PSA: Please Reconsider Using Your Rear Brake

12/06/2013 @ 2:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler35 COMMENTS

PSA: Please Reconsider Using Your Rear Brake Yamaha YZR M1 MotoGP Valentino Rossi Up Close 1 635x423

There is a weird phenomenon as one gains experience on a motorcycle in regards to the usage of the rear brake. As novice riders, we are taught to use the rear brake in conjunction with the front brake, and in rider training courses like the one put on by the MSF, this is a skill that is practiced out on the range. Out on the road, it is not uncommon then to see the rear brake light of a new rider dance with light, as a foot covering the rear brake toggles the brake light switch on and off.

As we progress and gain some more experience as motorcyclists, the trend is to stop using the rear brake entirely — relying solely on the front brake for our stopping needs. Go to enough track days and eventually you will see a motorcycle fail a tech inspection because the rider thought the rear brake was so unnecessary as to remove it completely from the machine — for the weight savings, of course.

As a rider’s skill set on a motorcycle improves though, a new love affair is found with the rear brake. Talk to any professional motorcycle racer about their rear brake, and you will begin to realize there is a huge role that the rear brake plays in bike stability, which at times makes no sense to a layman — something exemplified by Casey Stoner’s frequent use of the rear brake while also hard on the throttle.

Not quite diving that deep, Scott Russell (of Mr. Daytona fame) and Nick Ienatsch (of FasterSafer.com) explain why you should fall in love again with your rear brake, as well as giving some tips on how to modify your bike to get the most out of braking with both the front and rear tires. Enjoy!

Source: FasterSafer (YouTube); Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

Comment:

  1. jimmyjohn says:

    I know to use the rear brake, I do use it, but the truth is, except in the rain and when I’m VERY seriously stopping, I just don’t feel like I need to use it. (And then there is that one time I went riding off into the woods after locking it up leaned over)

  2. mxs says:

    The video doesn’t really explain why …. racers on a track, sure, but on street most people would benefit from staying off the rear brake on any kind of bike other than cruiser where the weight transfer is so profound that the rear brake will play some notable role. I have seen enough rear brake lock ups ….

    For me it will only see a usage in rain conditions or in stop and go jam or in a low speed parking lot speeds. Anywhere else on the street, I just don’t see or feel any need to use it.

  3. Zander says:

    When you consider how applying the rear brake stabilizes the chassis by lowering the rear and also transferring some weight forward, this sets the bike up for much better front end braking by reducing and delaying the negative effects fork-dive has on steering geometry. There are many situations where rear brake application is beneficial (off-road especially) but the aforementioned technique is usable in most any situation.

  4. TexusTim says:

    I used it every now and then before I really started racing but after getting alot of track days I stopped using it ..this is the deal, a point and shoot rider will use it, a euro style carying a lot of speed in and out corners not so much..a couple famous motgp guys never used the rear brake like kevin swantz to name just one…now in an extreme situation like needing to emergcncy stop when the front isnt doing it you can drag the rear brake….some like scott russle use the rear brake to slide the rear out and that can be achevied by using it at the right moment. he is teaching his style and many track day novice riders are point and shoot types some never change and some do.

  5. Greg says:

    I use the rear brake mid corner to help regulate speed without changing the throttle input. It helps out alot @ lower speed corners when the throttle can be a bit snatchy.

    But like Scott says, not in every corner…..

    Novice Motorcycle racer.

  6. Lincoln says:

    I use the rear brake everywhere, and have done for 15 years. In fact, I go through about twice as many rear pads as I do fronts. I’m with Zander in that it gives notable stability to the chassis and reduces the amount of dive, but as Greg says it’s also useful for adjusting bike speed without changing throttle position. A very useful technique at low speed (even sub walking pace) when negotiating traffic, which if you haven’t guessed, is where I spend most of my time.

  7. paulus says:

    I ride both on and off-road… there is a fair amount of rear brake in both.
    The rear has every level of power from 0% to 100%… just squeeze what you need.

  8. cpt.Slow says:

    < heavy rear brake user

  9. ircsmith says:

    have been using the rear more and more. going for the front of the pack in 450SB on an underpowered 400 there is no such thing as point and shoot. one big diff between me and the front two….they use the rear brake.

    this is very timely! thanks A&S. have not added the spring yet. will for this coming race season.

  10. Norm G. says:

    ABS does all me rear braking… and damn good too.

  11. I recently switched my riding from Albuquerque to the mountain in Santa Cruz. I now ride a Ducati S2R 800 and have found myself slowly increasing the use of my rear brake. I find that I am carrying more speed with more stability. To be certain… I am nowhere near race or even track day speed – afterall I am commuting home ;)

  12. Mitch says:

    On the street I’d use it, especially when starting off on hills, but as a track rider the rear brake requires way too much finesse to get anything productive out of it that smart riding and engine braking/front brakes couldn’t do. I only touch it when dirt farming.

  13. jet says:

    Have been and always will use my back Brake over the front about 60/40.

  14. “Back in the day” is the key phrase which applies in this video and to this post. There was a time, which I can remember, in the 80s, when sport bikes still had grabby-ass rear brakes, so riders stopped using them as a safety/survival precaution. Some bikes I can think of that had this problem were where the 1985 and 86, FZ 750, and 600 Yamahas from this period as well. A few Kawasaki Ninjas from the early 80s as well, 750 Turbo, 900, early CBRs. I think a few of the 80s Italian bikes had this issue as well, the rear brake was just too powerful to do anything but tap it. A friend of mine who raced an FZR never used his rear brake, I tried to convince him of the advantages. But after riding his bike and testing the rear brake, which had crappy feel and got way too strong way to quick, I wouldn’t have used it much either. Old GSX-Rs had a good usable rear brake, as did the early VFR’s. Some use to solve this problem in ways similar to what they talked about in the video, finding hard brake pads, or tweaking the mechanism, but it was difficult back then. In modern times manufacturers have come up with a pretty standard ratio for rear braking power, largely by keeping the mechanical leverage mechanism relatively inefficient.

    I haven’t heard of or ridden a sport bike since the early-90s where this was a genuine issue. So I suppose this is why it’s a couple of old guys discussing this. Hard to believe that young riders, under 35, would still follow this long outdated practice. I’m guessing this is some kind of safety thing for novice riders who come from dirt riding experience and are used to using it more substantially, getting outdated information from people who haven’t caught up to this century???

    Those who comment here about not using the rear brake at all, racing or anywhere else, based on ANCIENT history, are dating themselves. If you’re not using the rear brake on a modern sport bike or racer, then you’re not getting around the track as quick as you could. Start facing your fear and learn how to use it properly, because the ability to do so could save your ass someday.

    So I suggest you reopen the case TexusTimmy, cause the jury has come back and they ain’t going your way. :)

    As long as I’ve been riding, I’ve been using the rear brake, judiciously, on every bike I’ve ridden, as you should. I don’t remember ever getting lockup other than in the dirt where sliding the back wheel is useful and far more controllable, or my first street riding experiences, or when trying to lock the rear wheel and slide for a stunt. At the very least it’s needed to cut rear wheel inertia under hard braking, and not just on the track. Using the rear brake is important to stabilization as others have mentioned, and under very hard braking or a panic stop, could mean the difference between pulling it out or getting into a wreck.

    I learned early that all you need is your big toe on the pedal, and to just feather it. Using the rear wheel as drag gives you a subtle measure of control, control that you’ll never learn how to handle and master to your advantage as a rider if you only use the front brakes. I also learned from an old motorcycle cop, that rear braking has particular advantages for low-speed maneuvers, the kind of situations where powerful front brakes which change the attitude of the bike drastically can be detrimental to your ability to maintain control and keep the bike upright. Trials riders know about this, as well as old Harley guys.

    If you’re not used to it, I suggest practicing under controlled conditions, get a feel for it at low speed, only using the rear brake, see how much you can use before you begin to feel lock-up. Notice how useful it can be for extremely low-speed creeping when you’re trying to get around some nasty obstacle, or to get over a curb without scraping your fairing. There are definitely things you can do using the rear brake only, that are virtually impossible with front brakes at low speed. Then later practice at highway speeds, try using the rear brake only to slow yourself down. This allows you to get a feel for exactly how much pressure you can apply to that lever (which ain’t much), this will teach you rear brake discipline. Best to do this on a lightweight enduro or dirt bike on the street before you try it on a sport bike or anything heavier. Then practice combining your rear braking with your front braking. You’ll quickly notice a difference in your ability to brake more efficiently and effectively. A word of CAUTION here, he who tromps the rear brake at speed is going down, that’s how you learn not to tromp the rear brake. :)

    Rear braking is all about having respect for that lever, like the trigger on a gun, never pull/push it, just give it a gentle squeeze, just kiss it.

  15. crab753 says:

    Subtle application in a chicane between left & right; or vice verse, really does keep the shock settled. The top of the corkscrew might be a good example.

  16. Gritboy says:

    Rear brake is a wonderful “control” tool for cornering. Like most skills on motorcycles it requires practice as varies from bike to bike, corner to corner.

  17. Kevin says:

    The only way to use up the center of my tire before the edges die is to heavily use the rear brake, all the time :D Never used too – lazy – but I do now. Sounds like I could use it better – thanks for the article and links!

  18. Claudia says:

    I’m a dirtrider so I never use my front brake, it’s a bad habit….

  19. Salman Azam says:

    Using rear break gives more stability before cornering both in Streets and Track….Using it all the time. My dad is riding bike for 26 years and he has a nice ability to use only rear break for controlling his bike

  20. Rich says:

    As a former bicycle racer who also rides motorcycles, I always use both brakes. It is a necessity on a bicycle and with experience, you really learn how to get maximum stability on your machine while braking. Under most circumstances you don’t need this ability, but sometimes in a potential crash situation at speed, it is nice to have the knowledge of how your bike will react under maximum braking conditions while trying to navigate your way out of a crisis. You learn how to modulate between front and rear brakes and this is true on either a bicycle or a motorcycle.

  21. weldoid says:

    This is funny, we were just talking about this two days ago. My 2010 S1000RR turned me back into a rear brake user: In the lower gears, its so hard to keep the front down under hard acceleration and the wheelie control is so abrupt. If you don’t use the rear brake you’re bouncing the front end down the road. Much more controllable with the rear brake!
    So once I got used to using it under acceleration, I became more aware of it and used to using it and found it particularly useful in fast sweepers as well. I still don’t use it too much under braking though.
    As previously mentioned, ABS helps your mind in using the rear under braking; kind of a safety net. You start to realize that you’re pretty far from locking it up under normal use.

  22. Kenny says:

    I almost always use the rear brake to some degree, for numerous reasons some of which have already been mentioned.
    Two that spring to mind are; slowing down mid-corner, enter a corner too fast or encounter an unexpected obstacle and using the fronts will cause the bike to stand up whereas the rears won’t.
    The other is on my old bike the front brake has no connection to the brake light so I always give a dab of rear to light up the brake light.

  23. Norm G. says:

    re: “I know to use the rear brake, I do use it, but the truth is, except in the rain and when I’m VERY seriously stopping, I just don’t feel like I need to use it.”

    you are correct sir. (McMahon voice)

    in the decade since the proliferation of radial calipers (see entry for monoblocks), vastly improved stock suspension, improved tyres, and now the appearance of anti-wheelie electrics, in the rabid effort to save cost and weight, i wouldn’t be surprised if a manufacturer released a bike (street) that DIDN’T have any sort of rear brake system at all…? ie. no pedal, no master cylinder, no hose, no brake fluid, no caliper, no rotor, no fasteners, etc.

    if not for perhaps legal obligation, it’s really bordering on being a “vestigial limb”. in the 21st century, stock front brakes are that good. one could ride their whole life and never miss the rear pedal.

  24. Batista says:

    When i am with my dirt bike or on dirt road is always use the rear 80%,, on track days with my r6 or on public road, i always use my front brake, but i also use the rear brake for late and heavy braking to stabilize my r6 and even on wet conditions or overshoot.. :))))

  25. Norm G. says:

    re: “enter a corner too fast or encounter an unexpected obstacle and using the fronts will cause the bike to stand up whereas the rears won’t.”

    correct, use of the rear mid-corner only carries the risk of the back end coming around, putting you into low earth orbit.

  26. meatspin says:

    i still use the rear. Coming to a stop it keeps the front from diving too much and it just seems much easier on the hands and wrists when used together with the front. Riding makes my hands tire way before my feet do.

  27. Halfie30 says:

    My first bike was a Ducati 800 SS. I used to purposely use the rear brake to get the rear end to step out. With no steering damper it was the only way I could slide into a corner comfortably. I now ride a TL-R… Just started getting comfortable enough to do the same, though having the steering damper makes the rear braking that much less intense. I’m comfortable sliding the rear, some people hate that feeling. A little bit of rear brake to keep the chassis in line is good practice though for sure.

  28. crshnbrn says:

    @Norm G.

    “in the decade since the proliferation of radial calipers (see entry for monoblocks), vastly improved stock suspension, improved tyres, and now the appearance of anti-wheelie electrics, in the rabid effort to save cost and weight, i wouldn’t be surprised if a manufacturer released a bike (street) that DIDN’T have any sort of rear brake system at all…? ie. no pedal, no master cylinder, no hose, no brake fluid, no caliper, no rotor, no fasteners, etc.

    if not for perhaps legal obligation, it’s really bordering on being a “vestigial limb”. in the 21st century, stock front brakes are that good. one could ride their whole life and never miss the rear pedal.”

    Never gonna happen. Front brakes are only good if they work. If nothing else, a rear brake can serve as an emergency brake. A rear brake still comes in handy on the street when encountering water, spilled fluids from other vehicles, gravel, sand, panic stops, etc. Technology may eliminate the rear brake lever with linked braking systems and ABS, but I don’t see the rear brake going the way of the dodo, just those who don’t know how to use it properly.

  29. nerve says:

    going down on switchbacks in the Alps, I learned to appreciate rear brake again

  30. Norm G. says:

    re: “Technology may eliminate the rear brake lever with linked braking systems and ABS, but I don’t see the rear brake going the way of the dodo”

    me neither, it’s what’s known as an “illustration”. a colorful way of describing how thanks to the application of technology and continuous process improvement, the rear brake has in fact been rendered all but useless for the majority of riders, and how cool it is to think/say otherwise.

    re: “just those who don’t know how to use it properly.”

    or, those who can’t. like the handicapped rider who’s lower right is actually a prosthetic.

  31. You will never ever ever ever ever see an OEM produce a motorcycle without a rear brake. Period. Full-stop. End of story.

  32. crshnbrn says:

    @ Norm G

    The point I was making is that those who don’t know how to use the rear brake properly may go the way of the dodo, if you know what I mean.

    re: “or, those who can’t. like the handicapped rider who’s lower right is actually a prosthetic.”

    A few years ago I met a guy with a prosthetic lower right leg who rode a Harley. The front brake master cylinder was plumbed to an adjustable proportioning valve that sent brake fluid to both calipers.

  33. singletrack says:

    On the street, try your own simple experiment.
    Stop on a moderately steep downhill street, or even a parking garage if you live in the mid-west ;)
    Hold the front brake only.
    Then push the rear brake only and observe the difference.

    Regardless of dirt, street or track, try to use a little rear brake to settle the rear end, (lowers the CG a bit) then apply the front brake smoothly and transfer weight to the front end progressively. If you start with the front, weight transfer immediately lightens the rear, making it virtually useless if you need to stop sooner.