Emergency Braking Subscribe Pub

Note this is a road bike topic, not enduro

A friend asked me recently what he should practice most, since he is new to motorcycles and it’s also the start of a new season.

The first things that popped into my mind were emergency braking and counter-steering, since these are the two things likely to save you or screw you. I always practice these two at the beginning of a season and also during…

Find a clear and clean road (large parking lot will do). Make sure you read ALL the following before you try.

Go up to 60-80 km/h and then hit the brakes as if a moose jumped in front of you and you wished you stopped yesterday. Find some reference point so you can track your progress and learn the distances.

Do it progressively, harder and harder, until you get used to it and correct application becomes a reflex. The last part is the point of practicing it: you want this to become a reflex during emergency situations. You want to Blink It++.

Here’s the complication: you don’t just hit the brakes as hard as you can right away, because you will lock the front and promptly meet the asphalt. You will squeeze that lever progressively and keep squeezing harder only after the weight has shifted forward – you will feel it when that happens. When the weight has transferred forward, you can apply more pressure on the lever without locking up the front.

Don’t use more than 2 fingers for the lever (this is true for most sport bikes…I don’t know about other models, but with practice you’ll surely find out).

Remember you don’t have ABS so you always squeeze the lever progressively, leaving enough time for the weight to shift forward and traction to build up.

This is really important. A lot of riders, from what I’ve read, they panic, lockup the front wheel and hit exactly what they were trying to avoid. OR they're afraid of the thing and don't use the front brakes nearly enough.

Rear brakes

The rear brakes: you can use them, but remember that after the weight has shifted forward you’ve got something like 20-40 kg on the rear wheel, meaning it will lock-up very easily. This was one of the hardest things to learn for me (ode to those who “dump” their bikes): our cars created a reflex to step on the brakes hard…in this case, the pedal activates the rear brakes, though and you’ll go down fast if you do that.

Remember those crazies pulling stoppies: they brake so hard that the rear wheel is lifted off the ground – thus it can’t help your stopping even if it wanted to. The one good thing it does can be felt on the track: it will calm the bike in fast turns, since it will stretch the bike, pre-compress the suspension etc…but that’s a long way down in the list of things to learn.

Locking the wheels

If you lock up the rear, just keep it locked…until the bike stops. Don’t release the pedal – that will cause a high-side at high speeds and a serious jolt at low speeds, which may result in the otherwise lucky you loosing control. It’s best to just leave it locked as is, do not release the pedal and control the skid until the bike stops…it is easier than it sounds!

I used to practice locking the rear in a parking lot covered in sand, from 40-60 km/h, but it’s something you may want to try after at least one full season. Or - even better - get on a friend’s dirt bike and try it.

If the front will lockup, you’re fresh out of luck: you’ll go down 4:1. Your only choice is to release the brakes ASAP a bit and hope it won’t go down. If you react fast, chances are you’ll be able to control it, but the faster you were going, the harder it is to recover.

The rear brakes are important on muddy roads, wet pavement, oil stains, sand, dirt, sweat, blood or snow. You want to use the rear brakes more in that case because it’s easier if you lockup the rear.


While braking, you must change gears as well. When stopped you’re ideally in 1st and looking back just in time to see that moronic SUV driver about to hit you. A bike will stop maybe twice as fast as a car. There's debates about this but tests show it only increases braking distance by 5% (43m instead of 41m). I prefer to have sufficient torque when i can use it rather than save 2m off 40m. In the end, whether you'll want to use it when braking to save your life doesn't change the fact that you should practice it.

To change the gears, just pull in the clutch and keep changing one by one until it stops. I used to count in the beginning and I generally knew my gear and knew how many times I should do it. Still, I often pushed it once more, just to make sure it’s in first. After all, that’s why the 1st is the last one.

Other stuff

Other stuff you will notice and learn is to brace for the shifting of the weight. You may not even notice it as a separate step.

Another thing I would focus on is: keep looking forward. Not just in front of the bike, but 12 seconds ahead as usual. In a real emergency, you'd be planning your escape.


Emergency braking is a really important reflex when riding motorcycles, because it’s more complicated and small mistakes turn into big ones really fast. In a car, you just nail the pedal and wait…

Again, about that brake lever: you are always smooth with the squeezing of the thing. They kept telling me to think of squeezing an orange: progressive and nice. If you’re rough with it, you’ll go down.


There are some things you should know:

  • if your bike has ABS – well, you can relax a bit
  • if your bike’s brakes are linked – you would know it
  • make sure it's a clean road - you don't want to deal with lockups just yet

Further reading:

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By: Razie | 2012-09-12 .. 2014-09-25 | Tags: post , road , motorcycle , technique , braking

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