Brake Check: Tips On How To Avoid Crashing

How will YOU handle an emergency braking situation?

If a car suddenly turns left across your bow, will you be able to stop in time? If you’re a rider with average skills, the answer is most likely “no.”

When faced with an imminent threat, we tend to freeze in our tracks as every byte of brain bandwidth is used to grasp what’s going on. After critical moments pass, we finally realize that we must get this motorcycle stopped—now! Unfortunately, our primitive survival instincts are not very refined, so we tend to stab, grab, and stomp on the brakes. The problem is that abrupt, panic-fueled braking often leads to the sound of smashing plastic and metal.

While it’s important to get your brake pads in contact with the rotors as quickly as possible, it’s equally important to introduce this brake force progressively. Otherwise, you risk skidding and falling. The combined weight of bike and rider shifts forward under braking, which presses the front tire into the pavement for maximum grip and stopping power. Without this load transfer, the front tire can easily skid. Squeezing, not grabbing, the front brake allows time for this weight shift to occur and the front tire to bite the pavement hard.

Knowing about managing traction while braking is important, but will you be able to apply this knowledge in the heat of battle? Do you think you can apply maximum brake force while staring at a Buick’s bumper? Most riders assume (or hope) they have the chops to pull off an emergency stop. But unless they have the training, they will likely fail. Are you any different?

Practicing correct emergency braking technique has three purposes: 1) Experience what extreme braking feels like. 2) Learn to apply the brakes to their maximum potential without losing traction. 3) Engrain this technique in your mind and muscles so you will perform correctly even in desperate conditions. In other words, you must train so your survival instincts don’t kill you.

Just because your bike has ABS doesn’t mean you’re excused from practice!

Here’s what you do: Find a clean parking lot where you can safely accelerate up to about 20 mph. Apply both brakes (yes, both brakes) firmly without grabbing or stomping. Apply more front brake-lever pressure as you slow; squeeze then squeeze more. You’ll feel your eyeballs press forward in your skull when you get it right. If you skid the front tire, ease lever pressure immediately. If you skid the rear tire, you can release it if you’re more or less upright. Use a bit less rear-brake pressure next time. Rinse and repeat until the act of emergency braking is engrained and second nature.

Many sportbike riders discover that it’s easy to skid the rear tire on their short-wheelbase machines, so they choose to avoid the rear brake. But the rear brake provides a useful amount of brake force and also increases chassis stability. The trick to preventing a rear-tire skid is to gradually release pressure as the load pitches forward. On the racetrack, extreme braking force and forward load transfer unloads the rear tire enough to make the rear brake ineffective, which is why most racers and trackday riders don’t use the rear brake.

With all this talk about skidding tires, what about ABS? Just because your bike has ABS doesn’t mean you’re excused from practice! Yes, antilock braking systems can help maintain control and virtually eliminate the risk of skidding, but they don’t apply the brakes for you. That’s why you need to practice because a surprising number of riders whose machines have ABS still fail to use their brakes hard enough to avoid a collision.

Since the need to use emergency-braking techniques is relatively rare, most riders aren’t very good at it. Regular parking-lot practice will help you master the emergency-braking technique and provide you the opportunity to discover your bike’s full braking potential. You’ll soon become better prepared to unleash the awesome braking power available to you.

Next month, we’ll talk about advanced corner-braking techniques.