For those that haven’t heard, today’s modern motorcycles’ front brakes account for around 85% or more of your bike’s braking ability. Front brakes in fact can account for 100% of braking depending on steering geometry and wheel base. (i.e., sportbikes with their steep rake and shorter wheel bases can lift the rear wheel under heavy braking. When the rear end is off the ground the front is providing 100% of the braking.)
That doesn’t mean to ignore the rear brakes (remember ~15%). Using the front and rear brakes correctly together will stop you faster than using the front alone. That being said, the rear brake should be used carefully and gently at all times. Learn were the limit is on the rear brakes.
So should you always apply your brakes in this 85% front and 15% rear proportion? No. For slow speed riding (i.e., 5mph or so) the rear brake alone is a safe and appropriate option. At that speed the rear has plenty of ability to stop you and when in areas of low available traction (gravel, greasy intersections/parking lots, parking garages with wet floors) is safer since locking up the front wheel can occur easily and result in you low-siding. So for parking lot and slow speed riding, rear only is completely appropriate. Rear only also can apply to loose or slick surfaces such as gravel or parking garages with wet floors.
For riding in other conditions (let’s say 15-20mph and up), you should use both the front and rear brakes together in a tapered manner. Initial application should include both the front and rear brakes. The brakes should be applied with increasing pressure and not instantly. In other words, squeeze the brake levers in a controlled progressively harder manner. Don’t “grab a hand full of brake” as this will result in loss of traction. The more weight you have on the tires the more pressure you can apply to the brakes because you’re tires have more traction available for stopping. So as your deceleration increases, weight is transferred towards the front and away from the rear. As this occurs, you should increase the amount of front brake (more weight on the front equates to increased available traction) and you should simultaneously reduce the amount of rear brake (less weight on the rear tire equates to less available traction). As the bike’s deceleration slows (let’s say you still need to stop but can reduce your deceleration rate), the front end will begin to push back up (weight will transfer from the front and to the back). As this occurs, you can apply additional rear brake as you reduce front brake pressure.
Braking often brings up varying opinions and myths. If you feel I’ve posted in error, please let me know. This post is based on today’s “modern” motorcycles. I classify a “modern” motorcycle as anything built in the last 25 years. I’ll post a separate thread on the MYTH of “laying the bike down” to avoid a crash. I’ll also address locking up the rear tire in a separate post also.
Braking is a skill that needs practice. To practice this, find an empty parking lot with plenty of space and clean, dry pavement. You should be able to go from 20mph to 0 in about 18 feet (on a clean, dry surface). Practice.
For questions, comments, or suggestions on safety tips please contact Rob 'Throttle' Capozzi.