Motorcycles are inherently unstable. At speed they can wobble, shimmy, and generally make the riders life difficult. At no time is a motorcycle more unstable then when its braking. Tire technology gives the rider some of the best tire traction available and still its not enough. The techniques of braking will increase confidence and ability to negotiate the traffic stream.

Tire traction is a finite amount. The available amount of traction between the tire and the road surface is constantly changing and so is the amount the motorcycle is using. The amount of traction being used by the motorcycle should always be less than the available traction. Cases where the available traction change drastically would be grease spots, lane markings, and sand. All of these substances are generally going to be where you need maximum braking most (intersections).

Contrary to popular or unpopular thought a skid is not a controlled anything. The forced stopping of a wheel while it slides across the ground accomplishes nothing but suspension and tire abuse. The fastest way to stop a motorcycle is with controlled application of the brakes. Laying the bike down and sliding it in to home also is very detrimental to the finish of the bike ,and controlled braking will stop faster. The adhesion and traction characteristics of a tire are much better than fiberglass and chrome.

So, how do you stop a motorcycle quickly ? First thing is to insure the motorcycle is straight up and down. The act of cornering uses up part of the available traction so all inputs of cornering should be removed. With the bike straight up and down the brakes should be squeezed firmly. The application of the front and rear brakes should be firm and smooth. With the smooth application of both brakes the bike will have a tendency to dive forward. This is called weight shift. The weight of the motorcycle is moving forward and the available traction to the front wheel is increased. Now don’t get excited because this “free” increase in traction comes with a cost. The rear wheel is now lightening so the available traction is decreased. As smoothly as the rear brake was applied the pressure should be gently lightened. This will keep the rear brake at maximum effort with out skidding. The whole brake application should be as smooth as possible. If the rear wheel does start to skid the skid should be maintained to a stop. Holding the skid will reduce the chance of a “high side” caused by rear wheel kick out. If the front wheel should start to skid the immediate release of the front brake is the only option. If the front wheel skids the likely result is a “wash out”. Several of the high end sport bikes with good tires, short frame geometry, and smaller wheels shod with huge brakes have the ability to lift the rear wheel while braking. I will remind you that those type of stops are best left on the track, and are not the mark of a good rider as most will have done it on accident or just before an accident.

As the motorcycle slows the traction available can and probably will change quickly and drastically. Obvious traction hazards such as paint markings and oil can be negotiated by lightening pressure on the controls and reapplying after the hazard passes. The goal is to slow the bike as quickly as possible with out sliding the wheels across the ground. Maintain of control is the main concern. During normal braking downshifting as the bike slows is a suggested technique. This will keep the bikes speed still available if a Buick wants to kiss you from the rear. Check the mirrors as you stop to insure the driver behind you will see you stop and can stop also. Constant evaluation of escape routes and down shifting can boggle the mind of the best riders. Practice is the only method that will make maximum braking an ingrained task. As a tool for operating in the traffic environment full effort, maximum braking should not be needed, but if it is practice will give the rider confidence.

Technology being what it is leaves several options for the motorcyclist. Honda has integrated brakes on several of its bikes. The integrated brakes link the front and rear brakes so that they both are activated by the rear brake pedal. This feature has many bonuses for the rider who is looking for ease of use. There are problems that have to be worked out by the rider as far as dealing with weight shift, and lightening the pressure on the brake pedal.

ABS is probably the best advance for motorcycles. Even though it can be heavy increasing unsprung weight. It can provide increased stopping ability in the wet and during panic situations. Riders should remember that ABS on most bikes does not work in corners and can be defeated. The efficiency of ABS systems is increasing and the variety of bikes it is available on is growing. The ability of ABS to respond “instantly” to decreased traction (remember intersections) allows the rider time to evaluate, or negotiate through a hazard while stopping. The attention of a rider normally being used to maximum brake a motorcycle can partially be used for evasion tactics.

There is no better way to learn maximum braking than formal education. All of the professional race schools, and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation teach basic to advanced braking skills. The public roads are not the place to practice this risky venture. If at all possible take a MSF course or some other form of training.

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