Very clever, but not the best way to stop
As the last article on Cornering seemed to be well recieved by the readership time now to cover
Braking and see what happens as we move from regular slowing and stopping to blind panic chaos
when the unexpected occurs.
I think I can safely assume that ALL of us who enjoy 2 wheels either for sport or pleasure have at
some time had a “braking incident” and as we go through the paragraphs I may well throw a few of
my braking anecdotes in for amusement value.
Starting with something that is all power and NO brakes we have the Speedway motorcycle that was
highly popular in the UK both pre and post war even rivaling football as the No1 spectator sport during
its big hey days.
No gears or left footrest, no suspension …. and NO Brakes !!
A quick look at a speedway bike shows No brakes, no gears, and only a single right side footrest.
These single geared machines can hit 60-80 on the straights and their only form of stopping is
engine braking, or compression, and finally either lay it down or both feet !
Like NASCAR we only go LEFT
What we would now consider vintage iron or the Brit bikes of the 50’s and 60’s all had drum brakes
and the rear brake pedal on the LEFT. These brakes, for the sake of better name, were not good and especially on my Bonneville would fade with alarming consequences.
Happy memories of the Bonneville in my colors…… not so happy mems
of the “fading” brakes !!!
With the flooding of the market with Jap bikes in the 60’s and 70’s and the decline of the British
motorcycle industry we now found our oriental friends had moved the rear brake pedal on to the right
side. I can remember taking a Yam on a test ride and having to perform a quick stop when a
pedestrian stepped in front of me…….. the standard reaction of applying front and rear was intuitive
but the screaming from the engine and sideways wheel hopping as the transmission was plunged
from 4th almost directly into 1st was quite alarming to yours truly!
From about 1975 even our Spanish Trials bikes finally changed over to right hand rear brakes and
since then brakes have been universally accepted that its all on the RIGHT…….. funny that our nearest species, the bicycle, has them in the other hands ?
Evolving from the drum to the disc we also see the introduction of the hydraulic reservoir on the
handlebars and the arrival of the multi position lever.
As nearly all the weight of a bike and its load are behind the front wheel the machine is designed to
have about 70% of its stopping power delivered from the front brake and the last 30% coming from
the rear as its behind all that weight and a bit like the bolting horse and the closing of the stable door.
A quick look at my Rothmans 929RR shows the differences of the amount of braking available.
The 70/30 disc ratio. When braking one of these quickly from high speed
keep your arms straight and avoid the rear wheel lifting, so ease off on
the front when you can
Now consider this……… think of our braking ritual as a wheelbarrow!…… all of our load is behind the
one and only wheel and if the tire is anything other than at the correct pressure it will be difficult to
push as the softer, or flat tire creates a bigger contact patch, more traction or friction. To get an idea
of how this is for a rear wheel turn round and now drag the same load and you will find it a lot easier.
“A Barrow load of Monkeys”….with a soft tire its hard to push like our
front wheel with full braking…. turn round and pull it and you will get the
idea of what the rear wheel is providing
That hopefully explains the differences of forces and why we have the 70/30 set up to stop a
motorcycle. You may have other fancy do-dads such as Intregrated, Linked, or ABS systems fitted to
your machine but as a general rule you should ride and stop the bike using the same technique
irrespective of what is fitted.
I once had a “moment” at a set of level crossing railroad tracks on my way to school riding my Tiger
Cub. I was following a low loader which had 8 tires on the last axle and was powered by air brakes.
The noise of the air plus I could see rods actuating things fascinated me and as we crawled nearer
and nearer to the tracks at 5 mph I failed to register the last HISSSSS and now found my front wheel hopelessly jammed in amongst these giant tires. Struggle as I might I couldn’t get my wheel to budge
and when the gates opened and everybody set off I was forced to watch my bike ascend into the
heavens until the sump shield hit the tires and my front wheel came free with the bike in the near
vertical. The dumbness of youth!!
During the MSF Basic Rider Course the students are told to brake using all four fingers of the right
hand and only later if they come back for further courses do we go into 3 and 2 finger braking.
Valentino is a 3 finger man!
4 finger braking as taught on the MSF Basic Rider Course
We also try to get away from the “truck driver boot” operating the rear brake but sometimes this isn’t
easy if the student comes armed with some hideous deep sea diver’s boot he has just picked up from
his Hardley Ableson dealer!
The students don’t usually have too much of a problem with the early braking exercises simulating a
set of traffic lights and a mandatory stop. The exercise and procedure is always the same, 15-20 mph
in second gear. As you pass the first set of cones, clutch, downshift, and BOTH brakes coming to a
stop at the second set of cones.
A demo for the students on the Braking Chute
Now we move onto Stopping Quickly, rather than call it emergency braking, and nothing really
changes in terms of the technique other than to explain the shortest stop is achieved using maximum braking from both wheels without locking up either. Should you lock a rear wheel then ride it out. If you
are unlucky to lock the front wheel release immediately. Nice idea, but experience would say
otherwise as people who grab at the front brake tend to continue with this vise like grip all the way into
the low side crash. Perhaps the best way to explain the “how to” is to remember the person who
shook your hand and then went on to squeeze your fingers until they hurt. Yes, its purely progressive
and can be increased as you feel the bike begining to slow down. Another way to practice this is to
take an orange and progressively squeeze it until it bursts!
The errors witnessed in this exercise are worth passing on as many are a direct result of not having
the bike set up for YOU. Your controls of brake and clutch should be an extension of your forearms
and your handlebars should be set in a position where your shoulder blades are still in their sockets.
Levers should be appropriate for the span of your hand and on many machines are simply adjusted
to put them comfortably within reach, or you can buy aftermarket styles of doglegs to bring them closer
to the bars. Looking at many members of “that” fraternity I can only assume they never changed
anything on their badly assembled ergonomic slums as they all have trouble reaching the bars and
those absurb forward controls…… but I guess they are happy as they are now BIKERS!!
Sorry, but the posture is ALL wrong! Your back is arched, the controls
are too far forward and all the body weight is going through the tail bone
on the less than comfortable seat
“We don’t go fast enough to need a helmet” What I want to know is how
do you do a slow speed turn if your arms are already at max extension ?
Better built from Japan, but still an ergonomic slum !
While on the subject of Milwaukee Madness another of my pet hates are highway pegs which I
honestly believe should be outlawed, banned and even subject to a citation and large fine for anyone
found using them. Imagine what would happen if you had your car on cruise control and both feet out
of the windows? Sounds ridiculous but its no different than riding a bike with your legs straight and
set out 3 feet apart…… and nowhere near two of your primary controls namely, the rear brake and the shifter!!!!…….. and please don’t tell me that in an emergency you can get your feet back on the correct
pegs and controls in time to avoid the upcoming accident. Sorry boys but these things are BLOODY Dangerous!
NO, NO, a thousand times NO !!!!
Back to some of those common errors the first one is as the student attempts to squeeze the front
brake he opens the throttle. This can be caused by several things but before we cover them while you
are reading this try the following…… stretch out your right arm and imagine you are holding the
twistgrip and now squeeze the imaginary front brake with all four fingers and note what happens. As
the tendons in the back of your hand contract your hand rotates up and back and your thumb moves involuntarily to the right. The same will be true if the lever is positioned too low and the student has
to reach down for it and also someone with a small span may find they too open the throttle when
they get to their best leverage. The first correction is relocating the position of the lever and phase two
for the smaller hand will be a different style of lever.
You can imagine this type of incident can often result in dire consequences especially if the
student panics and releases the clutch ! More often than not the sweat soaked glove can be
repostioned on the grip, the lever can be repositioned, and the reach and squeeze portion can be
slowed down and the student rebriefed that distance is NOT the objective but merely the technique.
Of course despite all the briefings we DO see the GRAB with its resultant low side crash, plenty of
locked rear wheels and many forgetting the downshift completely. We DO stress that just like getting
to Carnegie Hall the only way to get this discipline down to instinctive is, after graduating the course,
spend several hours practicing this aspect in empty parking lots on a Sunday morning.
Following on from all this I advise the 2 finger braking for the following reasons;
1. With 2 finger braking the remaining fingers and thumb can hold the throttle steady thereby
preventing the palm and tendons opening the throttle.
2. The use of 2 fingers rather than 4 allows more finesse and in the event of locking the front you
are more likely to be able to release the pressure.
2 fingers to brake, 2 fingers and thumb to maintain throttle control
On the Advanced Rider and Experienced Rider courses we do see these problems manifest
themselves again as more often than not Experienced riders don’t get into situations where hard
braking is required and are therefore not used to operating the controls for maximum braking and
often have to be “reschooled” in the art or introduced to 2 finger braking if they have never used it in
Finally we cover braking quickly in a turn and here the golden rule for the novice is quite clear DON’T !
The first thing to do is stop the turn, easily done from our premise of “the bike goes where you look”
so stop looking through the turn, look at something ahead with vertical extent and with the bike
upright and handlebars square complete the drill in a straight line.
Should you be forced to swerve then do NOT touch the brakes under any circumstances during the
swerve or you will have a meeting of the asphalt kind ! The reason for this is as you change directions
the forks will extend as the weight lightens but….. if there is any braking pressure applied while the
forks are extended on the recompression as the second direction is required the wheel will lock and
slide away into another low side crash.
…..and now for TONY’S TIP……….
If you find yourself constantly having to “reset” going around a bend on your bike or you are driving
in a car with someone who is forever turning the steering wheel like a 1940’s movie here is a way to
correct both. Find a road with some suitable sweeping bends and first drive through them with your
hands in the 10 to 2 position with your thumbs extended. Look about 20 feet ahead of the hood and
see what happens…. Your eyes will take in the road center line and edge markings and because our
brain (the computer) has no other information it will continually be feeding input commands to your
hands to position the car equidistantly between the two lines…. this will make for a very rough drive
for you and your passenger. Now drive the same bends at the same speed only this time trying to
keep your eyes on the horizon …….. note what your thumbs are doing in your peripheral vision and
you will see they hardly move and everything is much smoother.
For the Trials riding fraternity most of our braking is under the watchful eye of the checker or observer
and two different techniques are used between modern and vintage trials. All modern day trials
machines have hydraulic brakes and clutches and are designed to be ridden using a single digit on
each control. Modern day rules permit a “Stop” in balance without loss of marks so in sections where
a turn is so tight it cannot be ridden in a single flowing manoeuvre the advanced skill of a “nose
wheelie” followed by flicking the rear end onto the new line is now an essential skill.
1 finger brake and clutch operation into a nose stoppie and this Expert
rider can now flick the rear round onto his desired line
With a Vintage machine of the 60’s which has drum brakes and may well be 100 lbs heavier this is
not normally an option as our rules are “no stop”. We are looking for finessed braking on treacherous
terrain using engine braking through our huge flywheels, sometimes a decompressor to stop the
rear wheel locking and stalling the motor, and 2 finger braking on the front to ensure forward
movement, albeit at ultra slow speeds.
Steep and treacherous, 3 finger braking releasing to 2 for the slippery
pine needles…… and no clutch
Engine braking finessed with 2 finger front only on this steep but grippy
………and what went wrong here? was there any way to prevent this? ……. offer your opinions and I’ll
give you my views.
Motorcycling spoken here