What is the most prominent safety device on a motorcycle - one might ask.
Probably all riders would answer in unison: the brakes.
Brakes are a device which is used all the time to stop the motorcycle and the proper functioning of this device can mean the difference between life and death in precarious situations. Everybody into riding should consider safety their utmost priority on the road. Adopting the right attitude towards other participants in the traffic and riding a vehicle which is 100% road-fit in every respect, is but the first step in motorcycle safety.
There are also a whole lot of riding skills involved in a safe road conduct. In this section we shall try to set a few things straight concerning brakes.
First of all - it is probably no secret to most riders - that during braking the front wheel does approximately 60-80% of the mechanical work required to stop the bike. This is because the force vector - that results from the forward force that pushes the bike on, the gravity vector which is basically the weight of the bike, and the braking force pulling the front wheel backwards - will point toward the ground in the direction of the front fork. This will basically push the front wheel into the ground with almost the whole weight of the bike towering over it. All of this will also lend the front wheel a great grip, making it all the more difficult for it to skid. When and if the front wheel skids, the rider is likely to find himself breaking the sliding-on-nothing-but-bare-behind speed record on asphalt. It’s also called “losing the front”.
The front brakes need to be applied in a controlled, “staged” manner for maximum effectiveness and to avoid the skid that could result from a sudden jam.
The rear wheel however is a lot more likely to skid because the weight from over it is going to shift forth, but a rear wheel skid is nowhere near as dangerous as a front wheel one, because of the fact that it can be quite easily controlled. One needs to keep his/her eyes on where he/she wants to go and not where he/she is actually going, and things will be ok.
The technique of the “staged” braking mentioned above is one that gives optimal results in case of an emergency. It can be applied both to the rear and the front brakes, however, according to the American Motorcycle Safety Foundation concentrating on both wheels - unless one is a genuine street-legal Valentino Rossi - is rather counterproductive. Best is to just snap on the rear brake, and since one gets 80% brake power from the front wheel anyway, concentrate on “staging” that.
An easy and recommended method of “staging the front” is to apply the front brakes in a four-stage process. Locking the front brake completely during the fourth stage can cause the wheel to skid however, by then, every little skidding tendency is easily noticeable and it is rather easy to compensate for it too.
This is because almost all of the bike’s weight is pressing on the front wheel, by the fourth stage, and not shifting around.
All of the above is valid in case of a good-condition front tire. Treadless tires would brake rather well on perfectly smooth tarmac, however no real-life road section is ever perfectly smooth. Because of the fact that the tires basically act like a broom and sweep up debris and dust before actually getting down to the tarmac, a good condition front and rear tire is a must.
Braking on a slippery surface should be done with a lot more care and with the necessary foresight. Start braking in time because - quite logically - it’ll take the same amount of weight a lot more time to stop on a surface with less friction than it would on a dry surface with high friction.
It basically all comes down to physics and common sense really.
Wherever you go and whatever conditions you ride in always remember one thing: your attitude should always reflect the “safety first” motto.
Be safe first, have fun after.
- contributed by Dean Anderson