We #bearacer club riders are a very demanding bunch of guys who use their bikes to the limit in all kinds of conditions and are therefore constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our riding skills so that we can continue to push the envelope that little bit further on every adventure, but ever more safely as well.
Thatâs why, when it came to talking about an issue as important as braking technique when youâre riding a bike out on the road, we approached our friends and partners at GSSS, or âScuola di Guida Dinamica Sicura su Stradaâ (LINK http://www.gsss.it/
), the expert FMI federal instructors that we met at the #bearacer club Riding Practice day at the 41st Stelvio Rally, who helped us to pen this article.
Although for most of us acceleration is probably the most exciting part of riding a bike, this is certainly not the first thing we should be learning about: indeed, braking is by far the most important riding manoeuvre that you need to know how to do on the bike, as well as the one that could land you in the most trouble as regards losing grip, at least until such time as you have learned all the necessary braking theory and practical braking skills.
Undoubtedly the main role of the brakes is that of a safety device and although we wonât be discussing emergency stops in this article (a topic we will be addressing in the future), what we will be discussing here is the use of the bikeâs brakes as an active part of the bikeâs controls that are responsible for the bikeâs handling and, more importantly, for ensuring your riding pleasure.
The front brakes
As we all know, the front brake is undoubtedly the most important since it enables the experienced rider to control the bike in virtually any situation and is usually the first thing you grab for when you need to slow the bike down as quickly as possible. But have you ever asked yourself why this is?
To answer this question we need to review the laws of physics: it could be said that the quickest deceleration that can be achieved during braking is directly proportional to the amount of friction that is generated between the bike tyre and the tar. That force is the product of the coefficient of friction of the tar/bike tyre and the amount of weight bearing down on the tyre itself.
Simply speaking, what this means is that when you pull on the brake lever mounted on the handlebars, you are effectively triggering a situation opposite to that which what happens under acceleration, in other words the weight is shifted forward onto the front wheel, which, due to the resulting increase in the size of the contact patch between the tyre and the tar, is better able to withstand the natural tendency to slide.
So, while it may sound strange, using the front brakes does not always result in less grip, but indeed, in certain situations it results in more grip.
In addition to the above, the forward weight shift compresses the front forks, which in turn lowers the front-end of the bike and marginally shortens the wheelbase, all of which helps the rider to line up the bike properly to take the bend. Thatâs why using the front brakes as you approach a bend (and for the more expert riders amongst you, even slightly delaying the release of the brake lever, known in biking circles as: âbraking into a bendâ) actually makes it easier to drop the bike into the bend.
There are, however, a number of important factors that you need to take into account in this regard. The first of these is that the coefficient of fiction can vary widely and is influenced by a whole host of factors that are often beyond the riderâs control, such as the type of bike youâre riding, the type of tyres fitted to the bike and the prevailing road conditions. Secondly, as we have already said, your objective is not always necessarily just to slow down as quickly as possible, but rather to slow down in the right way, so as to enable you to drop the bike into the bend, but without overly upsetting the bikeâs balance. During this delicate phase the bike will always display some tendency to slide, also defined as a collateral effect, which makes the bikeâs handling even more delicate and more susceptible to change. In any event, even remaining within the limits of grip, using the front brake to slow the bike down as you approach a bend may trigger a straightening-effect that could cause the bike to run wide in the bend. Certain bikes and certain types of tyres are more susceptible to this phenomenon than others.
For all of these reasons, and as weâll see in the next paragraph, using the front brake for braking purposes is not always necessarily the best response.
The back brakes
This is where the back brakes come into play. Obviously their job is to slow down and stop the bike, but they are also an effective tool for correcting the bikeâs trajectory and controlling the movement of the back-end.
The main effect of the back brakes is to shift the weight onto the rear of the bike, lowering the back-end and restoring grip and control to the back tyre.
When youâre slowing down or approaching a bend, you can use the back brakes to lower the back-end of the bike or limit the weight transfer caused by the use of the front brakes (you can also to some extent achieve the same effect by gearing back and using the engine to slow down the bike), whereas, when youâre already in the bend, applying the back brakes can be a very useful way to slightly tighten the bikeâs trajectory without laying off the throttle, which could seriously affect the bikeâs balance and cause a jerking motion. This is a very good reason to always keep your right foot ready for action.
How and when to brake
Still as regards on-road riding, perhaps on a great mountain road somewhere with lots of cool bends, itâs always advisable to use both back and front brakes, applying the back brakes first (which is also useful in terms of gauging the amount of available grip), before applying firm, gradual pressure on the front brakes, thereby giving the bike sufficient time to transfer some of the weight back onto the front-end and bear down on the front tyre, setting the bike up perfectly to take the bend.
How easy is that? The truth is that it takes quite a whole lot of practice to improve your riding sensitivity and to enable your movements to become increasingly fluid, natural and in-sync.
Braking when fully loaded or carrying a passenger
We have already seen how the phenomenon of weight transfer between front and rear plays such a major role in braking. Thatâs why itâs particularly important for us bikers to understand and master the concept of weight distribution on a two-wheeler, which is influenced by the type of bike and itâs characteristics, and above all whether or not the bike is loaded or you have a passenger on board.
The more weight there is on the rear-end of the bike, the slower will be the back-endâs tendency to lift under braking and the slower will be the weight transfer to the front-end. You will therefore have to wait a little longer before applying a good dose of front brake, which, as we have already stated, is the more efficient of your two brakes but is also the most likely to cause dangerous sliding.
Under such riding conditions, it is essential that you distribute the luggage load youâre carrying as evenly as possible, for example by placing heavier objects in your tank bag, and that you increase the pre-loading on the back suspension as shown in the bikeâs user manual in order to help balance the load on the bike.
GSSS, or âScuola di Guida Dinamica Sicura su Stradaâ is a #bearacer club partner when it comes to issues such as riding techniques, particularly as regards editorial content and training events, as some of our members discovered at the #bearacer club Riding Practice at the 41st Stelvio Rally.
Their rider training centre is based at the Federal Technical Centre at Polcanto (Florence), where they offer all sorts of training courses run by FMI federal instructors certificated by the IGSS.
Find out more on http://www.gsss.it/