How Do You Brake On an ATV?(Explained for beginners)

From my personal experience, it takes less than 15 minutes for people to learn how to ride a quad. The tricky part that people need to learn is the location of all ATV controls and how to brake. Knowing how to brake is super important on an ATV, especially if you are riding in a group.

ATVs have two brakes that riders can use. One is located on the handlebars and it actions both the front and rear brakes. The second ATV brake is located at the footrest position and it actions the rear brake. This is the brake that ATV riders will use most of the time. The handbrake works by squeezing the level against the handlebar. The intensity of the brake is controlled by squeezing harder. ATV riders need to release the lever to disengage the brakes and free up the wheels. The foot brake can be actioned by pressing on the foot pedal (usually located on the right side), similar to how a car’s brake pedal functions.

Knowing how to brake an ATV is essential if you want your first ride to be safe. Don’t worry; here is where my expertise comes in. Stick around because I will show you how to brake on an ATV and also share some trade secrets.

graph showing how to brake

How Do You Brake On an ATV?

ATV braking in the mud

Have you ever ridden a bike? If yes, then you will be able to master braking on an ATV quickly. The ATV has two brakes. The first one is the handbrake, which, as its name implies, is located on the handlebars. The handbrake is usually on top of the gas throttle and works by squeezing the lever.

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It’s important to mention that the handbrake actions both the rear and front brakes. This is why you need to be delicate with the handbrake. If you press it to the max while riding at fast speeds, all four wheels will block, and the ATV will begin drifting out of your control. Therefore, you should try and be smooth with the lever, especially the first time you squeeze it. After giving it a few test tries, you will be able to achieve the braking effect you want every time.

The foot brake is generally located right next to the right footrest. This foot pedal usually operates the rear brakes and this is why ATV riders use it the most. If you just want to slow down, you will have a much better time controlling the four-wheeler when you activate the foot brake. The foot brake works really simply. You just press the pedal down with your foot until you reach the level of effectiveness that you want and lift your foot to release the brakes.

While braking on an ATV is not too complicated, learning how to steer can feel tricky at first. Check out this guide where I showcase the best ATV steering techniques (and beginner mistakes you should avoid).

Sidenote: I want to stress how important it is to ride ATVs safely and avoid slamming the brakes as much as possible. If you are riding at 20-25 mph and you slam on the brakes, you will be in for a bad time because the quad will start drifting, and you can get hurt.

Should I Use Front Brake or Rear Brake on an ATV?

In general, you want to use the rear brake that is operated by the foot brake. The rear brakes give you more control when slowing down and won’t cause the ATV to drift as much. If you are riding down a steep hill and need to keep the brake actioned so that you don’t gain too much speed, you can always use both the front and rear brakes simultaneously. Just keep in mind that you can lock up the wheels if you overdo it.

Braking Tips for Beginners

man actioning the ATV handbrake

I know that learning how to control an ATV can seem difficult when you do it the first time. This is why I decided to prepare a handful of ATV braking tips to help you master this system as soon as possible. Here they are:

  • Leave one or two fingers resting on the brake lever

One of the most useful tips that I can share with new ATV riders is to leave one or two fingers resting on the handbrake lever at all times. This makes it super easy to squeeze the lever if an obstacle appears and you need to brake ASAP.

  • You can use both brakes at the same time

When I first started riding ATVs, I would either use the hand or footbrake. It took me some time to realize that you can use both of them in situations where you need to brake fast. However, you should keep in mind that doing this will lock all four wheels, and you can drift. This is why you should always wear protective gear.

  • Don’t fully lock up your ATV’s wheels

The most common mistake I see beginners making is pulling the handbrake level to the max anytime they want to brake. This is never good because it locks up the front wheels and if you have enough speed, you can drift and hit an obstacle. It’s always better to slowly squeeze the lever so that you are always in control.

How Do ATV Brakes Work

Most modern ATVs employ a dual brake system: hydraulic disc brakes for the front wheels and either hydraulic disc or drum brakes for the rear wheels. When the brake lever (located on the handlebar) or the foot pedal is engaged, it activates a hydraulic system. This system uses brake fluid to transfer pressure from the master cylinder to the brake calipers (or wheel cylinders in the case of drum brakes).

In the second part of this braking action, the calipers then squeeze brake pads against a rotor (or in drum systems, brake shoes expand against the drum), creating friction that slows down and eventually stops the ATV. This design ensures a rapid and controlled deceleration, helping riders to maintain stability and steer clear of obstacles, especially during off-road adventures. Regular ATV maintenance, including frequent inspections of brake pads, rotors, and fluid levels, is crucial for the brakes to function optimally and safely.

Closing Thoughts

Learning how to brake on an ATV is not difficult. Once you figure out the locations of the hand and foot brake, the only thing left remaining to do is to get a feel for how hard you squeeze (or press) the brake. My advice is to randomly brake a couple of times during your first ten minutes of riding so that you have enough time to get a feel for the brakes.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at if you want to get in touch.

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