When most people think of riding brakeless, worn-out shoes, bald tires, and high-speed crashes come to mind. But there are a handful of riders out there who look at brakeless riding and see progression, creativity, and style. We spoke with the following brakeless ramp and street shredders who have come up with new ways of riding, unthinkable tricks, and styles unlike any other.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling, ditch-to-walltap in the desert.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

What is your reason for riding brakeless?

Vic Ayala: When I first started riding I didn’t know anything about bikes except how to ride one. When it came down to fixing it, I did not even know how to adjust a seatpost, so putting brakes on was definitely out of the question. My friend would always put my bikes together for me and I would just tell him to make it as simple as possible, so if it broke I would be able to fix it myself. I have always been used to riding the bare minimum; it’s just easier to maintain. I remember a few times-when I was younger-I would change forks or something, and all the bearings from my headset would fall all over the street. So instead of looking for them, I would just put my shit together without bearings in the headset and tell myself that it was still gonna spin and it would still hold my stem.

Butcher: My brakes never worked. Well, only a couple of times when my friends would hook them up, but they would only last a few days. My wheels were always bent and I suck at fixing my bike, so there was no hope.

Gonz: Riding as a teen, I thought of brakes as a luxury that I couldn’t afford. I was happy to have a bike that rolled. As I grew older, that just became my style. It seemed more raw and hardcore at the time.

John “Ratboy” Wrigley: I’ve actually never used brakes before. I always thought they sucked. And the few times I did use them, they just didn’t work. Besides, it gives me a chance to progress differently than a lot of other riders.

Edwin Delarosa: There’s really no special reason; I just never really had them because they always seemed like a hassle to me and it was expensive for me to maintain them. So, I’ve never really ridden with them.

Ryan O’Connell: When I was 16, I started riding (without using my brakes). I liked 360s a lot, but I couldn’t keep my front-end down when I was landing-I would hit my brakes every time. One day I over-rotated a 360 on dirt and bent my back wheel. I couldn’t ride because it was hitting my brakes, so I took them off and kept on riding. That taught me to keep my front end down.

Troy McMurray: The reason I went brakeless was because I was becoming a little bored with everything. Then, one time I was hanging out with Chase Gouin at (Sean) McKinney’s house, and that guy could do the most insane shit, so I thought of doing a nosepick without a brake; no foot-jam shit, either. After that, other tricks starting coming to my mind and I worked on it from there. Also, while in Arizona hanging out with Gonz, I noticed that nobody in that entire state rode with brakes! A week or two later I was at a contest in Providence, Rhode Island, and my brakes sucked so bad that I took them off. I remember Nate Hanson asking me what the hell I was doing. It’s been like six years and I haven’t looked back.

Trying to figure out Gonz’s brake set-up is like trying to understand his wardro. Here’s a front tire grab with front brakes only at Rampage in Davenport, Iowa.  credit: Tedd Nelson

How has riding brakeless affected your style?

Butcher: It hasn’t. Style doesn’t depend on having brakes or no brakes-it’s how you ride. And having no brakes isn’t a “style.”

Mat Hoffman: It gives me a new perspective to look at riding through. I can’t manipulate my run with brakes; I had to learn to flow different and link my tricks together naturally.

Edwin Delarosa: I learned to manual without brakes, so it isn’t a big deal to me. A lot of people always tell me they can’t manual or roll back without their brakes. I guess it just made me deal with what I have.

Ryan O’Connell: I’m very alert in a park and I watch my lines, because I could kill someone if I’m not looking out for people who are in my line. It has made me ride fast, but I always pay attention to whether I’m going too fast. Like on manuals-to-180s, I have to go extra slow to have good pop and lean.

Joey Cobbs: I think riding brakeless has made me a more fluid rider, meaning it makes me “go with the flow,” so to speak. Basically it enables me to use the terrain better so I’m not all over the place and out of control.

Vic Ayala: I think riding brakeless is a more loose style. Your bike feels more like a toy, rather than a machine with levers and shit everywhere.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: I’ve been doing it for so long it’s a part of me.

Gonz: I think it helps with control and style, because you don’t have the brake to feather during manuals and high-speed runs. You have to learn how to use your body more effectively.

Troy McMurray, pedal grind in Socal.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

Does riding brakeless make you work harder to land certain tricks that you would usually use brakes for (manuals, fufanus, nosepicks, wall-taps, etc.)?

Troy McMurray: I think that all of the tricks above are dope, but there’s more to riding than the basic tricks that everyone else is doing.

Ryan O’Connell: Riding brakeless will make you very dialed at manuals and nose-wheelies because once you have it, you are dependant on yourself and not a lever. On nosepicks, the common problem that I have is that I go too fast and don’t keep my weight over the tranny. With wall-taps you have to be sideways on the wall instead of up and down, and it makes it impossible to do an X-up wall-tap that looks good. You cannot fufanu without brakes-it’s a tofu. For more fufanu facts, ask Josh Harrington. He knows them all.

Vic Ayala: I think it only gets annoying on fufanus and nosepicks because you have to move your feet around, but manuals I don’t think have anything to do with brakes. It’s just a balance point, and when I feel that I’m losing it, I just pull with my arms and push with my legs.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: You have to work harder. You don’t have the safety that brakes give you, either.

Ratboy: Yes, it’s a lot harder. That’s why I feel challenged to pursue it. It’s sort of like brakeless flatlanding.

Gonz: I think that not using brakes on any brake-oriented trick is always going to be harder at first, but then you can reach the level where it doesn’t even matter.

Edwin Delarosa: I don’t look at it as working harder. I don’t say I can’t pull something because I have no brakes. I guess I work with what I have and don’t think about it. There are certain tricks that are definitely not the same without brakes, so I guess it’s a give and take situation.

Mat Hoffman: Yeah, it makes it harder for the tricks you mentioned, but for me I just enjoy the focus it demands. There’s no backing out on vert without brakes; it’s 110% commitment.

Joey Cobbs: If anything, I would say brakeless riding helps with my commitment to certain tricks. With certain tricks, like fufanus or nose-wheelies, brakeless doesn’t mean that it will be harder, it just means that you may have to put a bit more time into finding the way to make those tricks work.

Joey Cobbs, Ruben-style wallride on street.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

What does brakeless riding do to the progression of BMX?

Ryan O’Connell: I don’t think it does anything to the progression of BMX, other than tech tricks and rollback tricks. But for anyone who wants to get really dialed, it may help you think about what you’re doing wrong on tricks.

Vic Ayala: I don’t think brakeless riding has anything to do with the progression of BMX. If somebody is gonna do something raw enough to progress BMX, it ain’t gonna matter if he has brakes or not.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: It will allow riders to become more in tune with their bikes and themselves. It makes you become more creative.

Butcher: I don’t think it matters if you have brakes or not. Having a fat chain, small sprocket, or your bars cut down isn’t progression; neither is taking your brakes off. That’s all just your choice of how your bike’s set up. It’s what you do on that piece to progress.

Mat Hoffman: It’s more about a personal progression. It just offers another element you can play with and explore, if you wish. It turns your bike into a different instrument, and it’s exciting to see what’s possible under a whole new set of terms.

Joey Cobbs: Hopefully it gives a little more variety and flavor to riding in general. Originality is the main ingredient for progression. I think brakeless riding, if done well, can only make people be more original and break free from the norm.

John “Ratboy” Wrigley, tallwhip-footplant/hand-tap on a tree.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

How does brakeless riding affect you when riding skateparks, dirt, vert, and street?

Edwin Delarosa: I don’t really think about it that much. Like instead of a fufanu, I’ll do a tailtap, or instead of a wall-tap, I’ll do a wallride, etc. I guess it limits certain moves at parks, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I haven’t really ridden trails, so I wouldn’t know about that. I guess if it’s some crazy downhill section I might be in for it.

Ryan O’Connell: I’ve ridden without brakes for so long that I don’t know anything else but to try to keep flow and have fun on any terrain.

Vic Ayala: I don’t know; I’ve always ridden without brakes. But it definitely affects my sneakers.

Troy McMurray: It doesn’t affect me like it used to. I’ve gone through downhill rhythm and I started to mess around on vert, but then the Condor took over.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: At skateparks you have to learn how to de-pump to slow down, or you just have to boost everything. On street you have to be on your toes at all times.

Butcher: It affects trail riding when you have sections with big jumps and then small ones afterward. You have to hold on and suck up the ke situation.

Mat Hoffman: Yeah, it makes it harder for the tricks you mentioned, but for me I just enjoy the focus it demands. There’s no backing out on vert without brakes; it’s 110% commitment.

Joey Cobbs: If anything, I would say brakeless riding helps with my commitment to certain tricks. With certain tricks, like fufanus or nose-wheelies, brakeless doesn’t mean that it will be harder, it just means that you may have to put a bit more time into finding the way to make those tricks work.

Joey Cobbs, Ruben-style wallride on street.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

What does brakeless riding do to the progression of BMX?

Ryan O’Connell: I don’t think it does anything to the progression of BMX, other than tech tricks and rollback tricks. But for anyone who wants to get really dialed, it may help you think about what you’re doing wrong on tricks.

Vic Ayala: I don’t think brakeless riding has anything to do with the progression of BMX. If somebody is gonna do something raw enough to progress BMX, it ain’t gonna matter if he has brakes or not.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: It will allow riders to become more in tune with their bikes and themselves. It makes you become more creative.

Butcher: I don’t think it matters if you have brakes or not. Having a fat chain, small sprocket, or your bars cut down isn’t progression; neither is taking your brakes off. That’s all just your choice of how your bike’s set up. It’s what you do on that piece to progress.

Mat Hoffman: It’s more about a personal progression. It just offers another element you can play with and explore, if you wish. It turns your bike into a different instrument, and it’s exciting to see what’s possible under a whole new set of terms.

Joey Cobbs: Hopefully it gives a little more variety and flavor to riding in general. Originality is the main ingredient for progression. I think brakeless riding, if done well, can only make people be more original and break free from the norm.

John “Ratboy” Wrigley, tallwhip-footplant/hand-tap on a tree.  credit: Jeff Zielinski

How does brakeless riding affect you when riding skateparks, dirt, vert, and street?

Edwin Delarosa: I don’t really think about it that much. Like instead of a fufanu, I’ll do a tailtap, or instead of a wall-tap, I’ll do a wallride, etc. I guess it limits certain moves at parks, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I haven’t really ridden trails, so I wouldn’t know about that. I guess if it’s some crazy downhill section I might be in for it.

Ryan O’Connell: I’ve ridden without brakes for so long that I don’t know anything else but to try to keep flow and have fun on any terrain.

Vic Ayala: I don’t know; I’ve always ridden without brakes. But it definitely affects my sneakers.

Troy McMurray: It doesn’t affect me like it used to. I’ve gone through downhill rhythm and I started to mess around on vert, but then the Condor took over.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: At skateparks you have to learn how to de-pump to slow down, or you just have to boost everything. On street you have to be on your toes at all times.

Butcher: It affects trail riding when you have sections with big jumps and then small ones afterward. You have to hold on and suck up the jump, or you overshoot and get sent.

Gonz: I find it difficult to ride any sort of downhill or really tight rhythm without brakes, although it can be very exhilarating. Riding in skateparks with no brakes can get ridiculous at times, especially if it’s a really crowded session. Your chances of colliding with another rider, skater, or rollerblader instantly triple the minute you take your brakes off.

Mike Ardelean: It just forces you to execute your tricks properly. You can’t just throw a big 270 over a spine and land with your brakes locked. You also have to keep your head up and pay attention.

Mat Hoffman: It all depends on who you’re sharing the area with. Crowded parks make you feel like you’re playing Frogger. I don’t enjoy that… I don’t even notice that I don’t have brakes for vert and street. It was gnarly rolling into a box jump on a 30′-tall roll-in on Tony Hawk’s Boom-Boom-Huck-Jam, but it was intense and more fun without brakes. There were no do-overs.

Joey Cobbs: For me personally, it’s so fun to just flow through everything and try to use what’s around me to slow down or whatever. I try to use my feet for stopping as little as possible. Riding brakeless can turn even the littlest thing like slowing down into something creative.

Joe “Butcher” Kowalski, X-up wallride at Baker’s Acres in Ithaca, New York.  credit: Dolecki

Have you come up with any specific tricks because of riding without brakes?

Vic Ayala: I can come to a complete stop without taking my feet off the pedals.Gonz: The only thing I can think of is double-foot-jam tire taps.

Mat Hoffman: I’ve come up with new tricks without brakes, but I can’t really say it’s because I don’t have brakes. Of course a lot of your lip tricks you have to re-learn with foot placements, so those feel like new specific tricks that I learned because I don’t have brakes.

Mike Ardelean: Yeah, I learned how to jam my foot in the front tire at full speed and flip OTB in traffic. Picked that trick up real quick.

Joey Cobbs: As far as coming up with new tricks, I’ve thought up a brakeless fufanu and also a can-can nosepick. Both of those revolve around riding brakeless. Almost every trick is adjusted in some way or another if it’s going to be done without brakes.

Edwin Delarosa: Nope, nothing that can be called a signature trick, I guess.

Ratboy: I’ve come up with a lot of tricks or variations of other tricks, and I’m sure riding brakeless had something to do with that.

Would you recommend brakeless riding as an experiment for riders who become “bored?”

Ryan O’Connell: If you’re bored, then it’s your own fault. There are so many tricks and disciplines that you can’t be bored. I recommend brakeless riding for someone who is good, but wants to get their tricks consistent.

Edwin Delarosa: I don’t know. Brakeless is all I really know, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I guess for the sake of less hassles it’s a good idea; no cables to mess with, or fine-tuning.

Vic Ayala: I don’t know if I would recommend it for boredom, but if it seems like something you might wanna try, give it a shot.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: Definitely. You’ll have to learn everything all over again.

Butcher: I would recommend for riders who become bored to quit. There are too many spots to be hit and too many tricks to be done-it’s endless. Their heart just isn’t into it.

Gonz: Some people ride with brakes on their bikes for years. Why not take them off for a few months, just for the fun of it? Then put them back on after a couple of frightening expeeriences.

Mat Hoffman: If you like to go full-throttle every time you get on your bike, then I’d recommend it.

Ratboy: Not necessarily. I recommend it to those that are true to what they do and want to take riding to a new and different level of progression.

Joey Cobbs: I would say so if someone just needed something different to add into riding. A lot of my friends tried to ride brakeless at one time or another just to try something new. Trying new things is always good. Whether or not riding brakeless will be a solution to a rider’s boredom is up to the rider.

Troy McMurray: I recommend making yourself happy. If that means riding without brakes, then so be it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about riding brakeless?

Ryan O’Connell: Just because you don’t have brakes doesn’t mean you can’t be a well-rounded rider. Ride everything and push the limits. If you can think it, then it can be done.

Vic Ayala: Make sure you have a good shoe sponsor.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: Go out riding, and next time, don’t pull the lever. You’ll have a hell of a lot of fun, even if you have to dodge a car or the squirrelly kid at the park.

Butcher: Do what you want to do and f**k what anyone has to say about what’s cool or not. Set your bike up the way you want.

Joey Cobbs: I think brakeless riding is a great opportunity for riders to exercise their creativity and approach riding in a slightly different angle than before. You never know-taking your brakes off may be just what you need to take your creativity as a rider to a new level.

Troy McMurray: I actually never thought it would become such a big thing. As for all the little kids who just started riding, I’m stoked, but please, learn the basics with your brakes so you can start off with some controlp, or you overshoot and get sent.

Gonz: I find it difficult to ride any sort of downhill or really tight rhythm without brakes, although it can be very exhilarating. Riding in skateparks with no brakes can get ridiculous at times, especially if it’s a really crowded session. Your chances of colliding with another rider, skater, or rollerblader instantly triple the minute you take your brakes off.

Mike Ardelean: It just forces you to execute your tricks properly. You can’t just throw a big 270 over a spine and land with your brakes locked. You also have to keep your head up and pay attention.

Mat Hoffman: It all depends on who you’re sharing the area with. Crowded parks make you feel like you’re playing Frogger. I don’t enjoy that… I don’t even notice that I don’t have brakes for vert and street. It was gnarly rolling into a box jump on a 30′-tall roll-in on Tony Hawk’s Boom-Boom-Huck-Jam, but it was intense and more fun without brakes. There were no do-overs.

Joey Cobbs: For me personally, it’s so fun to just flow through everything and try to use what’s around me to slow down or whatever. I try to use my feet for stopping as little as possible. Riding brakeless can turn even the littlest thing like slowing down into something creative.

Joe “Butcher” Kowalski, X-up wallride at Baker’s Acres in Ithaca, New York.  credit: Dolecki

Have you come up with any specific tricks because of riding without brakes?

Vic Ayala: I can come to a complete stop without taking my feet off the pedals.Gonz: The only thing I can think of is double-foot-jam tire taps.

Mat Hoffman: I’ve come up with new tricks without brakes, but I can’t really say it’s because I don’t have brakes. Of course a lot of your lip tricks you have to re-learn with foot placements, so those feel like new specific tricks that I learned because I don’t have brakes.

Mike Ardelean: Yeah, I learned how to jam my foot in the front tire at full speed and flip OTB in traffic. Picked that trick up real quick.

Joey Cobbs: As far as coming up with new tricks, I’ve thought up a brakeless fufanu and also a can-can nosepick. Both of those revolve around riding brakeless. Almost every trick is adjusted in some way or another if it’s going to be done without brakes.

Edwin Delarosa: Nope, nothing that can be called a signature trick, I guess.

Ratboy: I’ve come up with a lot of tricks or variations of other tricks, and I’m sure riding brakeless had something to do with that.

Would you recommend brakeless riding as an experiment for riders who become “bored?”

Ryan O’Connell: If you’re bored, then it’s your own fault. There are so many tricks and disciplines that you can’t be bored. I recommend brakeless riding for someone who is good, but wants to get their tricks consistent.

Edwin Delarosa: I don’t know. Brakeless is all I really know, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I guess for the sake of less hassles it’s a good idea; no cables to mess with, or fine-tuning.

Vic Ayala: I don’t know if I would recommend it for boredom, but if it seems like something you might wanna try, give it a shot.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: Definitely. You’ll have to learn everything all over again.

Butcher: I would recommend for riders who become bored to quit. There are too many spots to be hit and too many tricks to be done-it’s endless. Their heart just isn’t into it.

Gonz: Some people ride with brakes on their bikes for years. Why not take them off for a few months, just for the fun of it? Then put them back on after a couple of frightening experiences.

Mat Hoffman: If you like to go full-throttle every time you get on your bike, then I’d recommend it.

Ratboy: Not necessarily. I recommend it to those that are true to what they do and want to take riding to a new and different level of progression.

Joey Cobbs: I would say so if someone just needed something different to add into riding. A lot of my friends tried to ride brakeless at one time or another just to try something new. Trying new things is always good. Whether or not riding brakeless will be a solution to a rider’s boredom is up to the rider.

Troy McMurray: I recommend making yourself happy. If that means riding without brakes, then so be it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about riding brakeless?

Ryan O’Connell: Just because you don’t have brakes doesn’t mean you can’t be a well-rounded rider. Ride everything and push the limits. If you can think it, then it can be done.

Vic Ayala: Make sure you have a good shoe sponsor.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: Go out riding, and next time, don’t pull the lever. You’ll have a hell of a lot of fun, even if you have to dodge a car or the squirrelly kid at the park.

Butcher: Do what you want to do and f**k what anyone has to say about what’s cool or not. Set your bike up the way you want.

Joey Cobbs: I think brakeless riding is a great opportunity for riders to exercise their creativity and approach riding in a slightly different angle than before. You never know-taking your brakes off may be just what you need to take your creativity as a rider to a new level.

Troy McMurray: I actually never thought it would become such a big thing. As for all the little kids who just started riding, I’m stoked, but please, learn the basics with your brakes so you can start off with some controlmonths, just for the fun of it? Then put them back on after a couple of frightening experiences.

Mat Hoffman: If you like to go full-throttle every time you get on your bike, then I’d recommend it.

Ratboy: Not necessarily. I recommend it to those that are true to what they do and want to take riding to a new and different level of progression.

Joey Cobbs: I would say so if someone just needed something different to add into riding. A lot of my friends tried to ride brakeless at one time or another just to try something new. Trying new things is always good. Whether or not riding brakeless will be a solution to a rider’s boredom is up to the rider.

Troy McMurray: I recommend making yourself happy. If that means riding without brakes, then so be it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about riding brakeless?

Ryan O’Connell: Just because you don’t have brakes doesn’t mean you can’t be a well-rounded rider. Ride everything and push the limits. If you can think it, then it can be done.

Vic Ayala: Make sure you have a good shoe sponsor.

“Smoker” Dave Schilling: Go out riding, and next time, don’t pull the lever. You’ll have a hell of a lot of fun, even if you have to dodge a car or the squirrelly kid at the park.

Butcher: Do what you want to do and f**k what anyone has to say about what’s cool or not. Set your bike up the way you want.

Joey Cobbs: I think brakeless riding is a great opportunity for riders to exercise their creativity and approach riding in a slightly different angle than before. You never know-taking your brakes off may be just what you need to take your creativity as a rider to a new level.

Troy McMurray: I actually never thought it would become such a big thing. As for all the little kids who just started riding, I’m stoked, but please, learn the basics with your brakes so you can start off with some control