Growing up, I heard that you shouldn’t use the front brake on a motorcycle unless you want to get launched face-first over the handlebars. That can’t possibly be true, can it?
Thanks for helping us deflate this one particularly pernicious myth about motorcycle braking, Mike. You’re 100 percent correct that it is NOT true, as any MSF instructor will gladly tell you.
As our very own Kate amply broke down earlier in 2019, both of your brakes are on your bike for very good reasons—and should ideally be used in different ways, at different times. Now, what type of training you’ve had and the style of riding you do will definitely affect how and when you use your brakes. It’s an art and a science, really.
It’s important to get familiar with how your individual bike’s brakes work before you need them, so going to an empty parking lot to practice braking in a straight line on any bike that’s new to you is a great idea. As Kate advised, using progressive force on both your front and rear brakes is your best bet for smooth, powerful braking. Don’t simply go from zero brake to ALL THE BRAKE, because that’s when you run into problems.
Your front brake is where most of your bike’s braking force lies. That means, when used correctly, that it is a powerful force for good, and you should use it both often and wisely.
Meanwhile, your rear brake can be used to fine-tune everything from canyon-carving to tight U-turn maneuvers. If it’s been awhile since you took the MSF course—or you’ve never taken it at all—the Basic Rider Course will mainly have you using the front brake for most everyday street maneuvers.
However, you’ll need to gain a good grasp on properly and smoothly using your rear brake if you want to master the tight figure-eight-in-a-rectangle maneuver that shows up on many motorcycle license tests. MSF instructors will drill you on this technique repeatedly in that basic course, and help you increase your skills in their subsequent courses.
Finally, if you notice that either your front or your rear hydraulic brakes feel mushy, it’s possible that you have air in the lines. Now might be a good time to contemplate when was the last time your brake fluid was changed, if you don’t already know and your bike has more than a few miles on it.
Whether you’re a DIY person or a take-it-to-the-shop person, here’s a handy guide to understanding your brake fluid. Unless you only ever race Speedway, you need brakes—and understanding them is crucial.