Safety Feature written for Countyline Publications and printed in Wisconsin and Illinois Biker Information Guide – third quarter 2010 Robert Shelton, Instructor Woodstock Harley Riding School Summer has arrived!  One of the skills that I think is taken for granted is stopping.   My friend how well can you stop your bike?  If you were put in the situation that you needed to stop and stop quickly……. Could you?  The difference between skillfully braking to stop quickly and poorly stopping could very well be the difference of returning home safely rather than running into something or someone.   All the braking that I will discuss here is straight line braking.  The braking discussed here is not intended nor should ever be used in curves.  Braking in a curve is a different skill and I will save for another time. The principles of proper skillful braking are simple.  Your front brake provides the maximum percentage of stopping power with a small percentage on the rear.  This is, depending on what book or whose organization you’re looking at, 70% front 30% rear all the way to 90% front 10% rear.    It fascinates me as to how they measure this.  The point is that your real stopping power comes from the front.  When I am out on the road, I don’t think about percentages, I rely on feel and technique.   I practice maximum braking when I am out cruising.  I absolutely want to know what it takes to bring my bike down to a complete stop not only from 30mph or 40mph in traffic but also at 60mph and/or 70mph (where speed limit permits) out on a back road.  And yes, I practice bringing my bike to a stop.  It has paid off in several instances, especially in local and city traffic. The key to maximum braking is a 4 step process whereby steps 1 and 2 are done almost at the same time:
  • Clutch in
  • Squeeze the front brake
  • Lightly apply the rear brake
  • Down shift
The Clutch comes in to remove the forward drive momentum.  You squeeze the front brake to begin the braking process by loading the front suspension with down force which also causes maximum tire footprint on the ground.  Applying a light bit of pressure on the rear brake levels the bike and increases the stopping force.   The key here is squeezing the front brake.  You always want to squeeze.  Once you start to squeeze, you can keep squeezing to a very firm squeezing of the front brake without any worry of the front tire locking.   You never want to grab or jerk the front brake.  That is where inexperience and lack of practice show in a hurry.  You can be quick and fast to apply the front brake but always, always, always squeeze it.  You need to downshift because if you don’t  you will be in too large of a gear to get the bike moving if needed and the engine will bog and chug.  This requires practice, practice and further practice. Here is an important note.  If your front tire locks, let off the brake to resume friction and control.   If your rear wheel locks, keep it locked until you come to a stop.  If you let off your rear brake and resume friction you risk being high sided from your bike.   A typical example of on the road practice for me is when I am coming to traffic lights.  There is that point when the light turns yellow and most individuals don’t want to stop and they hit the gas to get through the light.  I most often will apply my braking and stop the bike.   I have done this so often through practice that I am very aware of my ability to stop my bike.  Never, my friend, become complacent with your skills.  Always practice, practice, and further practice. Until next time, only you can determine how good you want to be.