Braking 101: How to Slow Down Safely
Braking or the ability to properly slow a moving motorcycle is perhaps the most underrated and often overlooked skill by many bikers. There is nothing to be ashamed of as most of us first learned to ride a bike and then continued to ride a motorcycle, possibly without the proper guidance from a qualified motorcycle trainer.
It also means that over the years most of us may have developed bad driving habits that could be dangerous without realizing it. Some examples are putting both feet on the ground when slowing the motorcycle, or putting all your fingers on the brake and clutch lever with nothing but your thumb to grip the handlebars.
Advice from a certified coach
To learn how to properly stop a motorcycle, we turned to one of my off-road mentors, Mel Aquino, for some advice. This trainer is the director of the Mel Aquino equestrian center in Antipolo. We have already covered how some off-road driving skills can help you even on paved roads.
Understanding the motorcycle
Before going any further, it is first important to understand the critical parts of the motorcycle and how its weight can also impact handling and braking.
Use the 3 motorcycle brakes
Naturally, most of us would assume that there are only two brakes on a motorcycle: the front brake and the rear brake. After all, it’s obvious to see on every wheel.
In fact, equally important is the third brake, which is generated by the engine torque. This is commonly referred to as the engine brake. This brake is used by using the inertia of the motor to help slow the bike down. Engine braking occurs when the bicycle rolls faster than the engine revolution when in gear.
The suspension of your motorcycle also plays a crucial role in the handling and braking of your motorcycle. This usually consists of a front fork and a rear monoshock or two shocks for the rear.
The suspension plays a key role not only in absorbing bumps but also in managing the weight of the bike.
According to trainer Mel, most motorcycles will have a 50/50 weight distribution when stationary. As the rider turns the throttle and accelerates, most of the weight of the motorcycle and rider will be transferred to the rear. When applying the brakes, the weight will be shifted forward, which we call a braking dive. This phenomenon of weight shifting forward or backward along the motorcycle is called load or weight transfer.
Learn good habits
One of the most important things I learned from taking Mel Aquino’s classes, as well as from taking classes at California Superbike School (CSS), is bad riding habits to unlearn. .
These are the things we subconsciously do when riding our motorcycles, which can lead to poor braking. As we mentioned above, these drop off the two foot-meters before the motorcycle comes to a complete stop. Another is to use all your fingers when braking or clutching. Other bad habits to overcome are having or keeping your arms straight or using the passenger footrests as “back sets”. These are all examples of poor posture that can be detrimental to effective brake control.
In order to properly control the brakes and stop the motorcycle, we need to ride the motorcycle correctly, hold the handlebars and levers the right way, and put our feet on the correct footrests.
1. Use the right fingers
Coach Mel Aquino demonstrates two-finger braking (via video call interview)
Let’s start with the most critical, but also the simplest; using right fingers to pull the brake lever. This is essential because you also need your fingers to grip the handlebars.
Most of the bikers I see on the road use their middle finger and ring finger, while others use their middle finger, ring finger, and little finger. This is all wrong, according to trainer Mel and my CSS riding instructors.
The correct way is to use your index and middle fingers to brake. There are two reasons for this: 1) these fingers have enough force to pull the lever in normal and emergency braking situations and 2) it lets your ring, pinky, and thumb hold the handlebars firmly.
Why are these the wrong fingers?
In contrast, imagine using your middle and ring fingers to brake. It’s quite awkward to watch and play. Also, using the middle, ring, and pinky to brake only leaves the index and thumb to grip the handlebars, which is NOT safe.
Some may even use only one finger, such as the index or middle finger only. Some riding instructors say this is fine, but another argument is that these fingers should have the pulling power of the index and middle fingers of an average rider combined.
While it is important to brake with the right fingers, it is also important to know when to let go and to grip the handlebars with all your fingers. Always having your fingers on the brake lever or clutch even when not in use is another bad habit. A pothole or similar bump in the road could cause your fingers to inadvertently pull the brake, causing the front tire to lock up or additional braking that could cause a crash.
2. Look ahead
Many motorcyclists, for whatever reason, have this habit of looking at the brake lever, speedometer, or just the road ahead, while decelerating or braking. It’s not sure.
When slowing down to a stop, always make sure to LOOK AWAY ahead to see the vehicle or road ahead. This helps you focus further on the road, giving you more time to react to any situation. It may seem clear at times, but the next second another biker or vehicle may appear.
3. Adopt the correct driving posture
Another bad habit is bad driving posture. Some extend their arms and sit as far away as possible. Some are seated very close to the handlebars. Others are outstretched and have very stiff arms. It can be tiring and may require some pain relievers after a run.
The ideal riding posture can vary from bike to bike. Since there are different types of motorcycles, your motorcycle owner’s manual actually suggests the best riding posture when you get on your motorcycle.
As a general rule, it is ideal to have your torso straight, or even slightly leaning forward. When you reach the handlebars, bend your arms. Keep your feet on the front footrests, not the passenger footrests.
Many riders believe that the correct way to brake and slow down your motorcycle is to simply use the front brake.
“That’s what MotoGP riders do,” they say. What they forget is that motorcycles that meet MotoGP specifications have top-of-the-line braking systems (around US $ 20,000 for the caliper and discs alone) and a high level of skill acquired over the course of years of racing. Stock bikes and stock racers don’t come near.
So for the average rider Juan Dela Cruz like you and me, trainer Mel Aquino suggests we use the front and rear brakes. Since there are only two wheels that serve as the contact area between the rider and the roadway, the quickest and quickest way to stop is to use the front and rear brakes. But how?
This video shows the right, the best and the best way to stop a motorcycle
1. Release the accelerator
The first and most important step is to release the throttle. DO NOT apply the clutch. Releasing the throttle closes the intake and reduces the amount of air and fuel entering the engine. Because the engine no longer accelerates, the inertia of the engine at idle speed will allow the motorcycle to slow down. Do not apply the clutch as this will simply override the engine braking.
2. Forward then back
When you need to slow down, first apply the front and rear brakes ALMOST simultaneously, with just the right amount of pressure. This means the front is applied first to help compress the front suspension, and then less than a second later apply the rear brake. You’ll notice this compresses the front suspension (plunge brake), which means most of the weight has shifted forward.
3. Manage weight transfer
To help stabilize the bike and bring the weight back to center, trainers suggest releasing the front brake lever a few feet before coming to a full stop while maintaining pressure on the rear brake. Since the rear brake is still applied, the weight shifts rearward and compresses the rear suspension. The logic behind this is to keep the bike more balanced. It helps the front fork to decompress and reduce brake dip.
It is important to decompress the front suspension when you slow down to allow it to absorb bumps in the road and leave room for compression while steering or harder braking if needed. This style is especially useful for riders of heavy motorcycles (like a BMW GS). It helps manage massive weight transfer without overloading front wheel grip.
4. Manage your body
It should also be noted that you also need to manage your body weight. As you brake, move your body (just your torso) in the opposite direction to help compensate for the weight transfer during acceleration or deceleration. Some people naturally move their bodies forward during acceleration. When braking, it is important to do this too. Raise your torso and stretch your arms slightly to move your body backwards during deceleration. This puts less pressure and weight on the front.
If you are riding a standard motorcycle with a front tank, it might also grab the fuel tank with your legs. This gives you extra leverage to stop sliding forward and moving your torso upwards.
5. Stop driving
As demonstrated in the above video from MCrider.com, keep your foot on the rear brake when fully stopped. Support the bike with your left foot. This acts like a car’s handbrake and prevents the motorcycle from rolling, especially on slopes.
This is our little guide on how to properly use the brakes. It may sound quite complicated, but with practice you will quickly understand and find out just how much more control you have on the bike. When you practice braking, start slowly, give yourself plenty of room, and slow down slowly. As you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to complete these steps faster and handle braking over shorter and shorter distances.