Every motorcyclist’s nightmare is riding along down the road when a car or truck suddenly pulls out in front of them. And it’s too late to stop. This scenario has killed thousands, no doubt. It almost killed me. If I hadn’t practiced using my front brake consistently, it might have.
I was riding at about 60 miles-per-hour down a straight, flat rural road outside of Corpus Christi when it happened. Suddenly, a car backs out of a driveway, obviously without looking. I laid on the brakes – front and back – so hard I could feel the pulse of the anti-locking brake kick in. I came to a safe stop.
The Sad Truth is in the Skid Marks
I was telling this story to a friend of mine who happens to be a motorcycle cop in Corpus Christi. He had told me that if he had to give motorcyclists only one piece of advice, it would be to learn to use the bike’s front brake and then use it. He said he’s seen too many accidents where there’s only one long tire skid mark that “goes on forever” leading up to a crumpled and seriously injured or dead motorcyclist.
The single skid mark tells him the rider applied only the rear brake. If he or she had used the front brake as well, my friend says the skid would be only half as long. In other words, the motorcyclists would have stopped in half the time, possibly avoiding a crash.
Why Using the Front Break Makes Sense
Engineers and professionals will tell you that up to 80% of a motorcycle’s braking power is in the front brake. Still, some riders are antsy about applying it. But it’s absolutely necessary from a safety standpoint that motorcyclists get into the habit of using both brakes, every time they stop. The reaction becomes automatic, even in a panic situation. Think about it: when you come to a sudden stop all the weight shifts forward, over the front wheel. Hardly any of the weight is over the rear wheel, so applying the brake to the rear wheel isn’t going to slow the bike down much.
Interlocking Brakes a Good safety Add-On
Some motorcycle models are equipped with interlocking brakes. This brake system automatically engages both brakes when one brake is applied. Testing shows that motorcycles with ABS brakes stop shorter than without ABS, and that ABS brakes that are linked stop in the shortest distance. Along with tire pressure gauges (link to previous blog), these should be considered for standard equipment on all but the most specialized bikes.
As for me, I’m just glad for my friend’s reminder to use that front brake. Come to think of it, he usually gives me good advice about riding my motorcycle. Just don’t tell him I said so.