The Do’s and Don’ts of Emergency Braking

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Emergency Braking

Emergency braking is the most crucial safety skill you can learn, but also one you’ll hopefully never have to use. If you suddenly find a car turning in front of you, it’s often your only way out. Here’s some easy do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to emergency braking on a motorcycle.

Photo by Brian Gaid

Brake lever

Do: Progressively Squeeze The Lever

Starting gently and working up to max pressure will transfer the motorcycle’s weight to the front wheel and compresses the tire, expanding its contact patch and increasing its grip.

Don’t: Just Grab A Handful

Even with ABS, simply going straight to max brake pressure will overwhelm the front tire’s grip and cause it to skid. If you don’t have ABS, that will likely lead to a wipe out. If you do, you just won’t be achieving an optimal rate of deceleration.

Do: Use Both Brakes

Even on bikes that don’t come with handlebar tassels, where the weight bias is dramatically forward under braking, the rear tire may retain contact with the road and even have a little traction, so using both brakes will help slow you down.

Don’t: Rely On The Back Brake Only

Not only is the back brake less powerful than the front brake, weight is also transferred off the rear brake under deceleration which reduces the rear tire’s traction.

Do: Be Aware Of Traffic Around You

It’s no good going to maximum braking power only to be swatted by the texting SUV driver tailgating you. Ride defensively at all times and try to create a “bubble” of space around you at all times. This will give you room to take evasive maneuvers like emergency braking should you need it.

Don’t: Let Other Vehicles Dictate Your Safety

Ride in such a manner that you control your relationship with other traffic. Don’t find yourself in a situation where another motorist is able to tailgate you or restrict your vision. Move through traffic with authority and confidence.


Photo by Thomas Hawk

Do: Plan Ahead

As you’re riding, you need to be constantly scanning your entire area — above and below and to the side and behind you — but pay particular attention to where you’re going and look as far ahead as possible. As cars pull up to intersections or other traffic movements occur, plan how you’ll deal with each one, then put that plan into action.

Don’t: Get Taken By Surprise

Surprise creates panic, panic creates accidents. Use your superior vision — move around in your lane and alter your distance from other vehicles in order to maximize it — and develop a sixth sense capable of predicting what other people are about to do. Identify potential risks before they threaten you, then avoid them before they become a problem.

Do: Practice

Motorcycles have exceptional braking abilities, but conversely, their brakes are exceptionally difficult to master. Go find a big, empty parking lot and spend half a day familiarizing yourself with your motorcycle’s abilities and working up from a walking pace until you’re able to confidently bring your bike to a commanding halt from normal road speeds.

Don’t: Rely On Something You Don’t Know How To Use

How fast can your motorcycle stop? What happens when the rear wheel starts to lift off the ground? How much back brake can you use before that wheel locks? What does it feel like to lock the front wheel? You should know the answers to all these questions by heart.

Do: Brake Hard!

You rear wheel might lift up, the ABS might kick in, you might pee your pants a little bit, but every MPH that you can lose before hitting something will incrementally reduce impact forces, thereby reducing your chances of injury or death. What might kill you at 40 mph may only send you home with bruises at 30. And that’s a mere fraction of a second of max braking apart.

Don’t: Let Go

Trust your bike and your abilities. Your best bet to avoid the accident or reduce its severity lies in braking, not in bailing.

What is your best advice for fellow writers when it comes to emergency braking?

  • Loren Andrews

    This saved me a couple of weeks ago. All of a sudden the car in front me decided to rapidly brake. Instinctively I knew from practice how much force I could apply before lock up. I grabbed the front brake until I knew It couldn’t go any more and safely dropped my speed while dropping gears. I have only been riding for 6 months but the first thing I did when I got my bike was to test how much I could brake and swerve, and it has saved me multiple times.

    • Strafer

      I had a quick stop the first time riding my bike!
      I bought a used bike in the same city, drove it home and had to return something from the bike to the seller-
      Driving back to the seller I give it a little gas when possible to make sure the bike is running ok (first time driving it)
      I get to a long street with not much foot traffic or intersections and where traffic usually moves fast (there was no traffic)
      Some out of town folk were struggling with parallel parking – the back of the car was in – the front not at all – at an angle
      instead of pulling out and turning the wheel and starting over parallel to the car in front, they pulled straight out into the road until they blocked the entire road – i guess they didn’t look before they pulled out either
      I’m coming up fast (and loud) and start braking – i don’t brake too hard to avoid a lock (don’t know bike’s stopping capabilities yet, or my abilities yet) I assume they will move a few inches backwards so I can swerve around
      No they stay put like a deer in headlights and i hit both brakes harder until i hear the rear wheel locked sliding on the road –
      I stopped in time but I think they were shocked – calling me a madman lol

      • Sjef

        That’s the best part, where they blame you as a rider. That royally pisses me off when it happens to me.

  • Michael Howard

    Also, be aware that different road surfaces ‒ and different conditions ‒ have vastly different amounts of traction. A stretch of road you ride daily and know like the back of your hand will offer way less traction if it’s even lightly coated with grit, road salt, etc.

    • Jesse

      And tar snakes? Screw tar snakes.

    • Piglet2010

      Fresh asphalt with oil bleeding out can be more slippery than ice when wet – I have the scratches on the muffler on my Honda Deauville to prove it.

  • Jose Manuel

    Practice weight transfer at back of your motorcycle, try to be as smooth as possible.

    • Piglet2010

      If your arms are long enough – seriously, this is why Pedrosa gets out-braked by larger riders.

  • Flaks redder også liv

    all of the do’s above work better if you learn how to use your legs instead of your arms to hold your weight when braking. Elbows should be at 90 degree angle and no, or as little as possible, of your weight should be on your arms when braking. For bonus stability – look far ahead.

    • zedro

      Our MC license course taught us to lock the arms straight, the premise being it forces the bars straight and keeps you from being shot forward. Never quite bought into it, seemed like it was designed for riders with lower control skills and delays your ability to weave later on.

      • Flaks redder også liv

        hope you’re MC license course was very cheap. It still wasn’t worth what you paid. Insanely stupid tips. And btw, I’m a licensed instructor with a bachelor degree. I don’t know where you live, but if possible I would recomend California Superbike School who teach advanced riding several places around the world.

        • zedro

          Was part of the mandatory classes for a Quebec permit, although i don’t know if the province mandated that tip.The instructor was a self taught sport biker, and there was a lot of contradictory things from what i had read. I knew things weren’t right when they initially assumed my dirt bike experience would be a liability :rolleyes:

          • Flaks redder også liv

            self taught sport biker! That reminds me of a video I found on youtube some time ago. Some sport-bike rider talking and demonstrating counter-sitting! Extremely funny for those who know a little about riding, potentialy dangerous for those believing it. Thankfully there’s a few good videos out there showing proper tecnique’s like counter-steering. But I believe almost everyone could learn a thing or two from a serious riding instructor. Keith Code and Californis Superbike School is the best known of the serious schools. But there might be some closer too you. Please keep new riders away from self thaught sport bikers :-) And btw – Dirt bike experience is very valuable to riding on the street, and a lot of the techniques transfers perfectly. The greatest difference is seating positiong and a need to look further ahead because of higher speeds.

            • Paul M Edwards


              • Flaks redder også liv

                Google it! Some people refuse to believe in counter steering and actually believe that the bike steers by moving your behind from side to side on the saddle. Guess there’s no cure for stupid.

                • Piglet2010

                  How did Pridmore père et fils win five AMA championships using minimal counter-steering then?

                • Flaks redder også liv

                  That’s easy to explain. He didn’t.
                  It is not possible to ride a motorcycle without counter steering. Try welding your steering and see how far you get. Counter steering is key to moving in balance. You counter steer when walking, running, ice-skating, skiing, riding bicycle and motorcycle. Example. If you are running and want to turn left, you will start by moving your feet more to the right, thus making your body lean over to the left. Thats how you steer your body, and the principal is universal.
                  Some riders do this naturally, and most people do not think consciusly about how to balance there own body. But most riders ride better and safer when they understand how steering works.

                • Piglet2010

                  Uh, I have ridden pillion with JP43, and he is *NOT* giving the deliberate push on the handlebar to flop the bike into the corner the way some (e.g. Keith Code) teach. Note that I wrote “minimal counter-steering”, not “no counter-steering”.

                  In addition, your contention that people who have run successful motorcycle training schools do not understand what their bodies are doing (video camera, anyone) is gratuitously insulting to them.

                  P.S. They, not he.

                • Flaks redder også liv

                  Ok. Piglet2010. You are correct in your description that Keith Code is teaching a very deliberate use of counter steering. That is the best way to teach a new way to do things. Also, by using counter-steering deliberately you gain confidence and feel for how to use it much faster.

                  I’m not particularly scared of insulting people on this topic. I might not have the race-track merits they do, but I know more about proper riding techniques than most race-track instructors know. Specially when we are talking about street riding. I’ve corrected world champions before for not knowing how the physics work. They know how to ride it, but a lot of times they cant explain it very well. Remember I’m a professional instructor too.

                  That’s the good thing about the Keith Code schools. They at least try to teach a proper understanding of how the bike works. Learning the basics well is necesary for most adult beginners. A lot of racers have grown up riding bikes, and have figured it out for themselves. But, as I’ve said, a lot of times they’re mind does not really understand what they are doing. Look at motocross and it’s extreme use of countersteering – then ask a young rider about how they use the handlebars to steer. Most of them don’t even know what they are doing. A turn to them is about moving body forward and the inside leg is lifted of the pegs and towards the front wheel. In the midle of this the rider will push the inside handle forward and down. That’s what makes the bike turn, but all the other things they are doing are big movements, while the push forward is a small movement and therefore a lot of the riders are not aware of doing it.

                  For the majority of riders it would not be necessary to know about counter-steering at all, if not for the fact that a lot of accidents have happened because the rider turns the wrong way. Typicaly a rider is entering a left corner too fast. They then try to force the turn by steering more to the left by pushing harder on the right handlebar. This makes the bike turn right and off the road. By knowing, and practicing counter steering you would know that the bike turns left by pushing forward on the left handlebar. In an emergency you might even have to do this the Keith Code way with a deliberate hard push (normally your’e not moving the handlebar more than an inch or two, but the movement would still need to be quick in an emergency). On a racetrack and normal riding you would focus on a smoother use of counter-steering. You would be perfecting your line and stringing turns together and sudden sharp movements are normally not the best way to do that. It still pays to know how to use the handlebars so as a teacher I make my students use exagerated counter-steering in the beginning, then use smaller movements as they’re skills progress.

                • Piglet2010

                  “Remember I’m a professional instructor too.” – Before you mentioned it, to most of us you were just another Disqus user name.

                  “I’m not particularly scared of insulting people…” – So are you also a street brawler? But more seriously, when you gratuitously insult other professionals, it reflects badly on you, not them.

                  I have taken classes from both Lee Parks (he explicitly uses the technique Code teaches) and JP43 at Star Motorcycle School, and have proved to myself that both techniques work. Now I agree that a deliberate hard counter-steer is appropriate when taking emergency evasion on the street*, but on the track or for planned cornering on the street the results are less clear.

                  * With some exceptions – my Honda Elite 110 steers so quickly that anything beyond a mild push is not needed for even the sharpest evasive swerves. To take the point even further, my RANS Mini push bike does not require anything beyond single-finger pressure to swerve hard. On the opposite end, a 800+ pound cruiser with 8 inches of trail, a 70-inch wheelbase, a 21-inch front wheel, and a 300m section rear tire is going to require a hard push just to turn a normal corner at moderate speed.

                • Flaks redder også liv

                  “Remember I’m a professional instructor too.” – Before you mentioned it, to most of us you were just another Disqus user name.”

                  I wrote that because it’s mentioned in this thread.

                  “I’m not particularly scared of insulting people…” – So are you also a street brawler? But more seriously, when you gratuitously insult other professionals, it reflects badly on you, not them.”

                  I’m sorry if I come across a little hard. English is not my main language. But to try to explain better: I’ve taken many courses, and I’ve also been an instructor on a lot. I’ve had the privilige of being an instructor for instructors a number of times. If somebody doesn’t explain correctly, I will tell them. This has so far (mostly) been the start of interesting discussions. I’ve not come across a good rider (or instructor) who are truly insulted. Good teachers/instructors and riders are always looking for new understanding or better ways to teach. Temperature might run a bit hot during some discussions, but most are civilized enough to talk as adults. A tiny number does not want to change what they do, or discuss anything they say. I’ve told them my opinion and they refuse to listen. I accept that, I’m not a brawler, but I will not be silent if someone is talking BS. This might also be the reason why I have been elected to represent my organization several times over the years. I’ve been part of expert panels on local, national and international levels. If you insist on respecting people to a level where you believe every word and question nothing – then neither you nor your instructor will be able to evolve as much as you should.

                  Now back to counter steering. Yes of course you will need to use more or less force when counter-steering. It changes from bike to bike. Pluss with higher speeds you need to use more force. But the principle is the same on every bike. I can steer my Electra Glide with only my fingers, but I’ll need to use more force than on my KTM 690 or my Honda CRF250.
                  I’m not sure if I understand the meaning of this sentence “but on the track or for planned cornering on the street the results are less clear.” I understand that it might be harder to feel the input on the handlebars at lower speed, but laws of nature does not change do they?

                  By being aware of how you use pressure on the handlebars when riding normally, you are also practicing for the emergency.

                • Piglet2010

                  The meaning of the results being less clear is that students of both the “Code” and “Pridmore” schools of motorcycle handling have achieved impressive racing results, so both techniques can be made to work very well.

                  I do not think most people running triding schools would be insulted by disagreement, but would be insulted by being called ignorant of what they are doing.

                • Paul M Edwards

                  I am very familiar with “counter-steering” but not “counter-sitting.”

                • Flaks redder også liv

                  Paul. That is a good thing. Counter-sitting is not a very good way of riding.
         This is a video. Notice lack of gear, not looking far ahead, stiff arms and upright sitting position and a bogus explanation showing this guy doesnt really have a clue

                • Paul M Edwards

                  Oh, I was taught to do that for tight, low-speed turns (such as what they are demonstrating), and that it is called “counter-balancing.”
                  It is an effective and legitimate practice which the guy is actually demonstrating well, even if he’s using a dumb term for it. His gear is appropriate for the conditions and speed, IMNSHO.

        • WheelieGood13

          You have a bachelor degree in riding instruction?

          • Flaks redder også liv

            No. I have a bachelor degree in teaching traffic (A little difficult to translate the exact term, but thats close. You could say I’m a specialized drivers ed teacher. But our system is very different from the US so it’s not really that much comparable to an american high school teacher). My main paper was a about the needs of motorcycle instructors. Basic understanding of riding, courses needed and so forth. Then I have built further on my bachelor with more studies on motorcycle riding.

            • WheelieGood13

              Not sure where you’re from, but I like their approach to this stuff.

  • Kyle Kurz

    Kudos on stopping the obnoxious click-bait page splits. Nothing more annoying than a story you want to read that is split into two pages just so RideApart (or whatever website is doing it) can have higher page views. If it’s long, by all means, give me two pages, but most stories can be one, as we have this thing called scrolling…

    • Zanpa

      A good portion of the readers also have this thing called “adblock”. When ad revenue is your only source of income, and a non-negligible part of your users refuse to give it to you, it can be hard to keep a website running.
      More and more people block advertisements… I do not blame websites that try and mitigate this.
      Dividing an article in two pages is still way better than what the real “click-bait page splits” websites do, which amounts to 12 different pages for a “top 12″ list that has been written in five minutes by a random person who was hardly even paid.
      To me, as long as the content is good (which is the case for most articles on rideapart), and it does not become overly hard to access, everything is fine.

      • Kyle Kurz

        Please explain to me how two pages with all the ads blocked can generate any more revenue than a single page with all the ads blocked? Also, I agree with the second half of your comment and see my reply to Anthony below for what I was really getting at with my OP.

      • Khali

        I run Adblock.

        Was happier paying $2 per month to read HFL in the old times, and would be happy to pay them again.

    • anthony

      The bottom line is that the site is free. They need to generate revenue somehow. Do you work for free? I think it is a very small price to pay to view informative and helpful articles by clicking on a second page.

      • Kyle Kurz

        No, I don’t work for free and I don’t expect the authors of this site to either. I appreciate what they do and that they are able to find a way to make money writing about the motorcycle lifestyle. I was merely bemoaning the current internet trend of page views >> user experience and, more importantly, giving praise to the fact that it seems RideApart has realized that the UX suffered when they implemented the splits.

        • Paul M Edwards

          “No, I don’t work for free and I don’t expect the authors of this site to either.”
          “ad-blockers, of which I am one, but would consider whitelisting sites that I enjoy who request I do so”

          Those statements are at odds. By using ad-block, we are making them work for free. Suggesting the site beg and plea to ad-block users’ mercy is bogus. I’m unlikely to do it because ads are a known vector for malware and, even though I use Linux which is more secure, I’m not willing to risk it. I’d rather send them some money directly.

    • appliance5000

      The NSA views this post with amusement and has put you on a no fly list just for kicks.

  • Scott

    Don’t forget to practice hard breaking in turns. You have to come out of your lean as you slow down or you will go down. I went down one time I came around a turn and a cop was stopped in the middle of my lane…

    • Paul M Edwards

      Trail braking is done regularly by the best riders in the world. They usually don’t go down when doing so. Panic braking while leaned over will definitely cause you to run out of traction.

      Fast is smooth; smooth is fast.

      • Piglet2010

        Of course trail braking is really trailing off braking during corner entry.

      • Scott

        Trail breaking is a nice skill but isn’t emergency breaking. I suppose you can practice trail breaking and coming to a complete controlled stop in the same turn.

  • Bill Rushlow

    If you have a pillion on a regular basis (like I do), don’t forget to practice emergency braking with them on the bike. Knowing how the bike brakes both with and without a passenger is important, too. It’s saved us more than once. My wife is precious cargo.

  • MCC315

    Lastly- DO: lay ‘er down if you have to

    • Mykola

      If you ride a rubbish bike, lay ‘er down in a turn rounding a cliff. Then proceed to get a not-rubbish bike and learn how not to lay ‘er down.

    • 200 Fathoms

      Love it. “During the 47 milliseconds in which I had a chance to react to the situation, I pondered my options carefully and finally came to the conclusion that the superior choice was to lay ‘er down.” Translation: I panicked and grabbed too much front brake.

      Watch the YouTube videos. These situations are basically over before you even know what’s happening.

    • Afonso Mata

      I’ll have to disagree.
      Last Spring, there was a day I was lanesplitting (way too fast than I should), when a car switched lanes without warning.
      For a split second thought about laying her down.
      But then I executed a textbook emergency brake and managed to hit the car at the amazing speed of 0.5mph.
      Of course, almost no damage done, and we were all kinda happy.

      As it’s quite common to read here on RideApart: our bike’s brakes are way better than we think and 99,5% of the time, we don’t really need to lay ‘er down.

    • Paul M Edwards

      Ditching the bike is NOT an option as far as I’m concerned. Sliding down the road with virtually no control of yourself or your vehicle is disastrous and completely irresponsible.

      • MCC315

        It was a joke.. RideApart recently had* an article on lay’er down

        • Paul M Edwards

          Ah… Your attempt at humor would have been more successful if you had included a link to the article for context.

  • Archie

    Learning to brake mid-turn is crucial. Stand the bike upright as you squeeze on the front brake. Stay well away from that rear brake until the bike is almost upright.

    Another point some people will argue on a sports bike is how the rear brake becomes redundant in a e-braking scenario. Ideally, you’re applying maximum braking force with the front brake, therefore your rear wheel will – in most scenarios with most sport/street bike setups – lift off the ground to the point where it has zero traction. Most will argue that the rear brake is effective in slowing you down just that little bit more; however, if the rear brake is actually effective then you theoretically are NOT using your front brake’s full potential, which we all know is far more efficient at slowing you down. The obvious course of action there is to give it more on the front, not trying to balance it so the rear is able to contribute. TL;DR: Front brake > rear brake.

    Also, two finger braking makes my skin crawl. Try it under PROPERLY hard braking. Tell me how your third and fourth fingers weren’t crushed by the lever. Bet you looked cool, though. Seriously, I don’t understand why you’d do it. Your outer fingers are able to actuate your levers much more easily than you can achieve right next to the pivot with your index and middle fingers. USE THEM.

    • zion

      Well stated, but keep in mind, if you have someone on your pillion or if you have a relatively fair amount of weight on your tail end (maybe you’re sport touring) that weight will help in keeping traction on the rear wheel. In turn, rear brake will help.

      • Archie

        Absolutely true, but like I said those pointers were aimed at sport bike riders.

        • zion

          Oh, I know, but it still applies to a sport bike if they’ve got the significant other on the back.

    • george

      Racing involves regular use of maximum braking. If you’re not braking as hard as you can, then someone else will, and you’ll get passed. Many racers (amateur and pros) use two finger braking. I’ve used it on all of my racebikes, and never had my other fingers crunched. If your lever is adjusted close to the bar, then finger crunching might occur. While in many instances racing is not a good example of what to do on the street, for braking it is.

      The habits you use everyday are what you will revert to in an emergency. If you are concerned about what happens under maximum braking, as the article says, go practice.

      • Archie

        I guess it entirely depends on the bike you’re riding and how it’s set up on the track. If you have rubbish brakes, two finger braking is going to make life very hard when you boil the fluid and the lever just turns to mush. Strictly speaking I do “two finger brake” on most of my bikes, but not in the traditional sense as shown in the article’s pic. I get the best feel from the middle and ring fingers – my index finger never really gets used at all, the pinky just follows the ring finger. Blip with the thumb/palm and it’s all good.

        • KeithB

          Try 2 finger braking on my 1974 CB550!
          Seriously though, 2 fingers is enough to get my FJR to brake hard enough.
          Having toured a lot with luggage full and gear on the back of the ST1100 , adding rear brake is something I have worked hard to get right.
          The FJR has a linked system (and ABS) and I can definately feel the difference.

    • Dubknot

      If I brake hard with four fingers, I will lock the front wheel. Two fingers give me a lot more control, as with four fingers, I’d have to baby the lever too much to get max braking quickly. I have large hands, and the levers are adjustable for a reason, and with the lever adjusted all the way out, which is comfortable for me; no smashed fingers. It’s not all about looking pretty, lol

    • Pat

      If you’re crushing your ring and pinky fingers under hard braking either
      your brake lever is not adjusted properly, there’s air in the system,
      or your brakes are just crap in general. On most modern bikes two
      finger braking is more than enough to lock up the front tire so by
      telling people they should use four in an emergency situation will just
      cause them to lock up even faster. I would say if you are used to two finger
      braking then just practice more and stick to what you’re used to in any

      • Ayabe

        Absolutely, you can also exhibit more precise control and it’s easier to blip the throttle for downshifts. It seems foreign at first but after a little practice it’s fantastic. I’m always two fingers on the lever except under full throttle. Even under the most ‘proper’ circumstances I cannot crush my outer fingers.

        I use a little rear brake before applying the front to help combat front dive on my bike during hard stops.

        • Piglet2010

          Two fingers on the brake is mandatory when trail braking.

          On the track, I never use the rear brake.

      • LowEndPower

        …the problem is that what you practice in normal situations is often insufficient to deal with an emergency situation.

    • Paul M Edwards

      Trail braking is a good thing to practice. The best riders do not wait to brake (proportionately) while leaned over midway through curves. The bike will try to stand up on its own when braking, so it’s good to be familiar with the handling characteristics in this type of situation.

      Fast is smooth; smooth is fast.

    • atomicalex

      I fly my index and pinky when two-finger braking. Who says they have to be wrapped around the throttle grip?

  • zion

    DON’t: Use only two fingers pictured above. DO: Use all four fingers in an emergency stop situation.
    DON’t: Lock your arms straight, as taught to zedro (that right there tells me that course had an iffy instructor.) DO: as Flakus imparts, use your legs, get your knees on the tank.

    • Pat

      Don’t: Listen to every piece of random advice on the internet
      Do: do your own research and understand what works best for you

      • zion

        Can’t say I disagree.

    • ColoradoS14

      Not so much, I know that MSF teaches four finger braking in the classes but that does not apply to many of the bikes that we ride and for all people. I am a big strong dude riding an Italian naked bike with giant front brakes. I can lock the fronts easily with 2 fingers while keeping better control over the handlebars. In most modern bikes 4 fingers is overkill and more likely to cause you to accidentally grab a handful if you ask me.

      • zion

        I don’t disagree with you, per se’, but for true “emergency”, if you practice with the four fingers you’re not going to grab during the real thing and you’ll still have control of the bars. (and as someone noted earlier, less chance of crushing a couple of fingers.)

      • LowEndPower

        Some here may disagree (and I’m sure that a few will object) but the main thing is that you rarely stop at the limit of braking, so using the # of fingers that you use NORMALLY is questionable when you really need to use maximum safe pressure.

        Also I think that it is foolish to think that you can put two fingers in front and two behind faster than you can put all four in front.
        If say you’re gripping the bars with all 4 fingers one second and the next you ned to brake, the natural process is to put all four fingers up. The more that you panic, the more that you will revert to natural technique. If you’re really freaking out you will do everything wrong by instinct and only as time progresses will your conscious mind assert proper technique. You can’t train-away instinct, you can only train-away the fear that leads to an instinctive response. But no amount of training can train-away all fear, thus if you are truly “afraid” you are most likely to respond instinctively.

        So it doesn’t make sense to rely on training first in a true “panic” situation.
        It makes sense to rely on instinct first and training second.

        The first thing to do is to train yourself to not panic. Even then, you still will panic if things are bad enough.
        But in that case I would plan on doing something that is simple and easy: to just put all 4 fingers on the brake lever.
        Then try to rely on your training: squeeze with just two fingers.
        Now in an emergency where two fingers prove to be insufficienty strong: you have 2 more fingers in place to use.
        You don’t have to fumble around moving the other two fingers to the lever, especially having trapped them beneath the lever.

        And yes you may be strong, and your lever powerful, and you may feel that you can lock up the brake with two fingers easily.
        But there is a difference between thinking that you can lock it up with two figers easily in maximum braking,
        And knowing that you can lock it up with two fingers easily if you jump on the lever which you never want to do,
        and knowing that you can reach maximum braking in a panic situation with two fingers with a controlled, safe increase in lever pressure. Which you rarely if ever practice.

        I fully understand that this complicates using the throttle and the brake at the same time,
        but in a true panic-stop using the throttle is not a concern.
        And you don’t need to use your fingers to twist the throtttle. A thumb-grip is enough.

        So in the long run it’s not ideal either way and clearly the best thing to do is to never have to panic-stop.

    • atomicalex

      I disagree about the fingers. I need precision during emergency manoeuvers, and that means light touch. Two fingers for me during hard braking events, and they are usually my middle and ring, for extra weakness. And often, fingertips only. The most sensitivity and feedback. Try it, you might like it.

      Four is fine in normal traffic.

      • Michael Howard

        +1. Panic braking isn’t about applying maximum braking force, it’s about finding that point of maximum traction right before the tire starts losing its grip. That requires feel, finesse and experience.

        • LowEndPower

          …actually it’s about not even finding that point because you aren’t going to stop that much better and it’s going to dramatically increase the risk of washing-out the front end and leaving you and your bike to slide into the obstacle that you’re trying to avoid.

          You want to find a comfortable, safe braking point that is enough to keep you out of trouble and no more.

          And on some bikes, two fingers is more than enough for that.

    • LowEndPower

      DON’T: give generic advice that is actually bad advice in some situations.

    • zion

      The funny thing here is, if I didn’t use the DO/DON’t format here, I probably wouldn’t have caught so much S&^$. Yeah it is generic advice that isn’t suited for everything. For average riders, though, it is. A lot of riders don’t practice their threshold braking and don’t realize how much brake they’ve got on the front. In turn they don’t use all of it.
      Obviously, a lot of people responding are very aware of their brakes and their sensitivity, in turn you feel you can use two fingers or whatever combination works for you…..that’s cool.
      Didn’t realize I’d get so blasted…. luckily I’m not as sensitive as some high end braking systems!!!

      In the long run, the good thing here, is everyone is at least talking about it and keeping it in the forefront of their thinking.


  • Paul M Edwards

    Good article, but I’m kind of disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned (such as in the first paragraph) that on a motorcycle maneuvering is often a better escape vector than braking. I remember being told this during my MSF Basic Rider Course in mid-2007.

    • el_jefe

      Sometimes, maybe. But keep in mind that energy increases with square of velocity. Any speed you can take off with braking (maybe you brake then adjust course) is a lot less energy going in to breaking your important parts. An MSF instructor should be saying that it is completely dependent on the situation and judgment is key. But when in doubt, brake.

      • Paul M Edwards

        I prefer “when in doubt, gas it out!”

        Seriously though, you’re right that it’s entirely dependent on the situation and rider judgement.

    • Piglet2010

      In the MSF BRC they teach brake-let off-swerve.

  • Archie

    One more big pointer I forgot.

    DO: Grip with your knees. DON’T hold onto the bars like you’ll be thrown off any second.

    A light grip on the bars WILL save you in a huge number of scenarios, especially if you lock the front under sudden braking. Ages ago I had a blank moment when following slow moving traffic and zoned back in just as I realized the car in front of me had slammed on his brakes to get into a curb-side parking spot he suddenly wanted. I was gripping the tank with my knees and had a very light hold on the bars – enough to control them, of course – so when I did slam on the front brake, the wheel locked up and wiggled like mad until I eased off and let it grip again. If I’d tried to wrestle the bars into submission, I would have been immediately.

  • Thomas Whitener

    I said it on twitter, but I think it was advice columns like this that saved my life last week. I was on a long exit ramp, leaned over in the turn, and hit a patch of salt (I live in a valley in the Alps, so the roads are salted in the winter). Nearly lost the back end, and had to brake harder than I ever have, but when I inevitably hit the guardrail, I was doing < 10 mph. Some small damage to the bike, but I am "fine" (bumps and bruises, almost no road rash) because of the gear I was wearing and the techniques I learned here and elsewhere. The gear, you taught me to shop for. The techniques, you showed me how to practice.

    The bike will be out of the shop early next week (maybe, it is Italy after all), and I should be completely healed before then.

    • LowEndPower

      “The gear, you taught me to shop for. The techniques, you showed me how to practice.”

      Then you missed the real lesson, which is to expect patches of salt in corners in the winter and to ride slow enough to see and avoid them.
      And if you do have to go through one lean the bike up straight as you ride through it.

      Leaning over through a salt-patch is just bad technique on many levels.

      • Thomas Whitener

        You’re right, of course. I’m still a new rider, and I count this as a somewhat expensive, and somewhat painful, lesson. Certainly not a mistake I will make again, but what I was trying to get at was that it could have been much worse.

        Also, in my defense, I’m from the southeast US. Salt on the roads is not something we are ever expecting. :P

  • M Baker

    There is a misconception that the increased size of the
    contact patch of the tire causes the increased frictional force available to
    the tire (grip). While the size of the
    contact patch does correlate with the increase in grip it is not the cause. In
    fact, both the increase in grip and the increase in the contact patch size are
    both caused by the same thing. The cause is an increase in downward force.

    Frictional Force = (Coefficient of Friction)*(Force)

    Not the frictional force is independent of surface area. The coefficient of friction is determined by
    the two surfaces in question. In the
    case of a motorcycle the force is dependent on the weight. When you brake you
    transfer the bikes weight to the front wheel. The increased pressure on the front wheel
    increases grip…the increased contact patch is just a side effect.

    • Arsinol

      Contact patch does not increase the frictional force but does allow for more contact with the ground below it. Allot of the road surface is rough even made up of different materials thus different coefficient of friction. if you have a larger surface area you will be touching materials with higher coefficient of friction. Also when a tire deforms it changes the tires properties increasing its coefficient of friction. the coefficient of friction depends on surface roughness, molecular adhesion, and deformation effects (ref

  • Khali


    I am a bit scared of emergency braking since I blocked my front wheel and ate some asphalt for breakfast in one.

    Now I tend to underbrake a bit on the front and overbrake a bit on the back. Yesterday I had to emergency brake and the rear locked and shacked quite a bit. Didnt like it much :( Tips?

    • Jesse

      Practice, practice, practice in a big ol’ empty lot.

      Glad you were OK enough to post this.

      • Wes Siler

        +1. Practice.

    • LowEndPower

      Don’t use the rear brake at all unless you are already at a stop.
      Concentrate on your issues with the front brake…do not grab the brake ever.

      Just grip it smoothly and continue to squeeze it harder and harder, just like squeezing a tennis-ball,

      until you are braking hard enough, then you can ease back off it.

      Likewise don’t just pop the brake loose. Ease up off it.

      That will keep the front forks from exploding out and taking all the weight off the front wheel.

      If you increase pressure on the lever rather slowly (I mean, within reason given the circumstances),

      then the brake will take an incredible amount of pressure before the wheel locks up.

      And as you increase pressure you will feel the front wheel start to drift more and more,

      letting you know that you are about to reach the the limit of braking, when it locks up and dumps you.

      This does assume that you don’t have a steering-damper on the bike which will mask light steering during extreme braking,

      in which case you just have to go on experience.

      Ideally you are not riding in a way which would cause you to need to even come close to the limit of braking.
      If not then prepare to wreck, because that’s what’s going to happen when you lock-up the front wheel trying to stop.

      But that back brake, buddy? Leave it alone unless you want to hold the bike still at a stop.

      • Khali

        In my bike (V-Strom) it makes quite sense to use both brakes, as it loads quite a bit weight on the rear. Everyone told me to do so after I falled, so I practiced everyday until I mostly automatized it. I would say it helps on this kind of bike.

        And yes, I ride in a way that emergency braking is not needed most of the time, just having 1-2 escape routes all the time, anticipating car movements and going at an appropiate speed. Engine braking + a bit of front brake is more than enough for any situation I face daily with my riding style. But sometimes things stack so you have no safe escape route and can only brake. There is where I dont trust my front wheel 100%

        Thanks for the tips!

        • SBErules

          You’re not getting it, kid.

          It doesn’t make sense to do X because of Y, if Y has little if anything to do with the success of X and indeed might actually make you fail at X. In this case, as was said before, using both brakes splits your attention between the two when you need to focus on using the one right as well as what is happening in front of you. If you lock up the rear you will probably wreck, and if you lock up the front you almost certainly will wreck. Why do you want to try to walk and chew gum while bringing a motorcyle to an emergency stop?

          Do you get it now?

          Now, it’s your choice. Do the smart thing or do what “everyone” tells you to do, what you think “quite makes sense” etc.

          You won’t be the first to die doing it, or the last, so in that sense it won’t matter.
          As an added special bonus a little lesson in motorcycle physics.

          The more that you use the front brake, the more that the center of gravity shifts towards the front end, meaning the more weight is on the front and the easier it is to lock the rear brake. So if you continuously increase pressure on both brakes at the same time what do you think will happen? Bonus question: if you don’t continuously increase pressure on both at the same time, what happens then? Double-bonus question: do you think it matters if the bike is an ADV bike or not?

          Triple-bonus question: how is this change affected by the height of the CoG above the front axle?

        • SBErules

          “But sometimes things stack so you have no safe escape route and can only brake. There is where I dont trust my front wheel 100%”

          That is because you are not experienced in its optimal use.

          You are just experienced at goofing around with it.

          the bottom line is that the brake will only lock up when you lock it up and if you knew what you were doing with it and you did what makes sense with it, it wouldn’t lock up. I quite agree that there is a time and a place to use the rear brake but it is not when you are trying to stop in as short a distance as possible in an emergency. In those conditions you need to concentrate on getting the most out of the front brake without locking it up. Or even, getting a large amount of braking-potential out of the front without locking it up. You certainly can avoid locking it up by not even using it and use only the rear, but the more that you do use either the front or rear brake the more weight comes off the rear and the easier it will be to lock-up the rear which would be bad.

          How many ways do you need me to explain this to you?

          It’s just like cornering a bike. The more that you lean the bike over the more likely you are to roll off the side of the tread, so your main concern when leaned-over near the limit is to make sure that you don’t roll off the side of the tread, not to try to brake and turn at the limit at the same time.

          • Khali

            Yes, with my old bike I was experienced on using the front brake to the max, but with this one I am not that much since I am afraid of locking it again. Just regaining that confidence goes slowly and when I emergency brake I am usually more concerned about locking the front than about not hitting whatever I have in front of me and that scares me a bit since sometimes I just end too close to it.

            I will try to not use the rear at such braking situations, thank you for the tips :)

      • Paul M Edwards

        I like most of what you said, but am concerned about your suggestion to never use the rear brake to help stop the bike. Doing so is leaving potential braking ability unutilized. Riders need to practice and understand the stopping power and lock-up threshold of their bike’s front AND rear brakes (factors which will be different on each bike) and use both brakes to their maximum ability when the situation warrants it.

  • El Isbani

    Had my first braking mishap recently on Guadalupe, car came to an abrupt but not altogether dangerous stop in front of me. Knowing I could stop quickly, I did so, only to lock up my front–but the bad part was I was surprised, pulled harder I accidentally gave it some throttle. After that, I don’t know what happened, but being such a small bike, I kept it upright as it squirmed beneath me and I stood up, but that is one lesson I’m glad I learned on a bike under 400 hundred pounds! Biggest lesson, not to get caught by surprise, it was completely unnecessary.

  • Tom Nicklas Sand

    You forgot one of the most important thing while braking, bracing yourself, and not by locking your arms but squeezing your thighs against the tank. Your arms should be loose. Not an easy thing in an emergency but practice it enough and it becomes muscle memory…

    • mbust

      (First post). Of great assistance in this, is to use stompgrips ( Without them you are going to slide into the tank which will make your position in an emergency far less than optimal. When you squeeze the tank, you are likely to still slide if you are wearing textile pants of any type. But with stompgrips relatively little squeezing is necessary to keep you in place, allowing you to 1) transfer a lot less weight to the handlebars, 2) keep yourself in control of the bike, 3) removing one more item to worry about in those critical milliseconds (to get back on the saddle). Highly recommended!

  • Joe Thrower

    This might be a dumb question, but do you pull in the clutch while emergency braking?

    • Tom Nicklas Sand

      Yes. One should also try to downshift into first simultaneously so that you can get going quickly if you need to. Practice makes perfect ;-)

      • Wes Siler

        What he said. But, if you really need to stop, just focus on stopping. You can sort out the rest later.

      • James Jamerson

        Yes, but don’t really worry about it – you’ll find it happens by reflex.

      • Piglet2010

        Not shifting into 1st is a demerit point on the MSF BRC exam.

    • Paul M Edwards

      Not a dumb question.
      I have trained myself to use engine breaking as much as possible to add to the deceleration. It is such a habit that I even do it during emergency braking. Therefore, I modulate the clutch in an inverse proportion to the brakes.

      • Joe Thrower

        This is what I do as well, I’ll let engine braking slow me down when coming to a stop but lightly drag my rear brake so my light comes on. I haven’t had to do any real emergency braking maneuvers yet.

        • Paul M Edwards

          As others have suggested, it’s good to practice in empty lots so you know what to expect.

      • Piglet2010

        I have starting downshifting “early and often” after Star Motorcycle School – that is my “rear braking” on the track.

    • LowEndPower

      I do, because the rear will hop around if you don’t pull the clutch in and you brake hard enough.

      Depends on how much I intend to slow down. But usually I pull the clutch in when braking anyway.

  • FridaysAreFunDays

    Another story with yet more bad advice.

    Don’t use the rear brake in an emergency stop.

    Just focus on using the front brake well.

    So what if the rear has “some traction” even under hard braking

    That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to try to use it by braking with the rear.

    It’s better to use it to make sure that the rear stays in line so that you don’t have to worry about the rear sliding out or even highsiding.

    As far as worrying about getting hit from behind, yes, that is true it is a concern.
    But the best ways to avoid this are to:

    1) stay JUST behind the car in front of you or to pass it on the side so that cars coming from behind don’t hit you, they hit the car next to you.

    But the danger of weaving around the car in front is that you weave into someone elses’ weave.

    And you really don’t want to be next to a car that’s being hit by another car from the side.

    Still that’s better than getting run-over from behind.

    But still there’s a better solution altogether.

    The very-best way to avoid trouble in emergency-stops:

    2) Don’t make emergency-stops.

    The best way to deal with the risk of sudden braking on a bike is to not have to do it at all.

    Give yourself plenty of space, anticipate, ride cautiously and brake early so that you never have to brake hard.

    You can either maneuver out of the accident, or brake gently to avoid it, or even both.

    And again if you do have to brake because the car in front of you is stopping quickly,

    use the distance between you and the car ahead as a braking-zone.

    Allow your bike to slowly pull right up to the bumper of the car in front by braking just slightly less than they do.

    You just don’t want to hit them. That’s all you need.
    You just have to worry about one thing: their sliding into another vehicle and suddenly stopping.

    But this should never happen in real life because you are on a bike much higher than their car and

    you should be able to see beyond them and predict this happening. Never focus only on the car in front of you.

    • Wes Siler

      Watch the attitude or you won’t be commenting here anymore.

      RideApart reaches an incredibly diverse group of motorcyclists, from professional sportbike racers to people who haven’t even yet begun to ride. As such, we need to make sure our advice is broad and applicable to all skill levels.

      While yeah, an experienced rider on a sportbike may not need to use the rear, a n00b on a Bonneville might benefit from doing so. It’s in the DMV’s rider’s ed manual for a reason. If you’re good enough that you’re only modulating the rear brake to manage yaw, then you probably don’t need to be reading an article on basic braking techniques.

      • FridaysAreFunDays

        “Watch the attitude or you won’t be commenting here anymore.”

        it’s ironic that you say this as the “advice” in some of these articles is not just ill-considered, it’s seriously bad advice.
        Yet such advice appears here with great frequency.

        A New Englander would say that these articles just shouldn’t be published in the first place.

        ” It’s in the DMV’s rider’s ed manual for a reason”

        Yeah because someone decided to put it in there LOL

        Doesn’t mean that it’s a GOOD reason.

        Or that said “advice” applies to all riders on all bikes in all emergency-braking situations.

        Having to furiously caveat the blanket and oft-erroneous advice frequently given in these articles doesn’t seem to be a problem for you, though.

        In summary:

        “RideApart reaches an incredibly diverse group of motorcyclists, from
        professional sportbike racers to people who haven’t even yet begun to
        ride. As such, we need to make sure our advice is broad and applicable
        to all skill levels”

        You can’t write advice that is broad and applicable to all skill levels unless you say little at all.

        The more advice that you give out and the more broad that you try to make it, the more that it is going to work well for some riders at some skill levels and be just bad advice for all the others. Even then it will be good in some situations and bad in others.

        Yet you want to run a website where you give out advice over a wide range of topics on a regular basis.

        What do you expect is going to happen?
        Eventually you are going to give out some “advice” which plain and simply is going to get someone killed trying to follow it.

        Your attitude to this seems to be incredibly blase’.

        It will be interesting to see if you still have this attitude when you’re served with a court summons.

      • HardLookAtReality

        seriously you gotta stop taking posts personally and deleting them just because they make you look bad

      • Piglet2010

        As for the Bonnie, the rear brake is much stronger than normal – at least on my 2013 it is really easy to lock up. Practice would be a particularly good idea, rather than learning the hard way by high-siding. If Triumph ever sells an ABS retrofit kit, I will buy one.

        As an aside, here in Iowa the DMV manual for motorcycle riding is a licensed reprint of the MSF manual.

  • Eric Shay

    Don’t be afraid when your back brake locks up, it will do it a lot if you go into a panic brake and grab too much front. just be sure of you release if you are at too much of an angle.

    • LowEndPower

      Your rear brake will only lock up if you use it.
      What happens up front has nothing to do with the back brake.

  • Alan F

    Excellent. Thanks.

  • Sloan Essman

    And if you have ABS, try it out in a parking lot some time. I caught a big, empty lot with new asphalt after a rain one day. I got the VFR800a up to about 45 mph in a nice and straight line and smoothly but quickly squeezed the brake lever and stepped on the rear pedal (linked brakes too) as far as they would go. I could feel the ABS cycling as the VFR shuddered and came to a VERY fast stop. I was so impressed that I took it around for another try at 65 mph and really had to grip the tank for this one. So now I know what it feels like when the ABS kicks in. Most people don’t even ever try this in their cars with ABS and then think something is wrong and either let off or pump the brakes. Know your vehicle.

    • Paul M Edwards

      I agree that this is a good thing to practice and experience under controlled circumstances so you’ll know what to expect in an emergency situation and won’t be tempted to let off the brakes.

      Newer motorcycle ABS systems have no shudder and no difference in lever feel. My 2005 Yamaha FJR1300ATC feels as you describe. The 2010 HD V-Rod Muscle w/ABS I got as a service loaner from Downtown HD/Buell in Renton WA had absolutely zero difference in lever feel when I tested the ABS a few times riding home to Tacoma on Hwy 509 in a torrential downpour. I slammed the brakes as hard as I could at over 80 mph in the wet and it just slowed down amazingly fast with zero drama. I was very impressed.

  • Abe Norfleet

    Do: Keep looking where you want to go. Even in a full-brake emergency stop situation your motorcycle is still narrow enough to fit between cars, and in a dynamic situation a clear path may be opening up even as doom impends directly ahead. When practicing your braking in the mythical big open empty parking lot remember to include some practice letting the brakes off again and swerving. Mix it up some – straight-line braking, swerve then brake, brake then swerve, corner then brake, etc.