Best Ways To Improve Braking Performance – From Full Speed To Full Stop

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Braking performance is one of the most overlooked figures, while also being one of the most important. The ability to stop gives you the ability to go fast, so you really should work on you bike’s braking performance before worrying about it’s quarter mile time. Here are the best ways to improve braking performance.

1 – Lose Some Weight
The operator to vehicle ratio is much greater on a motorcycle than in a car, which means your weight has a much bigger effect on your bike than it does a car. The lighter you are, the less mass your brakes have to slow down. Go on a diet and, not only will your bike stop better, it will accelerate better too.

2 – Give Your Bike Liposuction
Any weight you can get rid of on your motorcycle will help. Swapping components for their lightweight, aftermarket counterparts will reduce the amount of weight the brakes are trying to counter.

3 – Steel Braided Brake Lines
Many motorcycles come with rubber brake lines, which will flex when you pull the brake lever as the pressure in the line increases. Rubber lines also deteriorate much faster than their steel counterparts. Upgrading your brake lines is a fairly cheap way to make your brakes more responsive and last longer,

4 – Upgraded Brake Pads
Motorcycles come with a wide variety of brake pads. Upgrading to high quality, HH grade “ultra high performance” brake pads will help your brakes grab better, hold longer, and fade more slowly than stock pads. We recommend EBC HH brake pads.

5 – Aftermarket Disc Brakes
If you’re really going to be pushing your bike hard, be it in the canyons or on the track, you need to upgrade your disc brakes. You want the biggest and lightest ones that will fit your bike. We recommend Galfer rotors or anything Brembo.

6 – Tires
The better your tires grip the road, the better your bike stops. Don’t skimp on buying the best possible tires you can afford, the fanciest brake pads, lines, and rotors won’t do a thing if the tires can’t stick all that stopping power to the road.

7 – Practice
As always, rider input plays the biggest factor in our bike’s performance. There’s a reason the MSF courses practice emergency stops, and it’s a habit we should keep throughout our riding careers. Practice emergency stops and get to know your bike and it’s abilities and the inputs required to bring your bike from full speed to full stop.

A few things to keep in mind: A low center of gravity and a long wheelbase improve braking performance and help keep the rear end of the bike down. Also, ABS is a HUGE help in an emergency stop situation. Zero skill necessary, just grab the lever and hang on. If you’re in the market to buy a bike, get ABS.

What tips have you found useful to improve your motorcycle’s braking performance? What products or brands do you trust the most?

Related Links:
Ask RideApart: ABS Or No-ABS For New Riders
How To: Safely Handle Decreasing Radius Corners
Lists: 10 Cheapest Ways to Make Your Bike Faster
Lists: 9 Best Ways To Make Your Motorcycle Faster

  • ThruTheDunes

    WD-40 is not the appropriate remedy for squealing brakes… While this is obvious (I hope!), and not exactly under the heading of improving braking performance, I thought an honorable mention should go to not losing braking performance through rotor/pad contamination. When performing maintenance or repairs, be careful to not contaminate the rotors/pads. Spraying WD-40 on a stubborn bolt/nut? Oiling your chain? Any of a variety of things present an opportunity to accidently/unawaredly contaminate disc brakes, which might not be discovered until it is too late. Just thinking of the ounce of prevention thing…

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      great tip

    • Kr Tong

      More importantly WD-40 dries out o-rings. O-rings around the pistons of your calipers, O-rings in your chain… probably shouldn’t take a can of WD-40 near a bike.

  • Dan

    7 should be first. If you don’t know how to use your brakes, they won’t ever work right.

    I’m of the thought that (1) is difficult (how long for the rider to lose 20lbs?), (2) is trivial (how much money to save 10lbs?), (3) and (4) are nice and cost effective, (5) is extremely expensive and probably for racers only, and (6) and (7) are mandatory.

    Depending on your bike, swapping for a radial master cylinder (like Brembo RCS, ~$300) can make a huge difference in feel. If you’re on a tight budget, swapping on a radial master cylinder from a crashed GSXR (of which there are many) can give a nice upgrade for little money.

    But seriously, go to a parking lot and learn how to use your brakes. Do you think this guy has a machine issue, or an ability issue:

    http://youtu.be/3mHXJmI_yzE

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      these aren’t in any particular order….

      • Dan

        Gotcha, thanks. By the way, what bike is that in the cover photo? It’s an interesting combination of high-spec older components (non-radial brembo calipers) plus an ABS sensor.

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          Moto Guzzi Norge

  • Kevin Riedl

    “Aftermarket Disc Brakes

    If you’re really going to be pushing your bike hard, be it in the
    canyons or on the track, you need to upgrade your disc brakes. You want
    the biggest and lightest ones that will fit your bike. We recommend
    Galfer disc brakes.”

    I think they’re called rotors.

    • grahluk

      or alternately brake disks.

    • Gordon Pull

      Quite the knit pick there…

      • Riedl

        So are the bolts that hold the rotor to the hub also Disk Brakes? All components of a braking system can’t have one generic name. Sorry-I’m an OCD engineer

        • Gordon Pull

          They are disk brakes just as much as they are rotors. Same with cars. I’m sure a parts person at a dealer will know exactly what you’re talking about when you say you need a set of disk brake bolts as opposed to a set of rotor bolts. OCD engineer or not, it’s the same thing.

  • Kyle Toy

    Love you guys. Keep these guides coming!!

    • Rob

      I guess I owe something constructive to atone for the above-
      Adjust your brake lever for angle and distance from the bar. Your bike doesn’t have adjustable levers? Put em on the Xmas list!

  • georgeR

    learn to use BOTH your brakes, all the time. If I cut off your car’s rear brakes, You’d not like it. You have two tires on terra-firma, Always use the rear brake too !

    • Piglet2010

      On a cruiser, yes. On a sport-bike, you will just be locking up your rear wheel and risking a high-side fall.

      • Kr Tong

        You’re correct that weight distribution is different on a sport bike and you can get away with a lot using just the front (i didn’t have a rear brake at all for about six months) but using he rear brake isn’t going to make you high side. That would be like telling folks to never use the throttle because it can make you high side.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MddguBZRieQ

        • georgeR

          Thx, nice educational video. More riders need to understand this. The brake is there for a reason, There are TWO tires, use the stopping power You have, learn how to use both !

          • Piglet2010

            Yeah, if you have a large bird on the back of an Electra Glide, you need to use the rear brake unless you like running into things. Or on a dual-sport on gravel. But on a race replica on the track, the rear brake might as well not be there.

            The exception of course, is that the rear brake is very useful to keep yourself from looping out when riding wheelies. Or using a brake-torque technique when slow riding.

            • georgeR

              did you even watch the video !? with two knowledgeable guys ? engage brain, and listen to some good advice. You have two areas of friction to slow your bike. tires stick to road… use both brakes… (duh)

              • Piglet2010

                Did you know that maximum braking force for a wheel is equal to the contact patch area multiplied by the normal force multiplied by the coefficient of friction? And when the normal force approaches zero due to weight transfer, guess what happens to the available braking force?

                I do not have to watch a video – this is a matter of simple dynamics as is taught in every engineering curriculum.

                If you know everything, explain why Pedrosa gets out-braked by most other MotoGP riders, even those less skilled.

                • georgeR

                  go outside and cut the brake lines to your car’s rear brakes, you won’t be needing them. then place your head back between your cheeks where it belongs, I won’t be visiting you in the hospital… don’t know everything, just a little more than you. Touch the rear brake first, this will transfer more weight to the front, so you can brake Much harder with the front. So, there’s one reason for having a rear brake, but you wouldn’t know that…

                • Piglet2010

                  Automobile does *not* equal motorcycle. Duh!

                  Engine braking will do the same thing as a little rear brake before using the front – the way I was doing it on the track was approved by Jason Pridmore – but what does a guy with two top level AMA championships and a member of two FIM World Endurance Championship teams, who runs a well regarded track school, as well as being the son of another AMA champion and long time instructor know compared to God’s Gift to Motorcycling™, georgeR?

                  Would you know how to pass a test in an engineering mechanic’s course in dymanics? – I think not.

                • karlInSanDiego

                  I’m halfway with Piglet on this one, and here’s why: During my panic stop drills on my 675 in MFS Experienced class, I used both, using the rear to compress the shock and being extremely careful not to lock it. On my fifth pass my instructor noted that in a serious hard stop my rear was still jacking up as I neared stoppie behavior of excellent brakes and tires lightening the rear. He could see I was stopping very quickly, but also saw my rear being treacherous to modulate properly with that little load. His advice was to not use it at all as he felt it will be more of a liability, than an aid with the small baking effect it could give when light. In The last 5 years two of my panic stops, out of many others, have involved a locked rear that I quicky released before I had much twist in one case, and successfully rode it out (the prescribed action if you lock it and it’s coming around is to keep it locked, as the hook up is when it high sides) in the other. In both of these cases, it’s tough to say if the rear braking effect was worth the drama and risk of the lockup. I am always mindful to test my rear during my first stop on a ride, and I continue to mix my use of it sometimes. The takeaway is you need to practice radical stops to learn to minimize braking distance, while avoiding/controlling rear lock…on each of your bikes.

        • Piglet2010

          Uh, on a sport-bike when braking really hard (assuming no pillion), the rear wheel is about to come off the ground, so using the brake very much could lock the wheel (assuming no ABS), which could cause a high-side. Besides, one gets some braking from the engine at the rear wheel, and using the rear brake makes it difficult to shift one’s weight for proper body position.

          • Kr Tong

            I dont think you got more than two seconds into the video. I know what you’re saying, and for about six months i didnt have a rear brake on my bike at all, but you’re missing the nuances of the rear brake.

      • Rob

        I know a guy who looped his ninja grabbing a handful of front- the front brake should also be avoided on a sportbike.

        • Kr Tong

          Not at all. Stabbing at anything on a bike should be avoided.

          • Rob

            I thought that including the word “also” might be clue that the comment was facetious. Because, yknow, if you avoid both the front and the rear brake, what are you left with? Flintstone stopping? Too subtle, I apologize! Both brakes work well if you learn how to use them. OK? Now go practice.

            • Kr Tong

              Sorry Rob, I know way too many new riders that use their rear only for that reason. I kinda had to take it seriously.

        • Ken Lindsay

          The front brake does the majority of stopping on the road. Telling someone to always avoid using it is reckless.

        • Bruce Steever

          Rob, this is the single worst piece of advice you could ever give. Full stop.

        • Michael Howard

          Wow, Rob, it’s surprising how few people are familiar with sarcasm, huh?

  • Diego Martinez

    Maybe it should be, “Most Cost Effective Ways”.

  • Kosta Chachanidze

    I´m about to change my front brake pads and have a question – my front fork looses some oil all the time, really small amounts, but still and I think some of it drips on brake system – rotor and therefore pads. I was wondering if you have any tips for me to either stop oil leaks or somehow shield the rotor from it, because I think it is affecting braking performance

    • Kr Tong

      Time for new seals and wipers. Either your seals are old and cracked, or you’ve got dirt stuck between them and the fork legs which could also be making grooves in your for leg.
      OnTheThrottle.tv has a bunch of bike-specific how to’s for this.

      • Kosta Chachanidze

        thanks and sorry for the late reply. no, I´ve exchanged seals not a year ago. will check out the wipers then

        • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

          if they’re new they either weren’t fitted in the leg exactly right, or they’re not an OEM seal. Or your fork leg was dirty and wasn’t cleaned and now theres dirt between the seal. Or your fork leg is bent.

          • Kosta Chachanidze

            bent? :O that woudn´t be good. how can I check that?

            • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

              From most likely to least likely: Take your forks apart and clean your dust seals. Still leaking? replace your seals. Still leaking? Make sure they’re seated correctly. Still leaking? Check for grooves in your forks, specifically the region that the dust seals travel over, dirt stuck in your seals can wear grooves for oil to travel out of. If found steel wool the grooves and polish them. Legs smooth and still leaking? Probably a fork leg bend, which only happens when you’re in an accident. Lay your fork tubes on a 100% perfectly level surface and turn them, looking for deviations. At this point you’re better to just send them to someone else to check for bends and straighten them.

              • Kosta Chachanidze

                thanks. will check that after i´m done with carbs :D :D :D

  • Geoff Briggs

    Tires need to be at the right pressure too. So many people never pay much attention to tire pressure.

    I think suspension deserves a mention too. The right suspension set up can make a huge impact on breaking. If not already done I think an article on suspension set up would be a pretty interesting. I still find it a bit of a black art.

    • Kr Tong

      Its a lot of trial and error. You’ll get the front right then then back will be wrong. You’ll then fix the back and the front will now be wrong…

      +1 on tire pressures. Some tires are more picky about their tire pressure than other. Michelins come to mind. And NEVER go off what the max psi is on the tire.

  • Kr Tong

    get in the habit of leaving a zip tie or a carabiner on your brake lever and handlebar over-night. It’ll do a good job of pushing air out of the system when a whole brake bleed isn’t necessary.

    • Mr S Levermore

      Again this site is scaring me. Although this “tip” is sort of right it is only a fraction of the story. Advising people to do stuff to their brakes without fully understanding it is dangerous. If you are not 100% sure please just take your bike to someone who is properly informed and qualified.

      • Kr Tong

        This isnt rocket science. Well not totally rocket science. If you have a chronically spongy or weak lever you have air bubbles in your lines. If you have a lever like mine where you don’t have a bleed nipple on the master cyllinder it’s near impossible to remove ALL air out of the system, even by cracking the banjo bolt. This trick will pressurize your system until the air bubble shrink and dissipate into the brake fluid. They won’t reappear until your brake lines are heated under heavy use, which for many is still an improvement from what they had before.

        • Mr S Levermore

          OK I have heard enough. I am not trying to put people down or to big myself up. I decided to ignore the advice given the other day about riding corners of decreasing radius whilst the diagrams were showing corners of increasing radius…. But this is just irresponsible. I am an engineering graduate and a motorcycle mechanic of more years than I care to remember. I consider all people on two wheels to be brothers and as such love you all and wish the best for you. Have fun and stay safe people. I am outta here!

          • Kr Tong

            Someone who’s graduated with a BS should know the importance of proof when refuting evidence, rather than focusing on touting their credentials. Ethos and pathos don’t factor into a scientific debate.

            I also suggest you google henry’s law in understanding how fluids absorb gasses. And maybe even google image search a “decreasing radius.” The fact of the matter is that the zip tie method is tried, tested, and proven to work.

            • Mr S Levermore

              Thanks for the advice of the google search but you may notice that even the guy that posted the article on decreasing radius bends was big enough to realise their mistake and amend the diagram………. Ringing any bells?

        • Blu E Milew

          Your logic, I don’t see it. Having a degree in rocket science, and working in the hydraulics industry, still don’t see it.

          -hydroscopic pertains to a hydroscope. hygroscopic fluids absord moisture, not air.

          -It is not very hard to get air totally out of your system.

          -If you pressurize a system overnight and any trapped air becomes dissolved in it, it will escape when the pressure is released, not when the fluid is heated. When the fluid is heated, the solubility further decreases.

          I’m not saying your gypsy magic does not work, however I think the reason for it happening would be that the air that you dissolve when pressurizing the system bubbles out in a different place than it was originally.

          • Kr Tong

            Hear it from someone else:

            It doesn’t work that way. There are very specific mechanisms in place when gases dissolve into solution in a liquid. The percentage of gas dissolved into that liquid plays a role. The liquid can absorb a finite amount of gas before it becomes super-saturated.

            The rest you can test for yourself. Squeeze that lever after a night of being ziptied and the mushy feel is basically gone. This is because the trapped air bubbles are no longer compressing, therefore it’s reasonable to conclude they are no longer present. They didn’t leave externally- they dissolved into the liquid in the closed system because the pressure was increased. They reached what’s called a new equilibrium because of that increase in pressure over a length of time. The zip tie trick doesn’t work in 2 minutes. It takes several hours.

            Just because you undo the zip tie doesn’t mean the air bubbles automatically and instantly reappear again. The solution won’t give them up until the system receives energy to do so. This is why the firm lever goes mushy land the weak lever returns if you brake hard without changing out that gas saturated brake fluid. The added heat changes the stability of the fluid. This is also why brakes go soft at the track. Moisture absorbed (in solution) by the hygroscopic brake fluid can boil, creating air bubbles in a sealed system.

  • Kr Tong

    Brakes only slow you down.

  • Mr S Levermore

    Some seriously dangerous advice here! Advising people to change their pads / rotors without fully understanding the interaction between the two is just plain stupid. Amazed to see this advice online!

  • Rocket Punch

    A master cylinder upgrade would also do wonders for braking performance and most importantly, brake feel, albeit a somewhat expensive upgrade.

    • Mr S Levermore

      Again only half the story. Bad advise!

  • Art Guilfoil

    Please read between the lines when I tell you that writing an article about braking performance should be done with care. If you don’t have expertise in an area yourself it’s best to consult experts beforehand. I highly suggest taking this article down.

    • Bruce Steever

      The article doesn’t deserve a total pull, but this comment thread needs some serious pruning.

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    ABS is another tool in your tool belt, not a magic bullet. ABS will help prevent locking up your brakes, but it’s no substitute for good braking technique. In an emergency situation, distance matters. ABS will help keep your bike upright and straight, but it doesn’t improve stopping distance. Proper technique will stop a bike shorter than the ABS system will, so “just grab the lever and hang on” isn’t a great approach.

    I will agree that it’s great for beginners though. It gives them the chance to practice at the extremes of their brake’s capabilities with much less chance of dumping their bike while they learn. In my opinion, it’s a safety net, but if the ABS kicks in, you’re braking incorrectly for the given situation.

    What’s also missing from #7 is what proper braking technique actually is. I recall a HFL article about exactly that from a couple years ago.

    Regarding brake upgrades, this piece would benefit from a deeper discussion of floating vs. non-floating rotors, sintered pads, brake fluid types and the relationship between the size of the piston in your master cylinder and the size of the piston(s) in the brake calipers. There’s an opportunity to go deeper here, why not take it?