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steerEmergency Braking

Emergency braking is an essential skill. Braking and swerving are the two basic evasion techniques.

Braking has some advantages. There might be an obstacle, for example, a red light with crossing traffic, past the immediate threat. If the evasion seems likely to fail, because of insufficient space or time, braking has the advantage of reducing impact speed. If at low speeds, under 25 mph, emergency braking might be done in less space than swerving, but it loses this advantage at speeds over 35 mph for everyone except very skilled riders.

Braking also has inherent dangers, as we discuss below. ABS is a good thing to have for emergency braking situations.

Once you have committed to an emergency braking maneuver, the possibility of swerving pretty much goes away.

Emergency braking is a difficult skill, which requires training and practice. It is inherently dangerous, even when you've been practicing, because the friction of the surface varies with weather conditions and surface issues.

Promocycle Montreal on Optimal Braking describes the result of experiments they did to find out the most effective way perform an emergency stop. The sequence is:

1) Close the throttle.
2) Apply the rear brake.
3) Straighten the bike to be completely vertical, straighten your body, brace yourself and position fingers and feet - can be started during 1 and 2.
4) Apply the front brake with appropriate pressure, increasingly harder as the brake bites and the front of the bike dips.
5) Declutch.

Here's the MSF Basic RiderCourse manual. Maximum braking is on page 37.

We would add: as the weight transfers forward, the front wheel applies more of the braking force and the rear wheel has less weight on it. We need to let off the rear brake progressively to avoid locking it up. In other words, the maximum effect of the rear brake is during the first part of the braking process. But this is an important contribution, as it helps to start moving the weight of the bike forward, and Promocycle found that omitting the rear brake seriously reduces braking performance.

Roadcraft advises braking to a point just before the wheels lock, to use both brakes, and slightly release the front and increase the rear braking when the motorcycle starts to slow.

The important thing to note is that, if you plan to use this sequence when you have to do an emergency stop, the routine needs to be practiced into muscle memory. It's important to use this same sequence every time you stop, so that when you need it in an emergency you'll deploy it without thinking. The above information is from "Task Analysis for Intensive Braking of a Motorcycle in a Straight Line" by Promocycle Foundation, Canada, and is based on research.

Gears and emergency braking.

Roadcraft advises not to use gear changedowns and engine compression for the braking effect, except when needed on hills. Engine braking is irregular because of the problems of declutching and varying engine revs. If you are already at maximum braking on the rear wheel, the use of engine braking can be a destabilizing force that threatens rear wheel traction.

Both Roadcraft and MSF emphasize that you should be in the right gear for a quick move. Emergency braking might put you stopped in front of a cager who is not stopping, so being able to take off again in a hurry might prevent a rear-end.

But Promocycle recommends holding the clutch out while emergency stopping, and this, by extension, during regular braking.

Roadcraft says to change gears and smoothly declutch each time to keep the bike more stable during the stop. We feel that there is a benefit to this, as the bike does feel smoother. MSF more or less agrees with this.

We'd say, practice smooth gear changes during regular braking, and for emergency braking practice keep the procedure as much the same as possible. If you have any doubts about your skill at keeping tractions conditions very smooth during downchanges and clutch release, then keep the clutch out and change gears down to match the actual speed.

Problems during Braking:

You can lock up the front or rear wheel.

If you lock up the rear wheel, the only thing to do is to keep it locked, steer the bike straight, and ride it to a stop. Here's Better Motorcycling on rear skids. Don't let it off.

A front wheel lock, on the other hand, according to the WebBikeWorld article cited, needs to be dealt with by letting off the brake until the lock releases. Not dealing with a front wheel lock risks a lowside.