This month we look at braking procedures without breaking you or your bike
space-restricted conditions will give you the confidence to handle the challenges properly without risk to your own or anyone else’s safety.
Doing a u-turn on a motorcycle is part balance, and part power. To get the perfect blend of both, three very basic, simple techniques apply to manoeuvring your bike at slow speeds: Balance, clutch control and rear braking.
PART 1 – PREPARATION & BALANCE
Weight Out – Look in
You may also find it useful to shift your weight to the outside edge of your seat, especially if you have a sportsbike with limited steering lock or a long wheelbase cruiser bike. This counterbalancing technique will help you turn the bike in a tighter line.
Look Where You Want To Go
It’s a well-documented fact that where you look is where you and your bike will go.
With your eyes fixed on your exit point, turn the handlebars and keep your body upright. Let only the bike lean into the turn, and apply pressure to the outside footpeg to counterbalance the lean of the bike.
Keep your line of vision going through the turn. If the bike starts heading towards the kerb and everything else is in check, it probably means you’re not looking where you want to go. A mere glance at the kerb is enough to throw you off course.
PART 2 – CLUTCH CONTROL
Throttle & Clutch
From stationary, disengage the clutch just enough to find the friction point – where it starts to “grab”. That is when your bike just starts
to move forward, where you are “slipping” the clutch, i.e. it is not yet fully released.
Slipping The Clutch
Set the clutch at this point so the bike is just moving forward. Use enough throttle to ensure the engine doesn’t stall – it’s the clutch that controls your forward momentum at this stage, not the throttle.
PART 3 – REAR BRAKE
Tug o’ War
Because some bikes don’t have enough feel or progressiveness in their clutch, using the rear brake to help control the power assists the throttle/ clutch manipulation in maintaining smooth power to the rear wheel.
Don’t drag your feet, because that will compromise the balance of the bike. It’s a natural tendency to throw a leg out for stabilisation when making a slow turn, but the bike will only be balanced properly when your feet are on the pegs. Practice a wider arc first, then tighten it as your confidence grows
All Together Now
With the clutch and throttle set, apply the rear brake to slow the bike down further or you can dab the brake on and off. Gentle dragging of the rear brake creates stability, enabling better control while you’re manoeuvring your bike through the turn. Aim to create a slight tug-of-war between your rear brake and your engine to stabilise the bike. Keep in mind that the speed you’re travelling at should be the speed you’ll maintain through your turn.
Loose Surfaces & Confined Spaces
Where there isn’t room to do one clean arc or there is loose gravel, use your inside leg to avoid the front tucking. This will make your turning circle greater than counter-leaning but will save cost and embarrassment in awkward situations.
Leave the front brake alone Avoid using the front brake during u-turns. Applying the front brake at slow speeds with the bars turned even slightly will pull the bike to the ground like a magnet.
Like most riding skills, braking is a learned process, not a natural one. Research shows that nearly a third of all riders don’t even apply the brakes in an accident situation, generally because panic overrides conscious reactions, hardly an ideal result. Therefore it pays to find and understand the limits of your tyres, your brakes and your bike. With practice, the correct braking skills will become an instinctive reaction so you will automatically follow the correct procedure in an emergency and be less likely to make a mistake.
When you ‘roll off the throttle’ and apply the brakes, most of the bike’s moving weight immediately transfers to the front of the bike. The weight transfer that takes place under braking on a motorcycle pushes the front wheel into the road, improving traction.
Research also shows that the average rider can only properly concentrate on the use of one brake in an emergency, so concentrating on getting the best out of one brake (the front) is the safest way to go to start with, and you can add the rear brake as skills improve.
This is the brake to concentrate on in an emergency because it provides around 80% of the stopping power (more with sportsbikes and a little less with cruisers). If you get the front brake action wrong, lock it up and don’t correct that problem, then a crash is usually inevitable. The bike’s front wheel will only skid uncontrollably and bring you down if you pull the lever too hard or too suddenly. Applying lever pressure in a staged (progressive) process makes the machine a lot more controllable.
Note: With most of the weight being on the front wheel, the rear wheel tends to be light under braking and will therefore lock up and skid very easily.
TWO-FINGER FRONT BRAKING
Using just your index and middle fingers on the front brake will give you good control. It takes a bit to master but you’ll be surprised at how effectively it works: when rolling off the throttle, lock it off, using your thumb, ring and little finger. This leaves your index and middle fingers free to slide onto the front brake. It has the effect of ensuring that you can’t accelerate and brake at the same time.
This technique enables you to regulate your braking smoother, and there is less chance of grabbing a big handful and causing the brakes to lock up. It gives you a strong but tactile hold on the handlebars, unlike when the whole hand is deployed. It also allows you to cover the front brake whilst still using the throttle when you’re in situations where you need to apply your brake quickly, e.g. in high traffic areas.
Engage the front brake lever gently until the pressure comes on, then squeeze it harder for progressive braking. When braking, squeeze your knees together.
BRAKING WHILE CORNERING
If you need to slow down mid-corner, use rear brake rather than the front. Using the front will make the bike want to stand up, or worse, tuck the front under. Once remedied, have a quick word to yourself because you did something wrong in the execution of that corner. Motorcycles can brake harder while upright, so when braking, try to complete it before the corner to allow maximum gripping the tank to keep your body stable with your weight driving the tyre into the road rather than trying to rotate around the axle via the handlebars. This will also take some weight off your wrists, allowing you to retain feel and control.
Note: if you find that your brake lever comes in too close to the handlebars and your fingers, adjust it. If your lever still comes in too close to the handlebars, your brakes may need servicing.
Using the rear brake only will produce an impressive skid but you’ll carry on into the crash braking with minimum risk.
You only need to engage a small amount of rear brake (often just backing off the throttle will do) to start the process of shifting the weight from the rear to the front wheel. This will cause the suspension to compress, the front wheel will be gripping at its best, and these factors will stabilise the bike. Gentle and smooth are the two key things to remember to avoid lockup. Release any locking brake immediately and then re-apply.
With cruisers, the rear has more weight on it, giving it a bigger role to play in normal braking situations,
hence the large rear pedal many have. It is still not your primary brake, particularly under hard braking but it is more effective than a sportsbike’s which will often have the rear wheel only just on the ground (if at all) under hard braking. Again, practice will enable you to gain confidence when using this brake, as an assistant to the front, which is the more effective brake.
Here you will need to use both brakes for the maximum stopping capacity on all but the sporty models. Apply the front first, and then add gentle rear brake to suit your particular bike.
Find a back road or an empty parking lot with no hazards or traffic around. Pick a spot to use as the braking marker, approaching at around 40km then apply the front brake gently to start, using more lever pressure as the bike starts to slow. Do the same with the rear brake so you have a good understanding about the stopping capacity with each brake without locking up either wheel, this will show conclusively why you need to be comfortable with the front brake. Gradually increase the speed for these exercises when you’re ready.