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Motorbike Braking and Stopping

Safe Braking

Braking Action By This Action Affects
Defensive Riding. Looking far ahead, anticipating problems and choosing the best line through traffic andYour position relative to the problem area.
The front brakeThe front wheel and front/back weight distribution
The rear brakeThe rear wheel
Snapping off the throttleThe rear wheel
Changing to a lower gearThe rear wheel
Generally one thinks of braking a motorcycle with the brakes - not so. Braking is achieved by a mix of the following, starting with the most important.

Watch the brake light of the smart rider in traffic or when touring - it seldom comes on as the he/she regulates the bikes speed and position long before angry braking is needed.

Watch the brake light of the smart rider in traffic or when touring - it seldom comes on as the he/she regulates the bikes speed and position long before angry braking is needed.

One is tempted to over look the last two in the table above but both of them are quite able to lock up the rear wheel just long enough to cause the back to slide out when the bike is leaning over into a corner. Therefore safe, confident braking on a motorbike is not a simple skill but requires practice and training as the condition of the road surface plays a vital role. Generally here are some rules of thumb

1) Use the front brake!! This is the one that does most of the work. Braking confidently, progressively and hard on the front wheel is a critical skill and should be practised on a regular basis and under safe conditions. Do this on your own and with a passenger as the extra weight affects your stopping distance. As you brake do not stiffen your arms - instead grip the bike with your legs leaving your arms free and relaxed.

2) Hard, heavy braking is always done when the motorcycle is upright and travelling in a straight line

3) Generally do not lock up the wheels!

If you lock up the front wheel for more than a short distance when travelling in a straight line, the wheel will eventually wash out and you will hit the tar.

If you lock up the front while turning the motorbike you will hit the tar immediately but you should escape with only a few bruises.

If you lock up the rear when travelling in a straight line you will be OK as long as you "LOOK UP. LOOK AHEAD" and keep the bike in a perfectly straight line (not that easy).

If you lock up the rear wheel while turning you are in trouble. The rear will begin to slide out from under you. If you release the rear wheel (your first survival instinct) you could ’high side’ with possible fatal consequences (See Lingo page) You need to keep the wheel locked and let the bike slide out and away from you.

4) Never grab the front brake as this may cause it to lock up. Instead apply the initial pressure smoothly for the first second. This allows the front of the bike to dip onto its front suspension as the weight of the bike moves forward onto the front wheel. This added downward pressure means that you can now brake harder and harder on the front brake with little chance of it locking up (on a good surface). Note: As the bike dips down onto its front suspension do not stiffen your arms and prop your body up using the handle bars. Instead grip the bike harder with your legs and keep your arms loose and relaxed.

5) Throughout the braking process keep your eyes up and look ahead!! Watch the road surface like a hawk. Keep the front tyre on a hard, clean, dry surface avoiding strange colour changes in road surface . If you cannot, ease back on the front brake and apply more pressure to the back. Change to a lower gear to slow you down but let the clutch out gradually. Jumping the clutch out suddenly can momentary lock up the rear wheel causing a rear wheel slide out. Diesel oil spills on the road surface from passing trucks are a common cause of bikers loosing control. The good news is that you will smell it roughly two seconds before you see it as a dark patch on the road surface!

6) In city traffic keep two fingers on the front brake lever. This is necessary because other slow moving vehicles may be as close as one meter away from you and you don’t have time to fumble with the front brake. Do not do this on the open road or when riding on the dirt. You cannot afford to have the handlebars ripped out of your grasp for whatever reason.

7) If an emergency stop is required on a very loose surface - maybe you should try to take the gap rather than stop. Alternatively locking up the back wheel, sliding and dropping the bike onto the road is an alternative that has saved many a life but sure as hell I hope I never have to try it!

8) When going down a steep dirt road with loose stones, use a combination of the back brake and a low gear ratio to prevent the bike from picking up too much speed. Keep as much weight over the rear tyre as possible. You can lightly finger the front brake when the surface offers sufficient traction

9) If you spend most of your time travelling on your own you will get used to your brakes performing to a certain level. When you add a passenger however that performance level deteriorates. Therefore ease yourself into the new conditions by braking a lot earlier

10) Leaning into a corner too fast and snapping off the throttle is the same as jabbing the rear brake. It is enough for the rear wheel to loose traction and cause a slide out.

11) Do not brake in the corner itself. (See point 2) Braking is something you do before the corner.