It may sound super crazy and extra scary, but the mechanical simplicity bikes enjoy over cars means that scariest of mechanical failures — No brakes! — is actually no big deal. Here’s what to do when your motorcycle’s brakes go out.

What Could Cause It

Let’s be honest, this is likely going to occur on an older bike or one on which you’ve committed a grievous maintenance mess up. Or, maybe you’re in a biker gang and a rival cut your brake lines. If it can happen to Jax Teller’s dad, it could happen to you, right?

What To Do When Your Motorcycle’s Brakes Go Out

Maybe a previously damaged lever finally gave up the ghost, maybe the dealer where you just picked up a bike to film an episode of your show forgot to tighten the caliper bolts or maybe your dry-rotted brake lines finally burst after decades of neglect. Brake failure is one of those things that shouldn’t ever occur, but still lies within the realms of physical possibility.

Which Brake Is It?

Back brake go out? No big deal, just use the front brake like normal to control your speed and find a safe place to pull over and wait for the tow truck. You could technically ride just fine without the rear brake — the front delivers the vast majority of a bike’s stopping power — but it’s a bad idea. If the failure resulted in a loose or lost part, it could be interfering with the rear wheel or suspension travel. If a line or master cylinder’s come loose or is leaking, you could have slippery hydraulic fluid sprayed all over your rear tire. Don’t just assume it’s not a big deal and keep going.

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Controlling Your Speed Without The Front Brake

Unless you’re barreling toward a brick wall and don’t discover you’ve got no brakes until the last second, this really isn’t an insurmountable problem. Resist the urge to lay ‘er down and instead roll off the throttle and, when the revs are low enough, downshift until your speed is under control. Your back brake, if it’s still working, will obviously help here too. Just try to avoid downshifting or hitting the rear brake if you’re leaned way over in a corner. Easy peasy, you already know how to do this.

What To Do When Your Motorcycle’s Brakes Go Out

If You Can’t Stop In Time

Well, ask yourself what you’re approaching. If it’s an intersection full of cross traffic, borrow a trick from fixed-gear bicycle riders and, after doing what you can to shed speed, turn with the traffic. Doing so eliminates the perpendicular trajectory with moving cars while minimizing the speed differential between you and that traffic. That also has the effect of maximizing the gaps — you should be able to find one.

If you’re approaching a tight corner, now’s the time to use all that look where you want to go, trust the bike stuff. Again, shed as much speed as possible, then just tell yourself you will make it around. 99 percent of the time, on the road, engine braking will be enough to slow you down in time.

If you’re approaching a stationary obstacle — stopped traffic or whatever — again try to shed as much speed as possible, then just focus on avoiding whatever is there. We’re small, use it to your advantage.

What To Do When Your Motorcycle’s Brakes Go Out

How To Prevent It From Happening

Say it with me: “Pre-ride check.” Aircraft pilots do it and what we do is much more dangerous, so we should too. I’d never have had the brakes go out in that episode of our show if I’d taken the time to examine the bike ahead of time. Old Man Teller really should have noticed the slashed brake lines before needing to emergency brake. A mechanical failure like this will never catch you by surprise if you thoroughly familiarize yourself with your bike’s condition every time you ride it.

Have you ever lost your brakes? What other mechanical failures have you overcome in a riding situation?

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