There’s a reason you have front and rear brakes. I know that can sound condescending, but the rear brake is the most misused control in motorcycling. Most people don’t use the rear brake enough, some people use it too much, and many people simply use it incorrectly.
Sticking to the theme of this series of blogs, I’m going to walk you through proper and improper use of the rear brake and show where it’s different on the street vs off-road, and also where its use is very similar.
On the pavement, there’s actually a pretty massive difference in how the rear brake is best applied between a racetrack and the street. On the street there are a lot of ways to utilize the rear brake. First, there’s the obvious: Stopping. You rarely have to come to a complete stop on a racetrack, but street lights, stop signs, and avoiding idiot drivers are all reasons to know how to stop on the street. While the front brake represents the overwhelming majority of your stopping power, the rear brake still plays a key role. Even if the rear brake only accounts for 20% of your stopping power, that could often represent the difference between safely stopping or eating the right-front fender of a car turning left in front of you.
Second, there’s stability. This is where all forms of motorcycling come together – the racetrack, the street, and off-road. The most universal reason for learning how to effectively control the rear brake is that it adds stability. On the street, that applies to emergency stops, but also to cornering. When a rider enters into a canyon corner and figures out they might be going a bit too fast, most of them will chop the throttle and/or apply some front brake (trail-braking). The problem is that this moves weight onto the front tire drastically and with often dire consequences, as the sudden weight transfer can test the limits of front-wheel traction and you can find yourself on the ground. But keeping a steady throttle while carefully applying the rear brake will transfer some weight to the front in a controlled manner while also scrubbing off some speed. The added stability and drop in speed will keep you out of the hospital.
This application of the rear brake becomes even more useful when riding two-up. With a passenger – or a lot of gear or fuel – adding weight to the rear wheel, it can throw off the balance of traction on the front. In this situation, using the front brake mid-corner would almost certainly end with you tossing yourself and your passenger/gear onto the pavement. But careful and deliberate use of the rear brake wouldn’t.
On the racetrack, the rear brake is also used to add some mid-corner stability, as mentioned above, but additionally – especially on very powerful street bikes – the rear brake is very helpful in keeping your front end down as you accelerate out of a corner. After all, if your front wheel is off the ground, it tends to make turning difficult. But outside of that, there’s not a lot of use for the rear brake on the racetrack, as the motorcycle should be rapidly accelerating and decelerating at all times, and the decelerating will take nearly all of the weight off the rear wheel, making the rear brake fairly useless.
Now, let’s talk about using the rear brake on the dirt: Keeping in mind that traction is everything but we never really have “traction” off-road, most off-roaders – especially dirt beginne