Motorcycle braking is one of the most important aspects to learn about riding. Mastering it as a skill takes time as many other things in life, but will make your life and that of others safer. Read on and learn about motorcycle braking as well as some accessories I came upon and are great.
Did you know that the physics behind motorcycle braking involves turning kinetic energy into heat (friction)? Well, most of the modern braking systems utilise this technology. But it has been a long way to get there.
The first motorcycles in history were basically bicycles with an engine and did not feature any brakes. In fact, the only way to brake with them was to slow down and putting one foot to the floor to create the friction. As you can imagine, if this would go on to the present day, the results would be nothing short of disastrous.
The first brakes came from a company called Steffey Motorcycles in the year 1902 in Philadelphia. This was only a front-wheel brake. By the year 1923 and after the introduction of band brakes, the first dual-brake motorbike came out in the market. Douglas Motorcycles made this massive leap in the story of motorcycle braking. The model that carried this feature was often referred to as TT. The most famous version featured a Sidecar with a disc-brake too.
Motorcycle braking changed utterly when the drum brakes made it into the market. By the 1920s, virtually every new model of motorcycle featured this technology. These brakes have a servo effect and with time featured many different types of vented housing. Additional cooling in these models was crucial to prevent overheating. After some years of splendour, drum brakes lost the battle to disc brakes. These brakes became the benchmark of the motorcycle braking industry.
The first motorcycle to feature a disc brake was the Lambretta TV125 Series 3. This echoed in all major motorcycle manufacturing companies, and soon all brands followed. By 1969, the revolution got to the Japanese giant Honda, and the disc brake saw its first mass-production. The technology applied to disc brakes made motorcycle braking cooler (in temperature) and more effective in adverse weather. These two features were enough for the world to abandon almost entirely drum brakes.
Motorcycle braking changed completely again with the introduction of ABS. It was the German giant BMW the company that introduced them first. The year of introduction was 1989, and the model was the BMW K100LT. It was a much bigger and bulkier version than the one we know now. It was a revolution in the world of motorcycle braking and still is to this day. You see many people asking whether a new motorcycle model has or doesn´t have ABS technology. The fact that the system doesn´t block also allowed technology to improve the engines of the bikes. It is because the motorcycle braking technology got better, that the engine technology could improve too.
Although ABS is arguably the best braking system you can ask in a motorbike nowadays, the industry kept on researching.
Regenerative Braking – This is what we usually know as a dynamo. This technology, prevalent in electric bikes, slows the vehicle down while recovering kinetic energy. This energy can be used immediately (for the lights, for example) or stored into the battery. It is not a new concept, but its use in modern motorbikes is different than its predecessors.
Parachutes – Drag-racing motorcycles can go up to more than 400 km/h in a quarter of a mile. To brake a motorbike at that kind of speed, it is necessary to add some more elements to the conventional motorcycle braking system. This is why most of these motorcycles are fitted with a parachute.
SBM (Smart Brake Module) – This is a new technology that I luckily came across. What it does is very simple, but to me, it will revolutionise motorcycle braking just like ABS did. The concept is that it engages the stop light of your motorbike when it senses that your speed decreased. If you think about it, it is a very common thing that us, bikers do lose the throttle to slow down. It feels great because it makes all transitions smoother, but you don´t let anyone know of your intentions. If you don´t touch your brakes on a regular motorcycle, the stop light stays off. Will this easy-to-install new gadget revolutionise motorcycle braking? The answer is not certain, but trying it for yourself will turn you into a believer.
The first thing you need to know about motorcycle braking is that they mostly do it with their front wheel. In most of the cases, it will produce between 70 and 90 per cent of the motorcycle´s braking power. For this reason, the most powerful brakes will always be fitted in the front wheel. Also, the weight of the rider and the bike needs to be transferred to that section when braking. This is especially the case when you are doing it in an emergency case.
Let´s take a look at some cool tips about motorcycle braking:
Most riders know that the back brake, operated with our foot, is not the most powerful one. This echoed in the construction of the bikes: the one you use the most and is most powerful is the handiest. The one you squeeze with your hand on the opposite side of the clutch is your front brake. This is the brake that you have to use in your bike to get optimum results in all situations. Yes, you can give it some help with the rear one, but it is not necessary for most scenarios.
Tip: Always rely more on the front brake.
Motorcycle braking has a lot to do with the type of bike we are trying to stop. There is no set rule about how to do it with each model, but there are specific facts that can help.
Cruisers and choppers – These kinds of bikes have the weight more divided because of the sitting position and also because of the bike structure. This particular feature makes them more compatible with rear-wheel braking. The weight distribution is different, allowing the back wheel to take more work.
Sports bikes – The forks in this kind of bike are more vertical. This feature of sports bikes makes them more tolerant to high braking pressure on the front wheel. Since the wheelbase is shorter in this type of bike, the feeling and the effectiveness of front brake are different.
Dirt bikes – These bikes are almost exclusively back-brake vehicles. Because of the way they ride and the terrains they usually go into, front braking is not an option. For example, in the hands of experienced riders, sliding over loose terrain can be another tool.
TIP: Always think what the bike you are riding needs and then apply it.
Motorcycle braking is much about being able to control the power with which you brake your bike. Once you learn the sweet spots and the fine-tuning of braking your bike in different situations, it will become your bike. This brings safety and also more fun to the rider. Knowing the delicacy of the braking power of your bike and using it right is the recipe for success. This tip is especially important when you prepare yourself and your motorcycle for emergencies. Knowing how hard you can brake and which is the result in your bike can be a game-changer.
TIP: Practice extensively with your motorcycle and try to find the limits for the front and back brakes. If you learn which the exact point in which it skids is, you know exactly what to do with your rear brake. On the other hand, if you know when your back wheel goes up, you know the exact pressure to apply to the front wheel. Get to know your motorcycle inside out, and you´ll be safer.
Did you know that the grip of your motorcycle tire happens mostly in its upright position? Well, according to professionals in the matter, the more the angle of contact decreases, the more the grip decreases. If the grip of your motorcycle reduces, then motorcycle braking becomes more dangerous. For example, if you apply some braking force while turning, you might skid.
TIP: Always brake before reaching a curve and never while you are in it. If you skid at the lousy moment because you pressed the front brake a lot, the result could be disastrous. The same principle applies to the back wheel. Skidding might get you out of the road and cause a grave accident.
The conditions of the road under the wheels when motorcycle braking is crucial. For example, it is not the same to brake on a surface with ice, mud or water than a dry one. Overlooking this fact is a recipe for disaster. The tires don´t respond as well, and brakes can make matters way worse. In places like intersections or garages where there might be a lot of oil and waste accumulated, be extra careful. If your bike slides with you on it, you might have a big accident.
TIP: Sliding with your back wheel is much easier to correct than sliding with your front one. If the back wheel is sliding or blocks up, you can manoeuvre to get out of the situation. If the front wheel skids, there is not much you can do before you are on your side in the street.
ABS is supposed to be the response to all the braking problems in the world. Well, not every rider is a fan of ABS-equipped bikes. The way they work is pulsating the brakes so that the bike doesn´t skid. This computerised extra security measure makes motorcycle braking easier. Riders can apply full-power braking without fear of the motorcycle locking out on them. Which is the con of this system? The disadvantage is that it takes away much of the fun for those riders who want to push the limits a little more.
TIP: Test the limits of your ABS-equipped bike and also make sure it is what you want.
Motorcycle braking is a huge part of your safety as a rider. Another hugely important part is how good or bad you drive in traffic. Letting other drivers and riders know about your manoeuvres can save lives. Always use the light indicators for taking turns with your motorcycle. Remember that motorcycle braking is a resource, but not the only one.
TIP: Let me recommend you another great accessory I came across with. It is made by the same company than the SBM and is called STS – the Smart Turn System. The way it works is straightforward: it disengages your turning lights when you complete turns. Yes, much like a car does, but in your motorcycle. This way, you will never leave your turning lights on and give false info to the traffic around you.
Submit your motorcycle details in the form below to check if the STS is compatible with your motorcycle.
Knowing how and when to brake your bike is as important as any other aspect of riding. Once you can say you´ve mastered the way your bike reacts, you can say you ride it well. For most of us, it comes with a lot of time and miles seating on the same leather seat. It is not something that costs a lot of work, but it is important to keep in mind. Always take care of your brakes and the way your bike behaves with them; it can save lives.
Did you enjoy this post about motorcycle braking? Feel free to comment and pass it on to fellow riders who might learn from it.