The Learning Curve: Hard to Brake
Operating a motorcycle is a bit like swinging a golf club. In the beginning, it is difficult in its complexity, and we only vaguely resemble what the best in the world look like when doing it. After a while, we find ways to get the job done, though they may not be what one would teach. As in golf swings, these idiosyncrasies in our riding can become habits that are hard to break.
There is more than one way to operate a motorcycle, but problems arise when self-taught habits work well only in calm, dry conditions on sunny days. The question is not whether our riding skills can get us to the store and back, but whether they can save us when things go south. In part one of this two-part series on covering the levers, we'll examine the all-important front brake.
Covering the brake lever means riding with the thumb hooked around the throttle grip and the fingers resting on the lever. Not so long ago, new motorcyclists were taught to cover the brake with all four fingers while riding. Some learned to cover the brake all the time, while others learned to do it when traffic conditions warrant it. Doing so, it was reasoned, would reduce reaction times and, therefore, braking distance.
Four-finger braking is a relic of the time when drum brakes were ubiquitous. With the advent of hydraulic disc brakes, especially dual-disc front brakes, the amount of input required to stop was drastically reduced. Covering the lever with four fingers suddenly made no sense, as the resulting loss of bar control could cause an accident. The current trend in brake-lever covering is to ride with the index and middle fingers covering the lever, leaving the other fingers on the grip to control the throttle.
Some riders still cover the brake at all times, but it is best to avoid covering any of the controls until a sticky situation develops. At the first sign of trouble, the hands and feet should go on the controls, ready to downshift and brake hard if necessary. One reason to not cover the controls is to avoid accidentally engaging the brake light. That light saves lives, but it is useless if it is always lit. Another reason to leave the lever alone is that riding with a full grip on the throttle inevitably means more throttle control.
Covering the brake certainly reduces reaction time and consequently shortens braking distance but, like many other things in motorcycling, the choice of whether to do it always or sometimes is up to the individual. It makes sense for beginners to constantly cover the brake, because their situational awareness has yet to fully develop. For experienced riders, the biggest difficulty lies in changing something they have always done. Once you learn to cover, not doing so feels dangerous. If you've never done it, it feels alien. Experiment with the different techniques in open space and find which works best for you.
Whichever method you settle upon, practice it often to engrain the technique, and be sure to protect yourself in the event a situation develops that no technique can prevent. Also, be sure your brakes and brake pads are in tip-top condition to shorten stopping distance even further. 1MOTOSHOP stocks brake pads for a wide variety of motorcycles.
The purpose of this article was to point out that the ways each of us learned to ride are not necessarily the right ones. To cover, or not to cover? Four fingers on the levers, or just one or two? Share with us how you operate your controls while riding, and why you do it the way you do. Just like you, we're always learning. Also, check out our Facebook page when you get a chance.
The Aussies at The Bike Show advocate covering the brake when the situation demands it. Check out their YouTube video for a demonstration of the effectiveness of the technique.