I feel sketchy and I want better brakes!

Hey Lee,

Before getting to the question, I just want to see you’ve got a great thing going here. It’s a very helpful and informative site.

Okay, so I have a Specialized Hardrock Sport Disc with the standard Shimano 415 disc brakes. I’ve noticed that I need a bit more stopping power since I’m around 200 lbs and I ride in some very hilly terrain. I want to upgrade to Avid BB7 discs. I also wish to step up to a larger sized rotor. Many sites mention that its not recommended with XC forks and the rear triangle might not fit it. The BB7 rotors are availible in 160, 185, and 203 sizes. Which could I safely step up to (if at all)?


The more you click, the more I can post. Lee Likes Groceries dot com!

Hey Ben,

Thanks for the kind words. This probably isn’t what you want to hear, but let me ask:

Are you out-riding your stock Shimano brakes? They’re mechanical, so I know you’re not frying your oil. Do they fade? Are the rotors warping to the side then turning blue? Or do you just feel out of control? Are you sketchy on steep sections? Are you blowing turns?

Can you see where I’m going with this? Even at 200 pounds, chances are your technique isn’t anywhere near the capabilities of your brakes.

Imagine a dotted line driving from your belly button to your bottom bracket. BB to BB. … Hey, do I look fat in this infographic?

– You could make 8″ rotors fit with the right adapters, but your fork isn’t made to handle a bigger rotor, and it would be silly to run a bigger rotor in the rear.

– The Avid BB7 is also mechanical. I doubt its performance is measurably better than the Shimano. If you do upgrade, step up to something hydraulic. I’m running the new Hayes Stroker on my Enduro SL– very nice.

– Hone your braking technique. 1. Squeeze both levers gradually. 2. Shift your weight down and back so the force drives into your bottom bracket (this is the key — your hands should remain weightless). 3. Squeeze hard to stop that beast. 4. Gradually release the levers and resume attack position.

Start with technique. From there comes confidence. If you still want a brake upgrade, step up to hydraulics.

It helps to say braaap!

15 replies
  1. Ben says:

    I do in fact use the technique outlined above. I use the front brake almost exclusively and shift my weight to the back. At fast speeds, the brakes simply don’t stop me as fast as I’d like. I have adjusted the brakes so the cables pull as much as possible, but with cables, there is a point where both pads are against the rotor and you just can’t squeeze any more. The thing about hydraulics:

    -somewhat out of my price range

    -also, a pretty through technical knowledge seems to be required, people talk about bleeding and whatnot. Its simply intimidating

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Try using both brakes equally. If your weight is driving into the BB, you get traction and braking power from both wheels.

    Two brakes are about twice as good as one, eh?

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    Also consider:

    – Tire choice and pressure. Big and soft brakes better than small and hard.

    – General riding style. Supple brakes better than stiff.

    – Clean and lubed cables deliver more force to the brake calipers.

  4. Stephen says:


    I can attest to the sketchy nature of the brakes he is running as I deal specialized (and therefore more hr sports then I care to mention). Coming from a guy who runs juicy 7’s I have to agree with you about hydros vs. mechanicals, even if you are just going to run some hayes soles it is a step up from mech. That being said, if you are set on mechs the bb7 is the best out there. I have used them on my cross training rig (xc hardtail) and dirt jumper to great effect.

  5. Ben says:


    In your opinion, are the BB7’s a significant enough upgrade over the stock brakes to warrant spending $170 on a set, or should I save up for hydraulics and deal with the brake problem in one swift stroke? Also, I was checking out the Juicy 7’s. They seem to be a very popular choice with many cyclists and are relatively cheap (160 for a 07 Juicy 7). What can you tell me about the juicy 7’s?

  6. Chad says:

    In the past I ran the BB7 and now I run the Juicy 7s on my full suspension rig and the Juicy 5s on my hardtail. The Juicy 7s are sweet. They have a ton of adjustablity and just plan stop great. I can’t say enough good things about them. The Juicy 5s stop great as well. I just can’t get them set up exactly how I’m used too. I think the 7s just have more adjustablity. (I like a really short lever stroke.) I run the 160 rotors and think its plenty for XC riding. In my opinion if you going to spend $170 on mechanicals I would just go right to hydraulics. You can get a set of 2006 Juicy 7s for around $280. If the extra $100 kills ya…go with the 2006 Juicy 5s at about $208.00, just $40 more than you were going to spend on mechanicals. These systems typically come pre-bled and are wicked easy to install.

    just my thoughts

  7. Sean says:

    It seems nobody read Lee’s answer, and is trying to sell some hydraulic brakes to the original questioner.

    Lee’s answer is much better than the suggestion to just go get hydraulic brakes. Those who are arguing for Juicy brakes are just justifying their spending, IMO. It sounded pretty clear to me, as it seems to have sounded to Lee, that the original questioner is an inexperienced rider with a low skill level. This is indicated by his inclination to solve his problem with an equipment “upgrade.” The finest hydraulic brakes in the world won’t change your skill level.

  8. leelikesbikes says:


    Most of us have no idea how much we can improve our skills. I like to think I’m a pretty good rider, with excellent skills. But guess what? I continually learn more. Doing timed runs with Curtis Keene on Sol Vista’s Trail 3: I’m running a 3:56, which is the fastest time I’d heard of. Curtis is running 3:35. It’s like finding out the world isn’t flat. Oh, and Sam Hill beats Curtis by the same margin.

    IMO, until you’re a top-level expert rider, you have no idea what it means to be skilled. And guess what? When you reach semipro or pro, you’re still learning …

    Stop blaming equipment. Hone your kung fu and be the guy who rips on a stock Hardrock.

  9. Chad says:

    Please note: I did read Lee’s answer and I reviewed Ben’s responses. Ben asked a direct question (see Aug 2nd, 2007, 12:02 am) regarding how he should spend his money and I was giving my opinion on that. I will agree that skill is acquired through riding not equipment. But developing skill on “better” equipment is arguably more enjoyable. In regards to justifying spending, I don’t even bother any more. I enjoy researching, buying and trying gear like many other fellow riders.

  10. Mark says:

    Those brakes suck. I’ve ridden them. They suck way harder than Hayes MX-2s, or even BB-5s. They feel like Tektros and just DON’T have any power.

    Get some Avid BB-5s and be done with it.

  11. Yuval says:


    I have a similar situation to Ben’s. 230lbs and Hayes MX2, the front fork is Marzocchi All Mountain 2.
    And I too am thinking to upgrade to BB7 203mm but only in the front. The back is strong enough.

    Do you think the the Marzocchi AM2 with the adapter to BB7 203 mm will hold?
    Do you think that just changing the stock pads to after market pads will make such a difference?

    Also – I understand that technique needs to be improved. But you won’t put a car’s brake on a truck…The driver can improve his techniques but still… 😉


  12. leelikesbikes says:

    1. I don’t know how the BB7 or aftermarket pads will work for you.

    2. If you brake properly (at least the way I teach), the rear brake has almost the same effect as the front brake. So I wouldn’t upgrade just the front.

    3. Stop worrying about this stuff. Ride your bike.

    4. If you’re dying to spend money to improve your riding experience, buy a book or some lessons.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] – Skidding while braking? That sounds like a technique issue that was masked by long-travel suspension and sticky tires. Read: I feel sketchy and want better brakes […]

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