Something so simple yet so hard to comprehend.
The reason behind me publishing this article is that I am tired of posers doing it the wrong way.
Now don’t tell me I’m overreacting! Think back to the last time you decided to ride for the heck of it, cruising through town and as you approach the next traffic signal you see it… Right in front of you… An asshole fucking his motorcycle, you don’t understand what’s happening and you brake late to get close enough to him, out of sheer curiosity of course or to see if it’s an epileptic seizure, you never know. But wait, that’s just the idiot going on and off the front brake!? But why?
Now before I go on, let me reintroduce ABS.
Anti-lock Braking System, commonly referred to as ABS is a technology present in most automobiles today, if not then don’t worry, I hear by 2017 it would be made mandatory(Let’s see how well that fares).
What ABS does is, it prevents your wheels from locking up, how?
You may have noticed that in ABS bikes near the inside of the disc rotor there’s a ridged circle and linked to that is a sensor which sends signals to the computer which in the event of brake’ing releases the brake if the wheel locks up(note that the bite resumes when the wheel is in motion again, duh!).
Now this is dedicated hardware we’re talking about, that’s the reason why you’ll only feel the brake lever pulsing when the front wheel locks up no change in suspension compression but compare that to trying to mount the bike by going on and off the front brake, the suspension is visibly upset(This observation was made from a mile away!).
The ones who’re not familiar with Keith Code’s publications might be confused as to why I am concerned about the suspension when it comes to braking. The reason is, suspension plays a huge role in the outcome.
How? Let’s see,
When you brake the weight is transferred from the rear of the bike to the front and as weight is transferred the contact patch of the front tire increases as the tire flattens on the road surface.
So how does the suspension affect the contact patch?
We’ve all experienced it some time or the other, when you jab the brake there is a higher tendency for the front wheel to lock as there’s no time for the suspension to fully compress and transfer the load to the front tire and increase contact patch, hence why we’re always advised to squeeze the lever rather than take a jab at it.
Even while cornering it is advised to upshift without using the clutch or not to up-shift at all as it would upset the suspension.
Heck! My most recent wreck on the Bajaj Pulsar 220 was because of this. I was riding on a straight stretch at 80’ish and I had just shifted to final gear. Out of nowhere an auto rickshaw enters the main road without any prior indication, muscle memory kicks in and I follow the universal motorcycle panic braking technique, downshift and brake at the same time. But I wrecked.
I made two mistakes;
1. Earlier I had up-shifted at a lazy RPM(not something I usually practice or recommend, I was riding home for the weekend and was feeling a tad too relaxed) and the moment I downshifted the bike instead of engine braking and bringing the front end down caused the bike to surge forward and do the contrary.
2. In spite of noticing wavy undulations on the straight road, I decided to up-shift at a lazy RPM, in effect the motorcycle was sailing on the undulations going up and down without a care in the world, and the moment the brakes were applied the suspension was recoiling after being compressed by the undulation. And as mentioned in my previous point, without engine braking to assist, the suspension didn’t get enough time to compress and properly transfer weight to the front in effect increase contact patch which would’ve prevented me from loosing traction and slamming into the rickshaw, helmet and fairing first.
Now I guess you understand the importance of braking, right? If not please note that at the time of impact, I was wearing an ECE 22.05 rated helmet, if I were to have been wearing a regular Indian standard helmet or even a regular DOT rated helmet, things wouldn’t have been this pleasant, as the only major expense to me was a maintenance bill of around 5k, ALL HAIL BAJAJ!
Now back to the topic, How do we appropriately brake?
Braking while in Traffic
Nothing new here, if in traffic it would be best to trail the rear brake and only use the front for panic situations and make sure you’re gradually accelerating in a low gear such that there is ample engine braking the moment you go off the throttle.
If you slow down using the front, the front end drops drastically also resulting in the front suspension to compress, so when you move again the front end goes up, the recoil plays a prominent role, then if some asshole gets in front of you and you have to panic brake, it’s not going to end well.
Braking while riding on the Highways
Always ensure that you’re in the appropriate gear as it has a prominent role in engine braking. To slow down, just close the throttle and gradually apply the front brake. To come to a complete stop, close the throttle and apply both brakes gradually and keep downshifting until you reach 1st gear, don’t shift into Neutral until you intend to come to complete halt and stay there for a while eg. a traffic signal stop.
Not complicating things, this is how it works;
“Both levers in, Both pedals down”
Both levers in – yup, pull the clutch and front brake lever in. Though it might be hard to gradually administer the brakes in a panic situation, trust me, it can be done with practice, and by practice, I don’t mean doing anything stupid.
This is indeed a bonus tip for two primary reasons, first, being it can save your ass and your bike while pulling out of that aggressive corner you went in too hot just to prove a point that makes no sense at all to anyone else but you, still need a second reason?
Read on then.
Well, to be honest, there’s nothing much to it. All you need to do is, gently drag the front brakes after you choose your line, but before you hit the apex and keep doing it until you’ve cleared the apex, accelerating out of the corner.
What does dragging the front brake do for you?
It causes the front to compress, increasing your contact patch which would, in turn, enable you to push harder, read better exit speeds. I’ve started following this technique a long time before I started riding, we have a Suzuki F10D powered tall body hatchback that came with shitty tires and would do all sorts of scary things when nearing the apex at high speeds. When trailing, the car maintains a decent line with minimal slips and wobbles.
Trailing the rear brakes also works, but not for cornering, it helps you maintain your balance while making sharp small radius turns, as you can modulate the motorcycle’s speed better with the brakes in such cases, rather than with engine braking for obvious reasons.
So I guess that’s all folks, I better not see you going on and off the front brakes trying to be all cool and shit, thinking your reflexes to be better than a decent ABS system, cause if I see you, I’d beat you to death with your own exhaust pipe!
P.S. For the love of all things materialistic(yours and mine!), please change your brake pads and brake fluid on time. When your brake fluid level is near the low mark, that means your brakes are worn out(NOT, Hell Yeah! It’s time to top-up the fluid) and need replacement, as a rule of thumb I replace the fluid when I replace the brake pads, puts me at ease, also to mention, if you don’t ride much, it’s still recommended to change the brake fluid annually, and inspect the pads while you’re at it. 😉