Front, rear, or both? Grab a handful, or modulate? Should you use different techniques for fast and slow speeds? What about while going uphill, downhill or on a flat surface? Should one brake differently on a cruiser bike as compared to a sportsbike? There are tons of questions that people have about the right technique to brake on their motorcycles. There also are a lot of myths that need to be busted and some really good tips that’ll help you brake better. Here in this article, we’ll learn all about how to use those brakes on your motorcycle in the most effective way. Let’s get going.
To start off, as a rule of thumb, braking is always incomparably more effective up front, than at the rear. This varies with the stance of the motorcycle, and the amount of weight each wheel bears, but in general, front brakes, will always provide you a lot more stopping power than the rear brakes. Up to 80 per cent of your motorcycle’s braking power is concentrated in the front end. This percentage may go even higher in case of extreme racing bikes. So the first thing that you need to do is to learn to use the front brakes way more than the rear. Use that right lever more than the pedal in your feet while using a motorcycle.
An important aspect of braking and stopping safely is the amount of adhesion provided by the front tyre on your motorcycle. In some cases, while the brakes are powerful enough the tyre simply doesn’t have enough traction to handle the pressure, and it washes out. A well engineered motorcycle should not have such a problem, not in dry conditions at the very least. It’s important that you understand the limits of your front tyre’s adhesion well. Spending some time with your motorcycle and using the front brake more aggressively and in progression would reveal a lot to you. Practice using the front brake to the point where the front tyre won’t give way, and complement it with the rear brake. Remember, you shouldn’t rely solely on the rear brakes, ever. It’s the front that drops the anchor, the rear only aids it.
So what do you do if your bike’s front tyre isn’t capable enough? Well, replace it for starters, with a tyre that has good grip. It is exactly for such scenarios that the ABS was designed and built. ABS, or Anti Lock Braking System, as the name suggests, prevents the wheel from locking up, keeps it rotating and goes a long way in enhancing available traction, and boosting control. Remember, though, an ABS system will only work better with a tyre with good traction. It complements the tyre’s grips and control, and isn’t exactly a remedy for a tyre with bad grip. If a tyre doesn’t have good grip, it’ll eventually wash out under hard braking, even with ABS. Bikes with ABS do have a significant edge over their non ABS equipped counterparts in wet conditions, and in places where traction is lesser. It lets the wheel rotate, and keeps you in control. ABS equipped motorcycles almost always have a shorter braking distance and offer more control to the rider under extreme circumstances.
However, if everything is fine with your motorcycle, and it’s a front biased motorcycle with the front wheel bearing most of the weight, squeezing on to that right lever is the best bet you have. The first few moments when you grab a handful, the rear brakes are still relatively more effective as they are carrying a reasonable amount of load and have good traction. Using both brakes in conjunction, especially when you start braking is definitely going to reduce the braking distance. After those first few seconds, most of the weight of the bike, especially on a sport bike gets transferred to the front, and the rear doesn’t have much of a role to play.
Cruiser bikes, scooters and motorcycles which are rear-heavy, do utilise the rear brake a lot more. Such two-wheelers continue to have traction at the rear tyre, even when you apply the front brakes vigorously. The rear brakes on such two-wheelers continue to help reduce the stopping distance throughout the braking process, and not just during the initial few moments. Also, the percentage of braking power provided by the rear wheel is higher. It is, thus even more recommendable to apply both brakes on such motorcycles.
A note of caution here though – if your motorcycle’s wheels are not properly aligned, or if it’s not properly balanced, there is a good chance that using front and rear brakes together may lead to the bike losing its line and sliding in a specific direction. this will not be the case with a well-engineered motorcycle. However, you should be aware if your motorcycle behaves in such a manner and be able to modulate the brakes to use them most effectively. Different motorcycles behave differently under braking and a good way to understand your motorcycle’s braking is to see how it behaves under harsh braking from medium to high speeds. Practising and learning how your motorcycle behaves under harsh braking at an empty patch of road, or an empty parking lot equips you well with the skills to deal with emergencies.
A rule to remember is that the wheel with more load or weight on it will always offer more traction, will not lock up and will help the two-wheeler stop more effectively. Imagine your motorcycle parked on the main stand, and let the wheel rotate freely as the bike idles. Even a feather touch to the lever would stop the wheel from rotating, or, in other words, lock it up. A wheel in motion with load over it, will not lock up so easily though. That’s one of the reasons why people who used the old geared scooters in India, with a major chunk of weight at the rear are still so used to only the rear brakes. And that’s exactly the reason why a linked braking system, like the Sync brake System or SBS on TVS Scooters is so effective in increasing stopping power. Make use of the wheel that has more traction. As an example, the rear wheel will have more traction while climbing steep hills.
While there isn’t a ‘procedure’ to brake properly, as it’s a derivative of your motorcycle’s setup, the power of its brakes, the electronics on offer as well as the rider’s own skill – there are some tips that would help you brake more effectively. To start off, use the front brakes, and modulate if you think you’ll lose traction. Use the rear brakes along with the front, though you should be able to modulate or release if the rear locks up and skids you off the straight braking line, or induces a slide. If you are a skilled rider with good reflexes, downshifting as you apply brakes would bring engine braking into the picture and will reduce braking distance by some margin. If your bike has ABS, grab a fistful of the right lever to unleash the most amount of braking power. You have to act fast and drop the anchors at once in an emergency scenario, any adjustments are to be made based on how the motorcycle reacts – and as we mentioned before, how well you react will depend on how well versed you are with your motorcycle’s behaviour under emergency braking. So practice a lot, and you’ll get better and better at dropping the anchors in the most effective manner.