MCN IAM Better Riding Guide: Braking

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Over the next six weeks, the IAM will offer tips and advice on all things biking related. So if you’ve been away for a while or just want to become a better rider, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’ve just started riding or you’ve been away from your bike for a few years, you might be under the impression that you can get on no trouble. But knowing how to ride well will make sure you get the most out of your motorcycle.

While using the throttle may come with ease, braking requires more skill. To help you, IAM have some tips on getting your braking right. You’ll be a smoother and more skilful rider for it.


• Squeeze the brake lever progressively. The main part of the braking should be done in the middle phase, after which you gradually ease off the lever again. Perfect the technique and the nose of your bike will not dip suddenly. That’s good, because you will not upset the suspension, therefore improving the handling of your bike.

• Aim to do your braking in a straight line. Braking in the middle of a bend can upset the balance of your bike and, in extreme cases, cause you to lose control. Avoid using the front brake when the bike is banked over.

• The most effective braking happens just before the wheels lock up. Try to develop a feel for this moment and vary the brake pressure according to the road surface and conditions.

• In an emergency situation you need to brake as hard as you can, but avoid snatching at the lever. Braking hard suddenly can cause the front wheel to lock, even in dry conditions. Instead, squeeze progressively and firmly. Plenty of practice on your braking technique will make this second nature.

• Remember, if you are braking hard with the front brake then weight will transfer to the front of the bike, leaving less weight on the back-end. This means the rear wheel can lock more easily, so less pedal pressure should be used.

• Braking distance is a key factor, which is worked out by adding ‘thinking’ distance and ‘braking’ distance. Your reaction time largely dictates the ‘thinking’ distance. ‘Braking’ distance depends on factors, including the condition and weight of your bike and the type of road surface. Check stopping distances in the Highway Code, but remember that as your speed doubles, your stopping distance normally quadruples.

• If you can judge your braking just right, you should be able to make quicker progress by avoiding unnecessary stops. Like approaching a roundabout, for instance. Look early to judge what is ahead, then time your arrival and braking so that you do not actually have to stop.

• Judging distance is important when braking and the ‘two second’ rule is a useful guide. Under normal conditions you should aim to keep at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. Watch the vehicle ahead pass a fixed point – a road sign, for instance – and then count ‘zero, one, two’. If you reach that point before you finish counting, you’re too close.

• For developing hazards it’s a good idea to ‘cover’ the front brake lever with a couple of fingers (index and middle). This will save vital reaction time if you need to brake suddenly. It is advisable to use four fingers on the lever if you are going to brake heavily.

• Wet weather increases stopping distances. The type and condition of the tyres on your bike will also have an effect. Tests have shown that a high quality tyre can significantly reduce stopping distances. Worn tyres will increase stopping distances in the wet because of the reduced ability to disperse lying water.

• Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) help prevent a bike’s wheels from locking up in an emergency. But don’t let ABS lull you into a false sense of security. Good observation and anticipation will mean you never need to rely on ABS.

• If you feel anything unusual about your brakes – a sponginess in the lever, for instance – get them checked immediately. Older or classic bikes can have a problem with brake ‘fade’ during repeated, heavy braking. It is possible this may happen on particularly steep hills, so select a low gear and use the engine braking to slow the bike as much as possible.

Our skill for life course will put you on the right track to be a better and safer rider. So why not sign up today?

For more information on riding technique get a copy of ‘How to be a Better Rider, Advanced Motorcycling the Essential Guide’, which is available from the IAM and costs £9.99. Contact

Stefan Bartlett

By Stefan Bartlett