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Covering Those Control Levers
A function of speed, not style

By: James R. Davis

If you have read some of my other articles you know that I am a strong advocate of covering the front brake lever while I've been essentially quiet about whether or not you should cover your clutch lever while riding.

Further, you probably know that I prefer to use two fingers to cover my brake and, when I do cover my clutch, I prefer to cover it using all four fingers. So, what's the deal? What's the logic that explains these differences?

First, let's look at why we cover a lever. Whether it's the brake or the clutch, the ONLY reason we cover these controls is to reduce reaction time when we need to operate them. In exchange for reduced reaction time we pay a price - we have less control of the corresponding grip when some of our fingers are covering a lever instead of being in contact with that grip.

The next question is not as obviously answered as the first one: When should you cover those controls? The answer is that we cover them whenever we might have need to quickly use them, but NOT when quick usage of the control (or simply covering it) can be dangerous.

The brake lever is the one that most of us cover virtually all the time. Is there a time when it should NOT be covered? You bet. At slow speeds, particularly when making turns. In these cases the use of your front brake is often so counter-productive or dangerous that you are far better off having the fingers of your right hand wrapped around the throttle.

Another time you want to keep your fingers off the brake lever is when you are about to surmount an obstacle in the road. If you take a firm jolt to the front or back wheel you must not lose your hold on the grip and having all of your fingers wrapped around it is your best insurance against that happening.

So, it follows that in general you want to cover your front brake lever anytime you might have to stop quickly. In other words, almost always if your motorcycle is moving faster than you can run.

But should you cover it with two fingers? Three? Four?

The answer to that question raises no end of controversy amongst seasoned riders. I suggest that you use as many fingers as you are comfortable using over an extended period of time. In my case, I use two fingers. If I try to use three, my hand gets cramped as I try to maintain the other one in contact with the grip. If I use four fingers then without a wrist rest to give me positive control of my throttle I find myself unable to smoothly control speed and my thumb will cramp over time. Since the right grip is itself a control (throttle), it is my preference to use two fingers to cover the brake lever and two to maintain contact with the throttle. Further, using two fingers GREATLY reduces the odds that in a panic I might try the dangerous practice of 'grabbing a handful' of brake.

When to cover your clutch lever is a little more subtle than when to cover your front brake lever. However, since the left grip is not itself another control, when you do cover the clutch you should use all four fingers. And, of course, the clutch lever can be squeezed until it contacts the grip. That means that if you use less than four fingers to cover the lever you can trap the other fingers between the lever and the grip.

The clutch is not used simply to disengage power from the rear wheel. Its friction zone is used to act like a vernier control of speed and it is far more subtle in doing that job than the throttle is, particularly at slow speeds. Thus, covering the clutch makes sense at slow speeds.

At higher speeds, however, covering the clutch is essentially useless. The price you pay to cover the clutch at higher speeds is a diminished control of the left grip. Since the brake lever should be covered when traveling at any reasonable speed, it makes sense to me that the clutch should not.

And, like the brake lever, the clutch should NOT be covered if you are about to surmount an obstacle in the road. This, to minimize the chance of losing control of the grip altogether.
  • Cover the clutch at slow speeds

  • Cover the brake at higher speeds

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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