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Are you getting the most out of your brakes?

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Brakes are the most powerful component on your motorcycle in that they have the greatest potential effect on performance. But you have to know how to use motorcycle brakes properly to get the best effect.

Steve Bond, long-time motorcycle journalist, racer, and current motorcycle road tester for the Toronto Star Wheels section, says, “When braking hard, careful modulation of the front lever is required to balance braking force versus available traction. As the motorcyclist brakes harder, more weight is transferred to the front, meaning it’s easier to lock the rear brake. The rider must compensate by easing off the rear pedal.”

Here’s some more advice to put into practice.

Handling an emergency

As Bond points out, being aware of weight transfer — the machine pitching forward under heavy braking — is key. So when an emergency develops, here’s what you should do:

  1. First and always, look for a way to avoid the potential collision and keep it in mind as you slow the bike.
  2. Close the throttle and apply the rear and front brakes simultaneously, but don’t just jam them on — quick but smooth rather than sudden and sharp is the way to do it.
  3. As the bike’s nose dives (as weight is being transferred forward) ease off the rear brake to avoid skidding (as rear traction decreases) and apply more force to the front (the weight transfer actually increases front braking potential by pushing the tire harder into the pavement).
  4. Make sure you keep your brake application smooth — it’s critical to keeping the bike upright in a straight line without upsetting the suspension.
  5. If an escape route opens up, ease off the brakes once your speed is safely down and aim for it — remember, you’ll go where you look, so look at the escape route, NOT the obstacle.

Be at the ready in traffic

Generally speaking, a rider should be most alert for potential sudden stops when in heavy traffic.

When in heavy traffic, Bond recommends “covering” the brake lever with your first two fingers — have your fingers stretched over the lever ready to use it, but without actually pulling on it. “It’ll reduce reaction time by a few tenths of a second,” he says.


Oftentimes, when avoiding a situation, you’ll have to corner. But braking hard means the bike should be as straight up as possible. Keep these points in mind for safe cornering:

  • While leaning in a corner, the tires are already working hard generating cornering force.
  • As a bike leans farther, there’s less rubber on the road — and less traction.
  • If you have to brake hard while cornering to avoid a vehicle, animal, or pedestrian, get the bike as vertical as possible first.
  • If there’s more time to react, gentle braking can be done while cornering. Bond says, “Even while leaned over, a smooth, careful application of the front brake can get a rider out of trouble.”

When to release

Once you’ve gotten your bike slowed down enough to avoid the immediate problem, it’s time to think about releasing the brakes.

Stopped. If you’ve come to a complete stop, release the rear, get your foot down, and keep the front brake on until you know where you’re going next.

Slowed. If you’ve avoided the problem but will keep riding, ease off the brakes rather than just letting go of them — the reason: you’ll avoid the suspension bouncing as the front unloads the extra weight the braking has put into it. Again, smooth and gentle is the key.

A final tip from Bond: “Learn how to use the front brake effectively to become a better, safer rider. Practise on empty roads or parking lots, and if you can, enrol in a high-performance riding school where you can practise safely on a closed course.”

Republished from In The Saddle. To subscribe to this free newsletter, simply request a motorcycle insurance quote!

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