The ability to slow your bike down and stop it is a fundamental skill of controlling your motorbike or moped. On your CBT three styles of braking are introduced so that the right skills are there from the beginning.
Braking from slow speed
If you are riding at walking pace / in first gear / generally below 10mph, the rear brake on its own is sufficient to slow down and even stop your motorbike. The rear brake should be applied smoothly with gentle progression. Too much pressure can result in a lock up, even at low speed. If you do have ABS it may not trigger at all at low speed.
You will find the front brake is too strong at slow speed and if used will stop the bike almost immediately with a bounce on the front suspension. It is this that can catch you out and lead to dropping the bike at low speed, particularly if you have the bars turned at the same time as the bike will ‘pivot’ over the front axle and fall in the direction of the bars.
Braking as the speed increases
As speed increases beyond walking pace we need to use both brakes to slow down or stop the bike, but the larger part of the braking effort will come from the front brake. We use the phrase “ease and squeeze”.
The front brake should be smoothly applied first (the “ease” part). This sets the bike up with a bit of load on the front suspension. Any car is biased to have more braking applied to the front wheels than the rear. On a motorbike or moped the rider has to set up and control this by applying the brakes in the correct order.
A second or two later the rear brake should be applied smoothly (“ease”).
We then “squeeze” smoothly with the bias towards the front brake. On a good dry road surface we can think of something like 75% front brake, 25% rear brake. In wet conditions we think about a 50/50 split but that comes from reducing the amount of squeeze on the front brake, not increasing the amount of rear.
We slow down to our required speed. During the slowing process we select the next lower gear and so work our way down the gearbox one at a time with individual gear changes (so the clutch is released after each gear selection). That way we are always in the right gear for the speed we are doing. We do not slow down using the gearbox rather than the brakes as this can result in excessive engine braking, even a lock up of the rear wheel.
If we are coming to a stop, to be ultra smooth at the point of stopping you can slightly ease off the front brake in the last couple of metres and you will avoid the front suspension “bounce” particularly on a big bike with strong double front disc brakes. It also helps avoid “helmet clash” with a passenger.
In emergency situations you will not have been planning to stop but the situation requires that you bring your bike to as prompt a stop as possible without loss of control. There will be no time to check your mirrors as we usually do before slowing down significantly and you will not waste time going down through the gear box. You will stop in whatever gear you are travelling in.
How quickly you can stop depends on;
- Reaction time. The time it takes you to realize what is developing and start to apply the brakes. For decades this has been thought of as around 0.75s but more recent studies suggest this could be even longer. At 30mph you will travel 45ft or around 14m in 1 second before you have even applied the brakes.
- Speed. The faster you go the longer it will take to stop. At 60mph rule 126 of the Highway Code suggest a stopping distance of 240ft or 73m.
- The weather. In wet weather the Highway Code suggests your stopping distance will be doubled in wet weather.
- Condition of brakes. How well is your bike maintained?
Otherwise the process for an emergency stop is very similar to a normal controlled stop.
- Smoothly apply the front brake first. It is a “grab” of the front brake that usually causes problems for bike riders in an emergency resulting in locking up the front wheel, the steering snapping round and the bike going down.
- Smoothly apply the rear brake. Similarly a more panicky stamp (common from car drivers learning to ride) will result in a rear wheel lock up and the engine stalling.
- Progress on the front brake approx 75/25% with the rear or 50/50 in wet weather.
- Leave the clutch alone until just before stopping. Pulling the clutch in too early, hence removing engine braking, will result in a rear wheel lock-up during the progressive application of brakes in an emergency.
- Do not go down the gear box for the same reason. It will massively increase your stopping distance.
- When you have come to a stop, whilst checking around you, sort the gear box out and get yourself to a place of safety if necessary, even by pulling in the clutch and paddling the bike if it is urgent.
- If you lock up a wheel you will risk a skid and even falling off the bike, so if you do lock up a wheel release the brakes and smoothly reapply / restart the emergency braking process.
When you have your own bike it is a good idea to go to a quiet car park or industrial estate and practice some progressive braking by building up from normal controlled stops. This way you will know how your bike behaves and feels during progressive braking.
ABS and Linked Brakes.
Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) became mandatory from January 2017 on all new bikes sold with an engine size greater than 125cc.
For bikes 125cc or below (so also mopeds) the requirement is that either ABS or linked brakes must be fitted. The latter means if you apply only the front brake lever then some % of the rear will also be triggered automatically by the bike, or vice versa depending on the manufacturer. Due to the cost of ABS it means mopeds generally come with linked brakes. Check your motorcycle / moped to understand the braking system on your bike.
For either of these scenarios still follow the same braking processes discussed above. ABS certainly helps prevent a lock up in a straight line and is a valuable safety contributor but keep in mind if you are cornering at the same time, forces can be applied to the bike that still result in loss of traction, so the original proper control of motorcycle brakes is still valid here. More recently adaptive ABS systems that take into account lean angle are being developed on higher performance motorcycles.