Effective Braking Techniques on Motorcycle
Just imagine you’re riding your motorcycle along the most beautiful twisty picturesque road you’ve ever been on in your life. You’re enjoying every second as you meander your way down this amazing road.
The thrum of your motorcycle beneath you and the grip on the perfect tarmac. This is what motorcycling is all about, you are in the moment, everything is just perfect.
But then, suddenly out of nowhere – a deer jumps out from the side of the road. You have just a fraction of a second to respond. In this moment, your braking skills become a literal lifesaver!
Effective braking can be the difference between a heart-stopping near-miss and a potentially dangerous situation. How do you cope?
Grasp the Basics
Every motorcycle has two dedicated brakes, that is the front and the rear brake. Most modern motorcycles now have disc brakes on the front and the rear but some motorcycles have a disc on the front and a drum brake on the rear.
If you are old enough to remember when both the front and rear were both drum brakes, you’ll understand how powerful the brakes are now. The drum brakes were not very effective for stopping, so it’s a good move having disc brakes on modern motorcycles.
How to Balance the Brakes
Understanding how to use both effectively and in unison can significantly improve your safety when riding in any situation. It is vitally important to learn how to brake correctly and practise this skill. Each brake plays a distinct role in bringing your motorcycle to a safe stop.
The front brake provides the majority of your stopping power, up to 70%. The remaining 30% is handled by the rear brake. This is not set in stone but gives you a visual idea on the braking effort required when using the brakes effectively. This technique is used in dry conditions where you have better grip and the front tyre has good grip under braking load.
Another example is when braking in wet conditions, you should use even braking. This means applying both the front and rear brake evenly during braking. This way the bike will remain balanced throughout. This is known as 50/50.
Use them in Tandem
However, the key is using them in tandem and learning how to feel what the bike is doing under braking effort. Just grabbing a handful of brake and hoping for the best is not a good technique. You are trying to prevent a wheel locking up which will lead to a skid or a fall. Do not rely on the ABS as a get out clause to fix your poor braking application.
Your front brake should be applied first, followed by the rear brake. This allows the forward momentum to put the weight into the forks and then as the rear end becomes light, a gentle application of the rear brake will sit the back end down. This will allow the rear wheel to have traction under light braking.
The front brake once applied will have good grip and while you are slowing down more even pressure can be applied. Never snatch or grab the brakes quickly, always smoothly to create smooth and balanced deceleration.
Braking with Confidence
Braking at higher speeds can be intimidating, but it’s a skill that you must master for your safety.
Gaining confidence with your front brake at higher speeds is crucial. Most riders are happy riding quickly, they practise accelerating quickly (or aggressively) but do not practise braking quickly.
A Common Mistake
A common mistake riders make at high speeds is not applying enough pressure on the front brake. They panic about using the front brake during high-speed braking and think it can lead to falling off.
The cause for this thought is that riders underuse the front brake. This actually reduces braking efficiency and increases the motorcycles overall stopping distance.
The problem with not using enough front brake is that the bike will not stop quickly, but the riders generally overcompensate for a lack of front brake pressure and apply more rear brake.
They think this will help but in reality it causes more issues. It loads the backend, resulting in a risk of skidding. It also means the overall braking distance will also increase.
Smoothness is the Key to Success
The key is to practise applying the front brake at higher speeds in a safe, controlled environment. Practice on a long straight quiet road, you do not have to practise emergency stops at high speeds initially, just get used to applying the brakes at a higher speed to become comfortable with the feel.
Once you have practised and feel more comfortable, you can increase the speed and the pressure as you become more confident. It must be controlled and measured with no sudden applications or panic. Smoothness is the key to success.
Learn Muscle Memory
This will help build your muscle memory, so you’re prepared if you need to brake quickly on the open road. It also means you get to know the characteristics of your motorcycle.
Do not rely on the ABS to get you out of trouble, you must still learn how to stop the motorcycle quickly. The more you practise the better you will become.
Skidding on a motorcycle can be a very frightening experience. But understanding the early signs of skid control can make all the difference. You must go through the process of learning how to apply the brakes properly first. This is done by starting off slowly and building up your skills.
As you build skills and ability, you will also build confidence and feel. This however cannot be rushed. Don’t have a few goes and think you have nailed it, because let me assure you – you haven’t!
Skidding typically occurs when the brakes are applied too hard or too quickly. This is generally because a rider has gotten a bit greedy or cocky and thinks they have successfully learned how to stop quickly. This generally happens when the process is rushed or not practised enough.
‘Bike feel’ is Important
Learning to apply your brakes smoothly and progressively can help prevent skids.
Practising smooth, progressive braking can help prevent this. But in order to fully understand what the bike is doing, you must feel the wheels skidding in order to understand ‘bike feel’. This is when you know exactly what is happening and do not panic as a result of feeling something different.
The process of learning is to increase speed and pressure slowly, this gives your brain ample time to get into the zone of braking and learning the characteristics and feel. Without this laborious practise, you will never set the skill properly.
Rushed practise or not practising enough will prevent you from knowing what to do when you really need it. Muscle memory is key and braking by rote is generally a far better position to be in when you have to carry out an emergency stop. All the practise time kicks in and you brake naturally without too much thought.
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What to do if You Skid
If you find you have over braked and find yourself in a skid, you must quickly release the brakes. This will allow your tyres to regain traction again and stop the skid. You should then reapply them again but this time more gently.
In a skid situation, riders usually panic and apply more pressure. This happens for new and inexperienced riders as they think by braking harder, this will stop them quicker. In reality it causes more problems and the result will be falling off if not corrected.
When you feel the wheels start to lock up or skid, you must release straight away. This is counter intuitive but you must learn to feel the skid and then release the brake.
Releasing the brakes means you will regain traction again very quickly. Even a bike that looks like it will fall over will right itself if the brakes are released. Learning to apply the brake properly is extremely important and knowing how to release and reapply properly will keep you out of trouble when braking.
Most newer bikes have ABS, this is a solution and one that has helped many riders when needed. Learning better handling skills and education is the key to becoming a safe and proficient rider.
Technological Assists: ABS and Linked Brakes
Modern motorcycles come equipped with technology designed to assist with braking. But do not get too reliant on them and think you do not have to practise. All the good riders practise their skills to keep them sharp.
Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) prevent the wheels from locking during braking, maintaining traction with the road surface. The brake sensors release the brake pad pressure from the disc when the wheel is locking up.
The feel through the lever is a juddering feel as the brakes are released and reapplied automatically.
Similarly, linked braking systems apply both brakes. This happens even if the rider only activates and applies one brake, improving stability and balance. A small percentage of rear brake is added if the front brake is used in isolation, and vice versa if the rear brake only is applied.
Understanding these technologies and how they support your braking is essential. But riders should not rely solely on this, they should learn to brake properly. This is in case you have to ride a motorcycle that does not compensate for your poor braking techniques.
Engine Braking: An Additional Tool
Engine braking is another technique that can be used, the best way to adopt correct use of engine braking is to turn off the throttle early and allow the engine to slow the bike down. This way you then match the gear to the speed of the bike when the time is right.
You should avoid reducing your speed by changing down a gear and letting the clutch out to force the engine to slow the bike down. This can cause problems over a prolonged period of time to the transmission, especially on a motorcycle with a shaft drive.
However this method is particularly useful in maintaining speed control during downhill descents. It can also be used to slow down gently when there aren’t any vehicles following you. However the brakes should be used to warn others that you are slowing down, especially if you need to slow down quickly.
Slowing down using this method reduces the load on your brakes and provides additional control over your speed. There will be less use of the brakes which means over a long period of time, you will save costs by not wearing out brake pads unnecessarily.
Considerations of Weather Conditions
Weather conditions also significantly impact braking. You must be able to read the road ahead and judge the problems and hazards. This means the risk to carry out late and harsh braking is drastically reduced.
Wet conditions do not pose as big a problem as the ‘Bikers tales’ make out. There is very little reduction in grip on the road during normal riding but the grip percentage does drop with aggressive acceleration, braking and steering.
Riding on icy roads or when it is snowing is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Riding a motorcycle in these conditions will almost certainly end in an accident. Riders must think about their safety, the high risk and ask themselves a frank question “Is it worth risking your life in these conditions?”
In adverse conditions it is important to brake early and use the engine as a third brake when slowing down. Gentle and smooth brake pressure should be used over longer distances.
Practise Makes Perfect: Safety Through Skill and Knowledge
Braking is far more than just stopping your motorcycle. It’s a valuable skill that can mean the difference between a close call and a collision.
To reduce the risk of a skid or falling off, braking must be practised at all speeds. From bringing the machine to a normal halt to emergency stops at the highest speed limit. This way you will become familiar with your bikes and brakes characteristics.
By learning and practising effectively with a professional Motorcycle Instructor you will elevate your ability and skill level.
You must understand the balance between front and rear brakes, mastering high-speed braking is a must for riders who venture out for fun. Recognise your own skill level and always be aware of what’s happening ahead with good forward vision and planning. Without this you are at a higher risk of needing to brake harder than necessary.
Stay safe and Keep it on the Black Stuff