you're in the habit of squeezing the front brake lever whenever you
need to scrub off speed, you'll just squeeze the lever harder, avoid
the problem, and think about it later. On the other hand, if you're
in the lazy habit of using only the rear brake, you'll most likely
jam on the rear brake and realize after the crash that you didn't
reach for the front lever.
So, regardless of the braking systems on the bikes you ride, it's
important to practice good habits—all the time. Should you always
cover the front brake lever, even on a long straight highway with
unlimited visibility and no traffic in sight? Hugh "Harry" Hurt,
principal investigator of the famous "Hurt Report" suggests an
answer: "Well, remember that the majority of motorcycle accidents
in the study occurred on straight roads with unlimited visibility,
when the rider didn't expect anything to go wrong."
Let's also remember that the quickest, shortest stop will be made
with both brakes applied to the maximum just short of skidding. That
means that if your bike has ABS, you shouldn't be jamming on the
levers so hard that ABS is activated. ABS is there to help you avoid
a slideout, but ABS activating will lengthen the stop. You'll make a
quicker stop if you can apply the brakes just short of ABS
If you're in the habit of using the front brake, you're much
more likely in an emergency to brake hard now, and think about it
The Ideal Quick Stop
Back in Part 1, we discussed the basic stopping dynamics. Let's
put all of the details together now, and describe an ideal quick
Riding an urban arterial, you anticipate the possibility of a
collision, check to be sure you aren't being tailgated, continue to
watch for other vehicles ahead that might turn into your path and
cover the front brake lever.
You observe a dark-colored van ahead that might make a quick left
turn, and reduce speed about 10 mph by shifting down a gear and
squeezing lightly on the front brake lever. Slowing just 10 mph cuts
your braking distance in half, should you need to make a quick stop.
In urban traffic, aggressive braking is a good
left- turning vehicles like that dark van ahead.
Apparently the driver doesn't see you, or doesn't realize how
close you are, and starts to make a quick turn across your path. You
squeeze the clutch, roll off the throttle and apply both brakes
together, pressing lightly on the rear brake pedal and squeezing
the front brake lever gradually harder.
As the motorcycle pitches forward, you ease up on the rear pedal
and squeeze harder on the front lever to the maximum just short of a
skid. Even with the left-turner now crossing your path, you keep the
bike vertical and pointed straight ahead, with your knees gripping
the tank and your eyes focused on the pavement where you intend to
stop short of a collision.
During the last few feet of the stop, you shift down to first
gear, and glance briefly in the mirror to be sure you're not about
to be rear-ended. You bring the motorcycle to a stop with your right
foot still on the rear brake and your left foot on the ground. Then,
as the offending driver moves out of the way, you ease out the
clutch and continue down the street. You have turned a potential
collision into a minor inconvenience.
Quick Stop Practice
Since emergency actions follow habits, it's a good idea to
practice the right braking habits. Let's think about aggressive
quick stops. If you intend to ride fast on public roads, you should
be as good at quick stops as you are at cornering. It's important to
be able to make a quick slowdown from road speed when you realize
the next corner is tighter than you expected, or you realize the
curve ahead is coated in loose gravel.
But to avoid collisions in traffic, you may need to brake to a
stop from urban traffic speed--typically 35-40 mph. To get quick
stops implanted in your habits, it helps to do some braking
practice. Riders of machines with ABS, linked or power assisted
brakes are not excused from the drill.
Find some long, smooth, tractable piece of pavement that you can
borrow for an hour or so. An abandoned section of road can do. Or
perhaps you have a nearby parking lot that is vacant early on a
weekend morning. It helps to set up some cones or markers to define
a "braking chute" but all you really need is a long strip of clean,
level pavement, and some marker to give you a braking point.
If you've never practiced quick stops before, start your first
braking runs no faster than 20 mph. Trust us here, no faster than
20mph. If you don't do a perfect stop from 20 mph, keep practicing
at that speed until you get it perfect. As you increase skill and
confidence you can gradually bump up speed on subsequent passes.
Get the machine stabilized at about 18 to 20 mph in second gear.
Maintain speed right up to the braking point. Keep your head up and
eyes looking forward to where you intend to be stopped. Avoid
glancing down at the instruments or levers, or off to the side.
your front wheel reaches the braking point, squeeze the clutch, roll
off the throttle and apply both brakes simultaneously. As the
weight transfers forward, ease up on the rear brake and squeeze the
front lever progressively harder. Stop as quickly as you can without
skidding either tire.
Practicing straight line quick stops helps you to develop your
braking habits, and also gives you confidence that you can brake
aggressively without losing control.
An impending front tire skid makes the front end push from side
to side, and steering will get lighter. If the front tire starts to
skid, ease up on the lever to regain traction. If your machine has
ABS and you feel the pulse of ABS activation, try slightly less
lever pressure on the next run.
It's harder to feel when your rear tire is skidding. But, with
standard independent brakes, if you should accidentally skid the
rear tire, it's best to keep it skidding until the bike comes to a
complete stop, to avoid the possibility of a high-side flip. On the
next run make a point of using less rear brake. If you can't seem to
avoid skidding the rear tire, try stopping with the front brake
only. You will discover that the rear tire gets easier to skid as
you bump your speeds up, due to the increase in forward energy.
That's especially true of short wheelbase bikes. On a bike with a
longer wheelbase, the CoG will be farther back from the front wheel.
short wheelbase bike will require greater skill to brake
aggressively because the CoG is closer to the front wheel.
Toward the end of the stop, remember to shift into first gear.
Come to a complete stop with your right foot on the brake pedal and
your left foot supporting the machine. The habit of shifting to
first prepares you for a quick getaway to avoid a possible rear end
With the bike stopped, check the rear view mirror. When
practicing, you may want to pause for a few seconds to consider your
technique. Did you remember to squeeze the clutch to prevent the
engine from stalling? Did you stop with your right foot still on the
brake? Did you skid the rear tire? Did the bike wobble from side to
side? Did you remember to shift into first gear? Did you stop with
your right foot on the brake?
There's always the risk of a fall as you are honing your skills.
So it's smart to wear all your crash padding, including helmet,
armored riding gear, full-fingered leather gloves and tall leather
is a long-time motorcyclist and journalist. His work has appeared in numerous motorcycle publications, but he is best known for the monthly skills series "
" in Motorcycle Consumer News, which has been honored by special awards from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Selected columns were edited into
More Proficient Motorcycling
, both published by Bowtie Press. He is also the author of
Driving A Sidecar Outfit and a pocket riding skills handbook,Street Strategies