Graham’s Gems – Bike braking, front, back, both?



Recently I had a very good discussion with Andy Goodwin, an associate in the Bike Section who I’m working with, on the correct use of brakes on a bike. He had a different view from the one I was advocating and this set us both reconsidering and rethinking what was considered as ‘gospel’ and advocated in the various motorcycling handbooks and resources we use. Andy has a love of knowing the physics of how something works, and did some internet research and found a very interesting feature on motorcycle braking which poses questions and provides answers on effective braking. For example, the first question posed was ‘Which brake is the most effective?’

The explanation provided was that the front brake is the most effective, giving between 60 and 80% of the bike’s stopping power in hard stops, depending upon surface conditions.  This is because most of the weight of the bike and rider transfers forward on to the front wheel when the brakes are applied. A common example of weight transfer is when you trip on a gutter – your feet stop but momentum keeps the top of you going and you fall flat on your face. The weight transfer that takes place under braking on a motorcycle pushes the front wheel on to the ground and makes it grip very well.

Another question posed was ‘Is braking a natural skill?’ The explanation provided was that braking, as with any riding skill, is a learned skill, not a natural one.

This means you must practice the correct braking skills enough to make them an instinctive reaction before you can be sure that you will do the right things in an emergency. Overseas research has shown that, because of panic overpowering a rider’s conscious reactions, nearly a third of all riders do absolutely nothing in an accident situation: they don’t even apply the brakes! If, however, your high-level braking skills are so well learnt that they are instinctive, you will do it right, no matter what the situation. However, this requires you to do a lot of high-level braking skill practice: the skills will not come with normal everyday riding.

A number of questions are posed in the article, and one which provides most debate is rear brake application. Many bike racers don’t use the rear brake at all, and for others it’s minimal. Lots of road bikers apply that practice to their road riding, thinking that’s how you brake on a bike. If you want to find out what’s said about this and much more, click on this link: or type the link into your internet browser.

My thanks to Andy for finding the article, and I hope it will provide some debate about motorcycle braking.