Bringing you the world's best cafe racers, trackers, scramblers, bobbers & custom motorcycles.

Pipeburn Poll: How do you brake?

Posted on January 10, 2011 by Andrew in Other. 52 comments

Ever notice how arcane motorbicycling is? With cars it was oh-so-simple; “steer into a skid” my father told me. It seemed a bit weird on first hearing it, but on the next quite dirt road when no-one was looking I gave my 1976 Toyota Celica a hefty squirt of petroleum and, hey presto, he was right. Tail goes right, I steer right. Easy peasy, and often repeated by pretty much everyone. Off the top of my head that about covers it for four-wheeled black magic.

But not so with bikes. My first-ever bike ride as a teen was prefaced with the explicit instructions “don’t use the rear brakes – you don’t need ’em” by my unwitting sensei. Right. So they’re just there for looks, then? Whatever the logic, I took the lesson on board and never touched the things. Then years ago in my first Motorcycle Rider Training Class my cranky old bikie teacher told me to always use BOTH front and rear brakes for EVERY stop. “If you don’t,” he lectured, “you’ll never be able to do a proper emergency stop.” Sheesh. Okaaaay then.

And so it goes on. Everyone’s a braking expert – do this when braking, but don’t do that. Use the rear, but not on a day with a date that is a prime number or on an equinox and even then only when riding a puce-coloured bike blah blah blah…

So let’s get this poop sorted, once and for all. What have you guys been taught and does it work? Basically, how do you brake?

  • James

    My old man used to tell me…

    'If you're going to use the back brake, go easy. Like you're treading on a bollock.'

  • Laurens DeGraaf

    I use sometime the rear brake just to don't make feel it alone and useless.

  • @james

    brilliant, that made me laugh out loud!!

  • baader

    My rear brake only sees use in heavy traffic where I have to throttle and brake constantly.

  • Sascha

    Im with Baader on this one…

  • I use rear brake when going slow, just to use and feel it. But it comes handy when you have to brake stronger and don't want to block the front end.

    Anyway I only ride on asphalt.

  • Paddy

    I have loosened the back brake enough so that it's effectively "anti-lock" but still provides decent stopping. That way I can hammer them on in a panic stop and not worry about losing the back end. Essentially, it's about 70-30 front to back.

    I was chastised by an old ex-pro racer for ignoring the back brake and using only the front. He said I always have to be in practice for when I need that little bit extra that can save my hide. He is quite right about that.

  • noyes

    you forgot to add true choppers, they usually only have a rear drum. highside anyone?

  • Raúl Vicente

    both brakes always but a lot more squeeze on the front so the rear wheel won't skid and get a proper braking, on gravel and parking lots w/smooth concrete I only use the rear brake very gently.

  • Raúl Vicente

    forgot: I have an SV650 total stock.

  • Frank

    As we say in Germany " You brake? You lose! ;" 😉

  • I brake 50/50 on everything, like the MSF tells you to. It makes sense in practice. Especially on a lot of older bikes and scooters where the front brakes aren't really very powerful. Rely just on the front brake on an old Vespa P200E, and you won't stop before Christmas. Even on my CB650 the rear brake makes a huge difference in stopping power.

  • jack

    this isnt a straight foward question, the way you brake will depend on your situation.

    those hacks at "motorcycle training" only train you to pass the test, which requires you to use both simultaneously, 50/50. what they dont tell you is how to brake when your on a hill, how to brake with a car close in front, how to brake in the wet, etc.

    as soon as i got my licence i went out for a ride around inner city melbourne where i live, and realized "i havent been trained properly".

    now days i tend to use the rear as im usually in built up traffic, but when im not ill probably just use the front.

    what about all the so-cal guys and japanese fellas who ride their bobbers around without a front brake!

  • If not about equal, just a tad more front.

  • Glenn

    I used to use both, so it would become a habit. But I was discussing braking with a family friend who is a very seasoned motorcycle police officer and he said that they are trained to use the front, resting your foot on the rear brake, as your body wait transfers forward this will slowly apply rear brake pressure. Seems to make sense. But when I tested for my license in the states, they wanted both.

  • Jace

    I have a chopper with only a rear brake, but when i have both i use both, like 60/40 split between front and rear

  • Raúl Vicente

    @ Glenn
    I also developed the refles to step on the rear brake just a split second first, to transfer more weight to the front wheel and thus increasing the area of the front tire patch on the ground. This improves the grip and I can actually brake harder for longer before the tire loses grip and the front fork goes bop*bop*bop*bop…

  • Raúl Vicente


  • drek

    My bike is 33 years old with a cable actuated disc (!?) and a meager drum brake in the back. I only use the front for cutting speed faster than engine braking will allow, and when I'm coming to a stop I'll use the rear, bringing it in about a quarter of the way after I start initially braking. It makes a huge difference, but the feel is so terrible–like I'm just jamming a wood block into the rim–that I usually am very light so I don't skid. Wet weather I usually just engine brake and only hit the brakes at the final 15 feet to bring me to a stop.

    Maybe if I got a modern bike with hydros I'll just do stoppies like all the other hooligans.

  • If i need a small amount of braking I'll touch the back, especially before a corner if i need to.

    also use the back if going slow or negotiating traffic during the commute.

    other than that, i'll try to mainly use the front, but with some back when need to brake a lot. So 80-20.

    seems to work so far.

  • peter

    since driving an older bike I use both brakes all the time, before I never used the rear brake, only for practicing the emergency stop and of course for emergency stops 😉

  • Bandito

    I use the rear brake a lot in low speed traffic situations, just because I tell myself that I'm making my front pads last a little bit longer and it's useful in low-speed situations with lots of braking and throttle and maneuvering.
    In emergency braking I use both, but I clamp on the front much harder and slowly progress through the rear.

    The first crash I ever had was the result of locking the rear wheel on a 250 and skidding out. I treat the rear gently, but I thrash the shit out of the front! 🙂

  • Lowflying

    Of course you can get away with only using the front, or the rear, most of the time. But that's not really very efficient, as you will definitely get the shortest stopping distance using both. Try it in a carpark if you have doubts…wet or dry…

    I think it's best is to use both and then learn by experience what percentage works best front vs. rear in different situations.

    For expample, when coming to a complete stop I slowly transition from mostly front brake to the final metre or so with rear brake only. You'll find that you get less fork dive that way and a smoother stop. But whatever works for you. I'm into smoothness, some of you might like the drama of a lurching stop halfway over the stopline, with your front wheel cutting off that Lexus. People do look at you don't they?

    Oh well, it's all fun and better than sitiing in a cage isn't it? 😉

  • ratle

    I pretty much always use the rear, but it might only be a little bit at a time. When pulling up at lights etc its pretty much 90% rear. In Melbourne, in the rain if you use just the front and have to cross tram tracks, when stopping at traffic lights your pretty much going to be Siamesed with the car in front. this happened to be when I was first riding about 20 years ago, learnt the hard way. Now I'm amazed at how few riders use there front break when they come to a halt. All of the riders I learnt from drummed into me to always put your left foot down first and under 5-10 kmh back break is best. Right foot down – no break control.

  • monkeyfumi

    250 two-stroke.
    Corner speed is everything.
    Brakes only slow you down.

  • kik

    i ran on a front break only until i got cut off by a truck and broke my collarbone, my main ride is an yamaha xs650 with one disc up front and one drum rear, so needless to say they are like having ABS without all the techno stuff.

  • Paul

    I ride an electric bike – Vectrix –
    The joy of regenerative braking are many: minimal pad wear, returning energy to the battery pack and a cool spaceship whine are but a few.

  • Stein

    I ride an Aermacchi, and the brakes aren`t that good anyway, so I`ll use both, 70/30. Rear in slow traffic. In the beginning my rear brake was close to bare metal, and I never used it, but then my front brake switch broke, and I had to engage the rear lever to get the brake light working. Didn\t use the rear, just tapped it to get the light shinning. But you don`t need more than one emergency braking getting you to close, before you start using both.

  • stw

    Even when I'm racing cages at 30mph from traffic light to traffic light, I use both just to keep everything even. It's not like I need to. Bikes give you individual control over the front and rear brakes for a reason. You may need one more than the other in certain circumstances.

    On any new superbike you can launch yourself over the clip-ons if you look at the front calipers the wrong way. However, a good headwind and engine braking is superior to the cable-actuated drums on my old Honda.

  • SportsterMike

    In slow traffic I use the rear brake only gently – so as to not destabilise the bike (no fork dive)
    otherwise its mostly front first them the rear gently
    I try not to brake – just flow man…

  • D.

    I'm with Paddy. 70/30 to keep the back end in line. The roads around here are bad, and the back end is happy to slide when left to it's own devices.

  • Mkuniac

    I ride a cb350 with an 06 gsxr frontend conversion, needless to say the front brakes are way to strong and it's quite easy to lift the rear wheel under normal braking using it. Because of this I mainly slow down with the rear and use the front for more severe stopping.

  • Byro

    I was taught (in the states) to try to use both about 50/50 but the front is naturally going to have more power (1) because it is in the front and (2) you naturally tend to use it a bit more. So with this logic it ends up being more like 60/40 or 70/30. Seems right with my, short but growing, experience. @Indiesol has a good idea of just resting or applying light pressure to the back and the natural weight shift adding more.

  • Lowflying

    "Natural weight shift" to apply back brake? Why leave it to chance? Just control the frikkin' motorcycle by actually putting in a measured control input based on your experience and judgement of the situation.

    YOU are the rider. Don't let the bike ride you…

  • K-Man

    I ride downhill mountainbikes and a bit of off road trail riding.

    I use 1 finger heavy front braking coming into corners while feathering the rear brake at the same time.
    I enjoy feeling and watching the front end drop hard as i approach the corner fast!
    Then power out at the apex! But then who doesnt?!

  • Damo

    i selected 50/50 but its more like 60/40 or 70/30 with the bias to the front brake.

  • Bill

    Use both brakes, but practice practice practice.

    Like James said above "Like you're treading on a bollock"

    Rear brake as traction control.

    I work on bikes for a living and have to ride all sorts of bikes with varying low speed throttle response properties. Covering the rear brake allows you to control what the rear wheel is doing for both poor drivability and or road conditions, it also can settle the chassis for smoother cornering manners.

  • Stuart

    I just want to know, did that guy in the photo survive?

  • Paperboy

    Try jamming ur front brake downtown at a stop light where theres oil buildup on your 1971 750 caus ur buddy on the ducati stopped on a dime when it turned yellow. You eat pavement when that wheel locks. I apply rear and "squeeze" front now.

  • Growing up racing motocross I was taught 75% of your braking comes from the front wheel, so even if you go 50-50 on the brakes that wont translate to 50 – 50 stopping power on the front and back. Guess it is also similar on the road and when riding you still get most of your stopping power from the front brake.

  • Should have said it does of course depend on the conditions and the road surface though obviously.

  • I mostly rely on the front brake to slow down. I don't use the rear that much but depending on the road. But it sure stops faster if you use both of them about 70/30. Using the front on very slippery roads isn't good idea. So my answer would not apply to any of the above.

  • Rick

    I mostly use front with a little back, I've always been told it's 50/50 but I don't know if I'm just not use to my rear brakes after a year yet but it seems like if I give them a little more than 40% they have a mind of their own will skid sometimes and not others.

  • The Noodle

    I assume this question is based on pavement riding. If you want to learn how best to coordinate braking with both and maintain control learn on dirt.

  • MikeyA

    There was a great CycleWorld article some twenty years ago comparing braking techniques. As I remember it, the results were that the shortest stopping distances were had by professional racers using both brakes with just the right front/rear bias. Using the front brake alone was almost as effective, and when experienced street riders tried to use both brakes they didn't do any better than the front brake alone.
    Personally, I've never managed to lock a front wheel on the street. Sand/ice/wet leaves aside, anyone ever lock their front wheel in a panic stop?

  • Andrew

    @MikeyA Never.

  • The brakes on my KMZ are so awful that they're regarded as secondary to the engine braking. Have to be heavy on both front and rear, and the rear feels like I'm treading on a block of wood. Both have to be used to have any sort of effect at all. It's fun.

  • Madaz75

    I squeeze the rear brake first to settle the bike.
    Then apply front bake. Using about 70/30 front/rear brake pressure.

  • jon green

    About 75% front – more when starting an emergency stop from speed & much less when close to standstill

    Also on greasy and wet bends when you hae to brake a touch of rear before you apply front seems to settle the bike on it's suspension

  • Jules

    I gotta say I like to use both, but that's because less than 3 weeks into my riding career, I locked up my front trying to avoid a deer who decided to cross the road anyway. I wasn't good at using the gears to shut the bike down, so the back end came around and I ended up skidding on my ass for 50 feet. So yeah, I like to trail the rear. Call it fear, I call it a hard lesson learned.

  • Richard

    I was taught to use 75/25 (75% front) or 50/50 in the wet. In practice I think I do do that, except that I drag the back a lot in traffic and to keep the front down when I launch hard, and to hoik the front in harder when you spot the pothole mid roundabout, and to control the turn in a feet up U turn.

    But yeah, 75/25… must go and change my rear pads, they wear really fast for some reason……

  • Mujahidmunaz

    itz v.eazy to do..when u tryng use bike wich has disk break