Braking is one of the fundamental skills beginner riders should learn, but make no mistake–it's not just for newbies. Intermediate and veteran riders would also do well to brush up on the basics of proper braking from time to time.
Too many motorcyclists ply the road every day without knowing how to stop their bikes the correct way. Not only is this dangerous to them, but it can put other motorists in harm's way as well. Spending a little time working on your braking skills can keep you and others safe while enriching your riding experience substantially.
So, whether you're new to the saddle or an old gearhead, let's discuss how to brake properly on a motorcycle.
The front brake, which is responsible for about 70% of a bike's stopping power, is typically located on the right side of the handlebar. Opposite that is the clutch pedal, which is, of course, for shifting gears. As we'll touch more on later, the clutch plays an integral part in slowing the bike down when braking. The other brake, or rear brake, triggers through a foot pedal on the right-hand side of the bike.
While manual bikes have a clutch lever for shifting gears, scooters and semi-automatic underbone motorcycles do not. Instead, you will find the rear brake pedal on the left-hand side of the handlebar. This means that most automatic and semi-automatic motorcycles will have hand-operated brakes as well as a foot brake on the right side. Scooters replace the left clutch lever with a rear brake lever.
Whichever type of motorcycle you have, the physics of braking is essentially the same. Still, if you're new to riding, it's best to familiarize yourself with the various pedals.
Applying the brakes
Now, assume you're on your bike and riding at a comfortable speed. You want to come to a stop, so what do you do?
Before touching anything, assess your immediate surroundings and determine if it's safe to slow down and stop. You might have a split-second delay in reaction time before you actually apply the brakes, but this is normal.
If the road is wet from rain, rocky, muddy, or otherwise not normal, you may have to hit the brakes sooner. Relatedly, if your bike has ABS, it might be able to stop sooner and within a shorter distance.
Now that you've determined it's safe to stop, ease off the throttle. Disengaging the engine will naturally slow you down. Pressing the brakes while rolling the throttle can damage the bike's transmission and brake pads.
Keep your index and middle fingers on the front brake lever, then cover the rear pedal or lever depending on your motorcycle. Engage both gently and simultaneously, taking care not to apply too much pressure on either.
When braking, the weight of the motorcycle shifts forward, and the front suspension loads up. At this point, the front tire has lots of traction. Pressing the front brake too aggressively can lock the front tire and lead to a skid. If this happens, promptly let go of the lever and reapply the brake firmly.
The rear wheel feels lighter when the bike's weight shifts to the front. So, avoid putting too much pressure on the rear brake pedal if you don't want to skid and lose balance.
As you slow down, squeeze the clutch to help you stop faster. This is also the point to shift to the lower gears until you reach the lowest gear. Downshifting into first gear right before you come to a stop is a good practice. It will allow you to build dexterity for changing gears quickly during various situations.
Can I come to a full stop on a higher gear?
While it's possible to hit the brakes and come to a complete stop when on the higher gears, this is generally not recommended. Many bikes won't allow you to downshift when at a full stop, so you will need to engage the clutch plates before being able to go down a gear.
In an emergency, this could work fine. Although ultimately, it may be more trouble than it's worth. Practicing and mastering proper braking procedures would be more beneficial in the long run.
Can I use only one brake?
As we've covered above, most riding conditions will necessitate the use of both brakes simultaneously. Most beginner riders are taught this technique, and it works well for a lot of people.
However, there are some instances wherein using either the front or rear brake is ideal. For example, when maneuvering a bike at slow speeds, the front brake may be too powerful, and may tip the bike over. In this situation, pairing a gentle throttle roll with a slight rear braking force may provide the rider enough counteracting balance to get through safely.
Learning the proper motorcycle braking procedures is a must for any rider, whether a beginner or a veteran. The key is staying calm, knowing your surroundings, and most importantly, practice.
The best, and perhaps the only way to get better as a rider, is getting out on the road and getting exposed to real-life situations. These regular rides will help build muscle memory, so much so that braking will become second nature to you, almost an instinct.
With that said, make sure you always wear proper gear at all times, practice defensive riding, and enjoy your motorcycle to the fullest.