Motorcycles are great fun to speed up, but the really critical skill is to be able to slow them down properly. Road safety demands that a rider be able to slow and stop the bike as needed, in order to avoid dangerous and potentially deadly accidents. Part of the job is to make sure that the brake system is in good working order through regular inspection and maintenance. But the other part of the job is knowing how to use the brake system correctly. Unfortunately, correct motorcycle braking is not always intuitive and even otherwise skilled riders can easily develop dangerous misconceptions. Proper braking is part understanding the physics behind a motorcycle's distinctive response to braking, and part learning the right technique and practising it until stopping correctly is automatic. A third component is riding correctly in the first place so that emergencies that require sudden, fast braking are as rare as possible.
How Motorcycles Stop
Learning proper braking technique can be difficult because many new riders initially assume motorcycles behave like either cars or bicycles. This assumption is usually incorrect, so new riders must learn a whole new set of habits in order to safely slow and stop their machines; the physics of stopping a motorcycle are unfamiliar. The mechanics of stopping a motorcycle are more familiar, but are still important to bear in mind.
The Physics of Braking
What stops a motorcycle is friction, whether that is just the friction between the tyres and the ground, as when a bike coasts to a stop, or the additional friction applied by the brakes. Friction depends on a number of factors, including how much weight is pressing down on the wheel. This is why motorcycle riders use their front brake more than the rear brake; when the bike slows down, its weight shifts forward, the same way passengers in a car lean forward during a sudden stop. This extra weight gives more traction, and hence more potential stopping power, to the front wheel. Unlike a bicycle, which flips over the front wheel if the front brakes much faster than the back brakes, motorcycles are too heavy to flip easily, and most are too heavy to flip at all. The main reason to use the rear brake is simply to increase stopping power by taking advantage of all available friction.
How Motorcycle Brakes Work
Motorcycle brakes are just like car brakes, but on a smaller scale. Disc brakes have a disc that spins with the wheel and a pad that squeezes against the disc to stop it. As the disc slows and stops, so does the wheel. Drum brakes are similar, except the friction is developed between a drum and a shoe that presses against the drum from the inside. Drum brakes are heavier and less powerful than disc brakes, but they are also cheaper. Older bikes typically have drum brakes, and many newer bikes have a drum brake on the rear wheel and a disc brake on the front. Bikes that have disc brakes on both wheels may have two large discs on the front and a smaller single disc in the back, again in order to provide more braking power where it is needed. Both brake pads and brake shoes are designed to wear out with use and must be replaced periodically. This and other brake system maintenance tasks are part of responsible motorcycle ownership because the best braking technique in the world does not do any good if the brake system fails.
Potential Problems with Stopping a Motorcycle
The two main risks of improper braking are that the bike might not stop quickly enough or that the bike might destabilise and crash. Either problem could hospitalise or kill, and it is not only the rider who is in danger. There are particular techniques for both ordinary braking and emergency braking, but remembering either depends on a solid knowledge of how braking can go wrong.
Stopping on a Curve
Braking on a turn is dangerous because as the bike leans into a turn, the wheels might not have enough friction to both grip the road and slow the bike at the same time. Ideally, a rider can brake ahead of the turn, but sometimes it is unavoidable, as in curving off-ramps with a stop sign at the bottom. The key is to brake very gently and to ride slowly enough and with enough road and traffic awareness that very gentle braking is enough. Never allow visibility to become shorter than a safe stopping distance.
Like a car, a motorcycle can skid if it brakes too quickly. Unlike a car, a motorcycle usually falls over if the front wheel skids. Bikes vary in how quickly they can stop without skidding, and braking ability changes over time as the condition of the brake system and the tyres change. Riders have to learn the limits of their own bikes, and learn those limits again after every tyre change or brake pad replacement, in order to be able to brake as quickly and safely as possible.
Some people assume that motorcycles, being lighter, have shorter stopping distances than cars do. Actually, stopping distance is more complicated than that, and in practice, motorcycles often have longer stopping distances because the rider cannot risk slamming on the brakes the way a car can. No matter what kinds of vehicles a rider shares the road with, safety demands that motorcycle drivers are alert and prepared to stop when the vehicle ahead stops fast and without warning. They must be able to react in an instant to prevent slamming into the back end of the car.
The Art of Stopping a Motorcycle
There are a number of different ways to slow and stop a motorcycle, and some of them are very wrong. There is a basic braking technique that works well on most bikes most of the time. The presence of anti-lock brakes or chained brakes requires altering the basic technique, but emergency situations usually do not.
Basic Braking Technique
The basic guideline is to give 70 per cent of braking effort to the front brake and 30 per cent to the back brake. This is a very inexact figure, and is complicated by the fact that the front brakes are generally more powerful and would brake harder even if the rider engaged front and back equally. The point is to take advantage of the greater traction in the front and to avoid skidding the rear wheel. Although a rear-wheel skid is not as dangerous as a front-wheel skid, rear-wheel skids are more likely because the rear wheel has so much less traction than the front wheel. The guideline changes if the road is slippery or for off-road conditions. When the risk of skidding is unusually high, it is better to use the front brake less, or not at all, because of the catastrophic consequences of a front-wheel skid. Some bikes have chained brakes, meaning that either a single control activates both brakes, as in a car, or that one control activates both brakes but one brake can be activated alone by a second control. Obviously, chained brakes simplify braking technique.
For bikes with standard transmissions, smooth downshifting is another part of braking. Some riders find it difficult to brake and downshift at the same time, and use any number of techniques to avoid having to do so. Among other problems, this means that if an emergency occurs during braking, such as the vehicle behind failing to stop, the bike might be caught in the wrong gear, unable to accelerate to safety. When stopping, be in the habit of shifting down repeatedly until there are no more lower gears. It is possible to miscount and to think the bike is in first when it is actually in second, a dangerous mistake.
Using the Engine Brake
Using the engine brake means downshifting so that the new gear ratio slows the bike without the brakes being engaged. The technique can save wear on the brake and can be useful, but it does not slow the bike as fast as the brakes do. This is because the so-called engine brake only works on the rear wheel, which does not have much traction while the bike is slowing down. The engine brake is not an emergency procedure.
Having Anti-Lock Brakes
Braking is slightly different in bikes that have anti-lock brakes (ABS). ABS prevents skidding by automatically releasing the brake when the wheel starts to lock up and then re-engaging it to resume braking when the wheel starts to roll again. Some drivers do not like ABS, preferring to pump the brakes manually instead. But pumping the brakes is not exactly what anti-lock brakes do. Mimicking anti-lock brakes by hand takes a lot of skill, and while some highly trained riders can do it, most cannot. Learn both types of braking, but get anti-lock brakes if possible.
Probably the best way to brake as quickly as possible is to brake smoothly and properly, and to also brake smoothly and properly during non-emergency braking. In an emergency, riders have no time to think about what technique to use. Instead, pretty much everyone does one of two things: either the rider panics and risks causing a crash, or habit takes over and the rider brakes normally. Braking correctly every single time reduces the change of panicking and ensures that the habitual action is the right one.
Some riders plan to lay the bike down in an emergency, but this action is worse than useless. The motorcycle is not going to stop faster simply because it is lying down. Instead, a dropped bike actually takes longer to stop and is almost certain to hit whatever it was trying to avoid. Meanwhile, the rider could be severely injured or even killed. Laying a bike down is a motorcycle crash, and should be avoided at all costs.
How to Buy Brake System Components for Motorcycles on eBay
Proper braking requires skill and knowledge, which money cannot buy. But money can buy the components of a properly functioning brake system. eBay is a convenient place to buy them.
How to Find Brake System Parts on eBay
Start by typing 'motorcycle brake parts' into the search box on eBay's home page. It may be necessary to use the menu options to narrow down the results to brake parts only. From there, select the type of part needed, from brake pads to callipers. To search for a particular brand and type, use the Advanced Search option.
Buying Brake System Components on eBay with Confidence
Read through the product listing twice to be sure it is the right part for your motorcycle model. From there, address any questions about the part to the seller. The seller's profile page lists his or her contact information, along with feedback score and contact information.
Braking properly begins with having a properly maintained brake system and also requires skilled use of the correct braking technique. Sometimes braking the wrong way is actually worse than not braking at all, and because correct motorcycle braking is not always intuitively obvious, it must be learned and practised until it becomes routine.
Not all motorcycles brake the same way. The presence of an anti-lock brake system or chained brakes means the basic technique must be altered a bit. There are also differences between different models in both the brake system itself and the weight and balance of the bike. Brake response in the same bike also varies, according to road conditions and the current condition of the brakes and tyres. But even the best functioning brakes and the most accomplished braking technique might not be enough to prevent an accident if the rider is not fully aware of the road. A gentle, controlled stop is ideal, and while a good rider must be prepared to stop quickly in emergencies, a great rider makes a point of not having emergencies to begin with.