Slowing Things Down Smoothly
Whether you are new to motorcycles or have been in the saddle for years, there are certain riding fundamentals that apply to everyone. They are there to help us stay safe and confident by providing an understanding of how our motorcycles have been designed to be ridden.
Hopefully we can touch on all of them, starting with the brakes. But before we do, let's point out the importance of the verbiage of braking.
Key Braking Verbiage
- Loading the tire: Gently initiating front brake pressure to push weight into the front wheel, expand the front contact patch of the tire.
- Working the tire: Applying more brake pressure smoothly.
Being Smooth on the Brakes
Every rider’s goal should be—as the Yamaha Champions Riding School mantra goes—“load the tire before you work the tire.” This simply means that when you start braking, your touch must be as light as a feather.
Why, though? Because abrupt input can lead to equally abrupt and sometimes catastrophic results.
Practicing Brake Application
Practice braking in straight lines in a parking lot to understand how it feels. Make adjustments to the front and rear brakes themselves as necessary, just as you would with seat position, handlebar height, and mirrors. Some motorcycles even have the option to adjust brake lever and pedal positioning.
Start slow and increase your speed as you progress. Have a buddy join you and work on it together.
To apply the rear brake, you should use constant, even pressure throughout the braking motion. If you feel heavy-footed, move your foot back on the peg a little to minimize how much weight you put on your brake pedal.
When you apply your brakes, momentum moves your weight forward. Your body shifting could cause you to put too much pressure on the rear brake, which could lead to locking up or trigger your ABS.
The front brake is applied in one smooth motion. Slowly rotate your throttle off while touching the front brake lever with your index, middle or all four fingers (whichever is most comfortable for your riding style) to gently begin loading your tire.
Think of it like pouring hot coffee. You start slowly and then fill your coffee cup as you add more front brake pressure to work the tire to slow you down. As any waiter in a restaurant, the best ones rarely spill a drop. They are smoothest before they tip in, just like the best riders in the world.
Perfect Practice Makes Permanent
Remember when I said abruptness leads to abrupt results? Our tires can take an extreme load—they just can’t take an abrupt load. With four or three-wheeled machines, you can get away with it to a certain extent, but not with two wheels.
In the words of Ken Hill, “perfect practice makes permanent.” Practice loading the tire before working the tire and smooth braking will eventually become a permanent habit.
I always imagine I am seeing the connection between the tires and the surface I am riding on. It’s all about how you communicate with your motorcycle—just like in any good relationship.
In our next riding lesson, we’ll introduce trail braking and body positioning for those corners and curves. Until then, keep practicing with your brakes!