Motorcycle Tips & Techniques

Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

Skip Repetitive Navigational Links
Safety TipsTips:217-252   Tip242   Print article Print

Controlling your Rear Brake
In an Emergency

By: James R. Davis

I have maintained that the most dangerous control on your motorcycle is your rear brake lever. That, because it is so easy to misuse in an emergency - to use it in an overly aggressive manner - and cause a rear wheel lock, skid, and possibly even a high-side. Even the most skillful rider, in a panic, can stomp on that pedal.

If you agree with me, then perhaps you would be interested in a braking technique that I personally employ and that has prevented me from making serious mistakes in some pretty dicey situations.

Like most of you, when I emergency brake I always use both front and rear brakes.

I think we all understand the need to squeeze hard, then harder, then harder still when emergency braking with the front brake.

Since the rear brake is so dangerous, in my opinion, it takes a bit of counter effort to make it work properly for me. That is, I begin by applying a reasonable amount of rear brake pedal pressure (when the rear brake can handle it because weight transfer has not yet happened), then I moderate that pedal pressure by EXTENDING my calf muscles. That causes my entire foot to rotate (effectively raising the toes but it feels like pushing your heel down) - note that I do NOT mean simply raising the toes!

In order to press harder on the rear brake pedal while extending the calf muscles I have to literally push down with my upper leg muscles and cause my KNEE to go down - a very hard task, indeed, and one that takes a very deliberate effort. And, recall that you do NOT want to increase rear brake pedal pressure after the initial reasonable pressure - instead, you want to MODERATE (make less of) that pressure so that you do not lock the rear brake as weight transfer is occurring.

The extending of the calf muscle feels like you are trying to release the brake pressure entirely, but ANY movement of your knee towards the brake pedal offsets that release. And so the net feeling is of conflict! You feel like you are fighting yourself - and the rear brake pedal - which is just fine as far as I'm concerned because that is exactly what I want to happen. I want to fight my urge to jump on that pedal in an emergency.

Now most of you are thinking to yourself, "But in an emergency I do what I have practiced. I don't think about new/different techniques in an emergency situation. So how likely is it that I would be able to adopt this new technique when panic strikes?"

Here's the shocker, folks: I ALWAYS do this when applying the rear brake. Despite what I earlier said about beginning by applying modest braking pressure, in fact, I ALWAYS BEGIN using the rear brake by pushing my heel into the floorboard/peg and THEN adjust the amount of pressure I put on the pedal. In other words, that is the technique I ALWAYS use with the rear brake, not just in an emergency. Muscle memory works, just as you thought it does. With practice this becomes THE way you use the rear brake.

Note, too, that I have adjusted the rear brake pedal such that I need to make a deliberate effort to cause any rear brake action. I do not want the mere fact that my toes are resting on the brake pedal to be causing some braking action.

Copyright 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

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

A plea for your help