Middle finger braking FTW!

After a rough winter and not nearly enough riding, early April saw this reviewer looking forward to Arizona’s Black Canyon Trail with excitement- and a bundle full of nerves.  Featuring in the neighborhood of 60 miles of singletrack between Prescott and Phoenix, Arizona, everyone we’d told of our plans to attack it in one (long) day responded with hesitation- and a bit of concern.

What we knew is that the ride would be long and likely hot.  What we didn’t know was how long it would take or how technical the terrain would be.  For rides like this, it’s usually best to pack only one’s most comfortable, durable, and proven gear.  And that was the case here, with one notable exception: Pearl Izumi’s lightweight Gel-Vent FF glove.  Hit the jump to find out if PI’s latest passed the 10hr test.

Despite the recent trend toward minimally padded gloves, Pearl Izumi have dotted the Gel-Vent’s synthetic leather palm with surprisingly squishy Gel Glove Padding inserts.  These inserts are an open rubbery gel material covered by an open synthetic mesh.  Squidgy when played with, the seemingly random placement is actually designed to create bridges over the Ulnar and Median nerves to minimize numbness while maximizing comfort.

The backs of the gloves consist primarily of three different types of mesh- including a stripe of the Direct Vent mesh borrowed from the recently-reviewed Rev baggies while snot and sweat are managed by a perforated microfiber thumb.  A minimal Velcro closure keep the whole setup in place.

On the bike, the Peral Izumis’ Gel Glove Padding inserts’ squidginess disappears- as to the gloves themselves.  The gloves are pre-curved and the pads’ location is effective in minimizing bunching and the microfiber thumb is mercifully free of raised seams.  Even in temperatures topping 90 degrees, the Gel-Vent FFs breathe remarkably well.  While the padding’s mesh covers seem destined to fail, they are holding up remarkably well.  Bear in mind, however, that the backs’ minimal construction means that these are not the gloves to wear while learning the limits of new super-wide ‘bro’ bars- any extra bar width will put unprotected knuckles directly in the path of trailside branches.

And the Black Canyon Trail test?  The Pearl Izumis passed with flying colors.  After 10 hours in the saddle, with sit bones screaming, stomach revolting, and thighs whining, my hands remained perfectly comfortable.  For anyone looking for a cool, comfortable glove that can go the distance–but doesn’t need much knuckle protection–the $45 Gel-Vent FFs are tough gloves to beat.




  1. Chris,
    These actually strike me as being true-to-size. I’m usually a L/XL and the Gel-Vent larges fit great.


  2. I know a lot of people who brake like this. If you use Shimano shifters, it is a great way to keep your index finger and thumbs free for shifting without taking away your braking finger. It takes a little getting use to but with the power of Shimano XTR brakes it is easy.

  3. If the middle-finger braking is serious, then this glove review can’t be. The technique isn’t correct, it gives you less control over the bike, end off.

  4. Spinich, your mind will be blown when you find out that in some parts of the world, that right hand will be braking the rear wheel, with the middle finger. People do things differently to you. Big deal.

  5. Yeah, I know a lot of riders too that brake like this. That does not mean it’s the best way; Google should filter that ;-). I agree, it does not make the review look good, joke or no joke.

    Please slide your brake lever half an inch or so away from the grip, adjust the lever so that it’s easier to reach and closer to the bars when the pads hit, without bottoming out on the bars. Then use your index fingers and you’ll find out you have more lever feel, more control and less braking finger fatigue.

    If you are in terrain that not requires actual braking, or you are completely incapable of changing habits, never mind…

  6. A quick history lesson to clear up the braking questions…
    When V-brakes hit the scene around 1995, there was a shift from 2- to 1-fingered braking. The consensus at the time was that the middle finger was best: creating a broad base for the hand (from the the index finger to the pinkie) was better than a narrower base (middle finger to pinkie). As an added bonus, the middle finger was naturally at the end of the lever, providing more leverage.

    When RapidRise rolled out (like it or not, it did provide some of the slickest shifts yet), middle finger braking allowed for simultaneous braking and upshifting- very handy. Kurt was more likely alluding to the fact that you could have a finger for each function (upshift, downshift, brake), which still nicely separates things.

    That’s the remote for a Specialized Command Post Blacklite. The bike is running SRAM XX1 so only has one shifter (on the right side).

    I’m happy with my braking and don’t see a reason to change after nearly 20 years- not that I couldn’t (I’ve gone from high-normal to low-normal and back in that time with no issues).

    Do you have anything on which to base your “less control over the bike” comment? Just curious if there was anything to back it: different doesn’t equal wrong. The middle finger is more than capable of the fine motor control needed to modulate a brake.


  7. I was riding back in the days of cantis and two finger braking, but didn’t like relying on my pinky and ring fingers alone for grip of the bar anymore then than I do now. I get the idea behind this middle finger braking business, but I just find it to feel awkward. Sure, you can brake and shift simultaneously but that’s rarely practical or necessary.

    [edited to remove personal attack]

  8. I grew up riding motorcycles before mountain bikes had high performance brakes, and as such the brake lever going close to the bar feels so, so wrong.

  9. Stick out your middle finger and squeeze down with your index. Now stick out your index and squeeze with your middle. It’s harder to extend your middle while gripping with your index. As well, it can often happen that the brake lever is interfered with by your index finger if you middle-finger brake. You also get more hand rotation when you run index-fingered braking, allowing better bike control.
    As said before, if you live in a part of the world/ride relatively unaggressively, it does not apply. Watch any riding movie, any pro – even road. They’ll rock index (or in the case of road index + middle). I cannot think of any pro riders that run exclusively middle-fingered braking. The motor control may be there, but it’s the actual holding of the bar that causes problems.

What do you think?