This is the first installment of the “How Not to Suck” Series. I wanted to start the series with braking, because people seem to really suck at this important skill.
You are riding along “minding your own business” when a car suddenly pulls out in front of you. You grab a handful of front brake and stomp on the rear brake. What results is a fishtailing motorcycle followed by a cacophony of squealing rubber and grinding metal and plastic on asphalt.
The typical response from the rider after such a mishap is:
- “There was nothing I could do! He came out of no where”
- “I slammed on the brakes and laid ‘er down”
Where You Went Wrong
You applied too much brake pressure for the conditions. This caused you to skid out of control. The best riders know how much brake force they can apply without skidding. They do this by recognizing the quality of the road surface and determine the quantity of available traction. They still stop quickly, but they do so without skidding and losing control.
Prevention is Key
The trick to minimizing the likelihood of a crash caused by poor braking skills is to not put yourself in an emergency position in the first place. I know crap happens and some things just cannot be avoided. But, guess what? MOST close calls and crashes can be avoided. How do you do this, you ask?
First, you must have really strong strategies for anticipating hazards before they become a close call or crash. This takes developing a sixth sense about your surroundings and having excellent situational awareness.
Next is to recognize when traction is limited and know how much brake pressure you can introduce without skidding. To do this, you must develop a keen traction sense that tells you how much brake (or turning) force is available. This comes from experience and practice (Like riding in dirt, for instance).
Now is the best time to mention ABS. None of my current bikes have ABS, but I’m a big fan. Why not have a backup system in place to kick in if you don’t evaluate the conditions perfectly? Seems like a good idea to me.
Even with great strategies and skills things still happen even to the best riders. So what if you do panic and overbrake?
OK, I Screwed Up, Now What?
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has taught students for years to “keep a rear skid locked” to prevent a possible high side crash.This can occur if you release the rear brake while the rear tire is out of line with the front tire. When the rear tire regains grip, it can snap immediately in line with the front tire. If this happens abruptly, you could get launched into the weeds over the high side of the bike. Ouch!
I just learned that the newest MSF curriculum mentions being able to release the rear brake “if the rear wheel is nearly in line with the front”. I’m glad they include this in the Student Workbook because it is more practical advice, but requires good judgment and timing (or luck).
How to Stop Correctly
For normal stops, use both brakes with the correct amount of pressure for your immediate needs. Oftentimes, people rely solely on engine braking for slowing. This is fine for many situations, but engine braking is not a great tool for reducing speed when precision matters, like when managing speed on a sharp, downhill hairpin turn where trailbraking is the technique to use.
And to rely on engine braking exclusively will lead to weak braking skills that often contribute to unnecessary braking-related mishaps when emergency braking is required.
When you are faced with a hazard and must brake hard, you are at the greatest risk of doing it wrong. Not only will you be using maximum brake force and all available traction (which can be difficult to modulate), but your muscles will be supercharged by panic, which can easily lead to overbraking.
The key to emergency braking while staying in control is to manage available traction and to anticipate the change in available traction between front and rear tires as load shifts forward when brake force is introduced…Squeeeeeze the front brake while Easing off the rear brake. This takes practice.
How to Stop Sucking at Stopping
You will be remiss if you do not practice maximum braking techniques. Too many riders I’ve worked with have never braked hard enough to experience threshold braking. When asked to brake as hard as they can most recoil with anxiety, afraid to apply the brakes that hard (even if they have the safety of ABS).
But, what do you think you must do to avoid a deer or a Buick’s bumper? Training yourself to use your bike’s brakes fully BEFORE you need to will increase your chances of surviving.
Practice maximum emergency braking on your next ride…before you need to use it in the heat of battle. Practice in a clean parking lot (with ATGATT, please).
Brake practice is an important and responsible thing to do to make sure you’re ready for the next time you need it (which could be today). I always start the day during Personal Instruction with parking lot maneuvers that include both normal and threshold emergency braking practice. I have several braking drills described in the Riding in the Zone Book and demonstrated in the DVD.
What are your experiences with braking? Any scary moments you’d like to share? Comment below.
Check out these related posts:
- 10 things you need to know about Trailbraking
- How to Save a Front Tire Slide
- How to Develop a Traction Sense
- #1 Reason for Motorcycle Crashes in Corners