- Bob LoCicero
How to stop your motorcycle fast!
Stopping your motorcycle faster may save your life
The average motorcycle, ridden by a trained professional, on smooth , dry, clear pavement, on a sunny summer day, can go from 60 miles-per-hour to stopped in about 120 feet. That’s the length of two tractor trailer trucks, parked end-to-end. That is the best-case scenario. Your distance will vary.
When testing stopping distance, the test rider knows they are going to stop. Technicians inspect the bike beforehand. The road surface is clear of gravel, sand, water, oil and other debris. And – most importantly – the rider has trained for the task at hand and is fully focused on making it happen in the shortest distance possible.
How quickly can you stop? If you’re like most of us, you have no idea, because you’ve never really tried. Sure, you’ve probably had to do a panic slow-down when a smart-phone-wielding text-messenger pulled out in front of you, but have you ever tried going from 60 to 0 like your life depended on it?
You life does depend it. The most common car-motorcycle crash is a left turning car cutting across your path. In this situation, your ability to stop your motorcycle – or slow as close to 0 as possible – is critical to the outcome.
In the real world, a panic stop will be a surprise (or it would not have caused a panic). Your actual stopping distance will be determined by your reaction time, braking technique and the road conditions. It will be longer than the best-case scenario.
To learn more about how to stop a motorcycle quickly, I spoke with motorcycle riding instructor and safety expert, Ken Condon to get some advice.
“You have to train yourself out of your natural tendency,” Condon said. Inexperienced riders frequently focus on the rear brake, stomping on the pedal and forgetting that the front brake provides 70 to 90 percent of the stopping power of a motorcycle.
Sport riders make the mistake of relying too heavily on the front brake, often not using the rear brake at all. While the front brake on a sport bike can provide up to 90 percent of the bike’s stopping power, minimizing stopping distance requires both brakes.
Applying the brakes properly is a challenge. Over-braking can be as big a problem as under-braking. “Often, a rider crashes the bike before they reach the vehicle they were trying to avoid,” Condon said.
Proper braking technique is subtle. The goal is to maximize traction. The rider needs to brake to the threshold of skidding, but not skid. When a motorcycle skids, it loses traction due to the heat buildup between the tire and the road. As the heat builds, friction is reduced. A skidding tire is sliding across the ground, which increases stopping distance.
Weight pushing down on the tire provides traction. As a motorcycle travels down the road, weight is distributed approximately 50-50, between front and rear. When the brakes are applied, weight transfers from the rear wheel to the front wheel. This happens regardless of braking technique.
As the weight transfers forward, there is less downward force on the rear tire, which means the rear tire has less traction. As the rear wheel unloads, it takes less pressure to lock the wheel and skid. At the front, the opposite is occurring: the weight shifts forward and loads the front tire.
To stop quickly, riders need to apply both brakes simultaneously and then modulate them as the braking forces transfer weight from the rear to the front. The rider should apply the rear brake with a firm, smooth press. As weight transfers forward, the rider should reduce the pressure on the rear brake to match the reduction of traction due to the forward weight transfer. Using this technique lessens the likelihood of rear tire skid.
At the front, the rider should smoothly squeeze the front brake to begin the weight transfer. As the weight transfers forward, the front contact patch flattens and increases front tire traction. With a flatter contact patch and more traction, the front tire is ready to handle more braking force. At this point, the rider should squeeze the front brake harder to complete the stop.
Grabbing the front brake and applying too much pressure, too soon overloads the front tire. When the rider grabs-and-stabs the front brake, weight is transferred to the front tire before the contact patch is ready to handle the load. The front wheel locks and then skids. Bad things happen next. The rider must smoothly apply the front brake in a progressive manner, matching the pressure to the available traction.
To practice, find a secluded parking lot with good pavement. Make sure your stopping zone is clean and clear of fluids and debris. Set a marker where you will begin your braking. Make sure you have adequate space beyond the marker to complete your braking (probably 2-3 times more space than you think you need). Build up gradually, starting at 30 mph, then increase speed as you feel comfortable. Measure your distance to track your performance. Wear full gear and bring a friend – just in case things go wrong.
Riders need constant practice to ensure proper technique is second nature and natural in a panic situation. Rider training is critical. “It’s a perishable skill,” Condon says. Good training ensures riders are practicing the correct technique and not just reinforcing bad habits.
The more you know, the safer you become. “To be a safe rider requires mental skills, more than anything else,” Condon said. Aggressive scanning and continually asking yourself, “what’s wrong with this picture?” can help to reduce stopping distance as much as anything.