Braking Technique - Balanced Braking

Braking is probably the most important of all streetbike skills, which explains why we get so many questions on the subject. Here are common questions: Is it OK to use only the front brake? Are there times when it's better to use only the rear? Isn't a combination of the two better overall?

The answers, of course, depend entirely on the situation. For most riders on most roads, a combination of front and rear brake is arguably the most efficient scenario. Although the front brake offers the most stopping power, using the front and rear in tandem in the right amounts usually results in a shorter, more controlled stop than simply using the front brake alone. We're talking basic braking here-on surface streets, on the freeway, in parking lots-wherever unusual speed, surface or traffic situations aren't present.

Generally, the speed of the bike determines the ideal front/rear braking-force ratio. At slower speeds, say, between a parking-lot pace and a typical surface-street speed of 35 mph, the breakdown is more evenly split; a 50/50 front/rear mix will likely work well here. But as speeds increase the braking emphasis needs to move forward. At 45 mph, for instance, you'll want to back off the rear brake somewhat, maybe go with a 60/40 front/rear ratio. At 60 mph, the split needs to move forward yet again; a 70/30 or even 80/20 ratio will be better. The higher the speed, the more important practiced and proficient use of the front brake becomes.

In a higher-speed, street environment (or on the racetrack), using only the front brake is perfectly fine (just be on the lookout for more radical frontward pitching, and maybe a bit less overall stability). After all, aggressive front braking renders the rear wheel nearly weightless, which makes use of the rear brake a tricky affair; using only the front binder takes that problematic variable out of the equation. Many expert riders tell us that ignoring the rear brake means there's one less thing they have to think about. Bottom line? You've gotta be really good to use both brakes at serious speeds.

There are times where it's best to use only the rear brake; slow-speed situations, mostly, such as gravelly parking lots and those times when you need to execute a U-turn in a tight space.

As always, lots of practice is the key to getting the best possible grip on your braking technique-and that means lots of riding. Who would've thought practice could be so much fun?