TIPS FOR BECOMING A BETTER RIDER
By Gigi Pridmore
“Anyone can make it go, but you have to know how to make it stop”. That was one of the first things I was told when I was learning to ride a motorcycle. Actually, braking is so important, it’s the only “drill” we do at a standard CLASS school.
When we teach braking at CLASS, we don’t teach riders to use both front and rear brakes every time. In fact, we begin by telling them they need to really know how well their front brake can do the job — without the rear. Since most of the stopping power for a motorcycle is in the front, and when momentum is slowing the rear gets lighter, for most riders on most bikes, the front is the one to use. And even if you’re not getting the rear wheel off the ground like Marc Marquez, once the rear wheel is light under the momentum shift, it locks up very easily.
There are exceptions like heavy tourers or cruisers with bags and a passenger weighting the rear wheel. Then the rear brake is used very well in conjunction with the front to slow and stop you most effectively in a straight up situation. But if you’re riding a sport bike or even loads of sport tourers, front brakes are the key to a great stop.
One of the main reasons we like to see people off the habitual rear brake is that if it’s an “automatic” reaction to a panic situation, locking up the rear brake can cause you to crash, especially if you’re leaned over. You have a lot of power in your right leg and hitting that brake lever hard with an adrenaline rush (like you might in a car) is just not effective at stopping the motorcycle. It’s effective at locking up the wheel and you slide.
Roll and Squeeze (not Grab and Stab)
We do a braking drill at CLASS that helps riders get more fully acquainted with their brakes. It’s not a true ‘panic stop’, because we don’t want them to find the edge during the drill. But we try to get them to brake harder than they are used to braking. It’s usually done in a hot pit or paddock type of area where we get them to accelerate at a good clip (first gear) towards the observing instructor. At the final cone, they are to roll off the throttle and smoothly squeeze the front brake, coming to a stop while leaving the clutch out until they are just about to put their foot down. Come quickly to a stop, but so smoothly that if there were a full glass of beer on your tank, you wouldn’t lose a drop. If you’re able to control the dive with braking smoothness, you’ll find it much easier to use your brakes in any situation, including in a curve. And if you know what you’re looking for and how to critique yourself, it’s something you can and should do on a regular basis as a refresher.
Did you notice I said leave the clutch out til the end? The habit of pulling brake and clutch in at the same time is a mindless habit for some riders. If that’s you, I hope you’ll work hard on breaking the bad habit. You want to leave the clutch out until the stop so that the engine braking continues – pulling your clutch in early allows the bike to freewheel, thus needing more brake.
I have heard riders say they are concerned about locking the front wheel using the brake. This is another reason for practicing hard braking while you’re straight up and down. It helps you get to know what you and the bike are capable of. Years ago I went through (CLASS instructor Phil Smith) Phil’s braking line and smoothly came to a stop using my front brake. Quite proud I was of myself until Phil asked me “what percentage of your brake do you think you’re using?” I thought about it and answered “maybe 20%”. He explained to me that 100% would be the max limit before the front wheel locked up. It made me really think about how much braking is available if I just learn to use it better. Under normal riding circumstances it’s quite possible we could go hundreds, maybe thousands of miles without needing to brake very hard. If that’s not something we have practiced, we may fail the test if necessity reared it’s ugly head. We need to make it second nature, like brushing your teeth or walking and chewing gum.
Do you ever use the rear brake? Sure, in fact during the drill we also have them use rear brake only and then front and rear together. The point is for riders to get to know each one individually as well as together. There’s a time and a place for rear brakes, including lightly stabilizing the bike with a sort of anchor effect in hard upright braking situations. And always apply the front before the rear. We want riders to understand how to be most effective at making the motorcycle slow or stop and do what you want or need it to do. Don’t continue just keeping that rear brake pedal under your toe as a matter of habit to be pressed automatically in every braking situation, including in the turns. If perching your foot over the rear brake at all times is a habit, I would suggest you make a new habit and keep your feet back with the ball of your foot resting on the peg, free of the brake lever. Use it only on purpose and when the situation warrants. There are other reasons for being on the balls of your feet as well but we won’t go into that in this article.
What about ABS? This time the drill was to come to a stop from about 25 mph using just the rear brake. I watched the rider in Gary’s lane next to me as his ABS rear wheel locked, the bike slid, the wheel rolled, the bike slid, the wheel rolled — Even with ABS the rear brake was doing a very poor job of getting the motorcycle stopped. It was in a straight line and eventually he stopped, but it was a vivid demo to me why, even with ABS, riders should be very aware of the limits of the rear brake and never use it in any sort of panic action — especially when leaned over. Remember the front brake is where the stopping power lies — and don’t allow ABS to be an excuse for never learning good braking technique. It’s up to you to keep yourself safe.
We talked about downshifting in a previous post so I haven’t mentioned it here. But keep in mind that in addition to brakes, downshifting is very instrumental in getting the motorcycle slowed down through engine braking. Using downshifting in conjunction with braking whenever possible is the best way to have solid control and get slowed down.
Like tools in the toolbox. If you’re upright (no lean angle), maybe on that big tourer or cruiser like I mentioned before, and you’re using max front along with some rear – in thoughtful measure, I’ll leave you alone about using your rear brake. But knowing how to smoothly apply and really use the front brake in any situation, including trail braking into a turn, is an excellent skill to have. Not just another tool in the toolbox, but maybe the most important one. Because anyone can make it go, but you have to know how to make it stop.
Cheers for now,
Come out and work on all aspects of your riding with CLASS! We have a fantastic 2018 season planned, including an All Women’s CLASS, Motor Officers, D-Days and of course our highly acclaimed CLASS standard schools for all types of street and track riders. Learn more and register at classrides.com. We hope to see you at the track!