1. Twenty years ago, you weren't even supposed to touch your front brake. You'd flip right over on your face, so the stories went. Five years ago, racers and riders were preaching the exact opposite: "Don't even bother with the rear brake; the front is all you need." So, in the pursuit of the ultimate braking performance provided by your average Bandit 600S, we hooked up our Stalker radar gun and the laptop computer and set out to solve the big braking question: What is the optimum braking procedure, and how do you do it?
2. Keep your head up when riding, eyes always scanning what's going on around you. When applying the brakes, squeeze them smoothly, don't yank them. This gradually transfers weight to the front tire, increasing front tire traction and reducing the chance of locking the wheel, which eliminates the rider's control over the motorcycle. A hard stop using the front brake has the front tire howling on the verge of lock-up. The line between optimum braking and lock-up is a thin one, so make it a habit to go to an empty parking lot and practice hard braking. Our braking distance from 60-0 mph using only the front brake was 151 feet.
3. We didn't judge the distance correctly and nearly ran into the radar gun for the first rear-brake-only stop from 60 mph. Using the rear brake is useful when tightening turns, checking surface traction or settling the rear at corner entrances, but to use the rear brake exclusively in everyday situations is asking for a Volvo sandwich. Modulating the rear brake is tough to do without locking it at some point. Press down on the pedal firmly until you start to hear the tire howl; this is the point just before lock-up, and is the hardest you can brake without skidding. Impending lock-up is far more effective at stopping a motorcycle than a locked, skidding tire, so practice working up to it. If you're not accustomed to using the rear brake, lock-up is very easy to achieve, as shown in the photo. If lock-up occurs, keep the tire locked and countersteer in the direction you want to travel before you release pedal pressure. Braking distance from 60 mph using only the rear brake was a long 289 feet.
4. Keep at least one finger on the brake lever at all times when riding. This cuts down on reaction time by eliminating the finger movement from the bar to the lever in the case of an emergency. Two fingers are generally all that is needed for hard stops on modern sport bikes.
For our final test, we modulated both the front and rear brakes simultaneously. Not surprisingly, we brought the motorcycle to a stop in the shortest distance of the three tests: 146 feet. Both brakes together undoubtedly provides the best braking performance.
If you're feeling confident, practice your braking over painted lines, through puddles and on bumpy surfaces, which further bring suspension forces into play. The more you practice hard braking, the better off you'll be next time you're forced into a panic-stop situation.