturally adopted that style too. The biggest problem is it results in “hand confusion” when it’s 2 degrees out and you are wearing lobster claw gloves or full mittens.


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