Motorcycle Braking Skills

Practicing braking skills can help you increase your chances of successfully executing a quick stop if the need arises. You may think you are a seasoned rider and have no need for a training class, but even the experienced rider skills can get rusty, and the only way to improve them is practice. New riders should definitely take a training class in order to properly learn braking techniques. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers basic and advanced courses that can help riders hone their skills.

It’s important to maintain your motorcycle in top condition, and that includes frequent inspection of your brakes and changing them as needed. The performance of your motorcycle and ability to stop in a hurry can be affected by the condition of your brakes, the surface or terrain you are riding on, the condition of the tires, and even the inflation of the tires. Riders gain experience each time they ride, and often under adverse conditions such as slick, rain soaked or oily roads, on gravel, dirt and twisty curves that make braking more difficult. This experience leads to improved skills, and properly inflated tires in good condition and good brakes and brake pads can lead to a safer ride, increasing the ability to stop suddenly.

Periodic braking drills can help you maintain your skills. A large, empty parking lot will usually suffice for this practice. Although it’s common knowledge to most riders that the front brake has 60-90 percent of your stopping power, it does depend on the type of bike you’re riding. A larger bike or touring bike might only provide 60 percent of stopping power with the front brake while a sport bike is on the other end of the spectrum, providing up to 90% of front brake stopping power, or even 100 percent if the rear wheel comes up off the road surface. Practice will help you determine just how much front and rear brake pressure to apply in different situations under a controlled setting. Crashes often occur when the rider over applies the front brake, locking it up and going head over the front of the bike. With that said, don’t be afraid to use the front brake. Crashes also occur when the rider over applies the rear, and under applies the front brake, causing it to fishtail.

Most of the time when need to stop suddenly, you really need to use the proper combination of both brakes. If you lock up the rear brake and the rear tire begins to skid, maintain pressure until you can regain control. If you lock up the front brake, relieve the pressure. If you have an ABS system, your bike will handle differently. ABS helps eliminate skidding, but still the response will vary depending on the road surface, so practice is also suggested for those with ABS. When practicing, first start by bringing the bike up to about 20 mph, and then executing a quick stop. When you are confident and comfortable at that speed, increase to 25 mph before executing the quick stop, and continue in 5 mph increments.

Another thing to consider is rain, and you should practice making quick stops under wet, slippery conditions in a controlled environment. It’s important to avoid riding in the first 20 minutes or so after it begins to rain, if at all possible. This will give time for the fuel and oil on the road that comes to the surface and mixes with the rain to disperse. You might want to take your motorcycle to the large, empty parking lot the next time it rains and practice your braking skills on slick surfaces. Then, when you’re out for a long ride and it begins to rain, you’ll be better prepared for the conditions you are confronted with. If you have to stop on wet, slippery roads, it is recommended that you apply your brakes slower than normally and rely more on your rear brake to avoid the front tire locking up and losing traction. Also, allow more stopping time by increasing the distance between you and other vehicles on the road.

Once you know your bike and its response in different conditions and at different speeds, and continue to periodically practice, your appropriate responses to a stopping emergency will likely become second nature. Having the ability to make a controlled, quick stop when needed can be the difference between safety and an accident.

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