Riding Right: Stop!

Braking in the shortest distance you safely can

By Lizz Egan

In the Basic RiderCourse, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) describes total stopping distance as three separate components. The first, Perception Distance, is the distance the bike travels from the time something is present until you perceive the need to brake.

Perception time depends on your mental alertness and how well you are scanning ahead. The distance traveled during that time is proportional to the speed of the motorcycle.

The second component is Reaction Distance, or how far the motorcycle travels between the time the rider sees the hazard and begins to apply the brakes. The Reaction Distance is a function of the riders motor skills and familiarity with the motorcycle. Just as with perception distance, Reaction Distance is proportional to motorcycle speed.

The final component is Braking Distance. It is a function of the motorcycles braking capability, the riders technique, and available traction.

TOTAL STOPPING DISTANCE = Perception + Reaction + Braking distance.

riding right stop sign ahead
We dont always get “a heads up” on a stop ahead like this, so its important to know how to stop a motorcycle effectively.

The total stopping distance is the total distance the bike travels while the rider perceives a hazard, reacts to it by applying the brakes, and finally proceeds to brake the motorcycle to a stop. Factors that affect braking include the riders awareness and reaction time, motor skills, traction, and the braking capability of the motorcycle.

You can use this information to enhance your safety while riding. When you find yourself in situations where you might need to stop suddenly, like areas with lots of intersections or when approaching a potential left-turner, keep in mind that even a relatively moderate reduction in speed will allow you to reduce your stopping distance considerably.

Practice: Its important to keep your skills, especially your braking skills, in tip-top shape. One way is to practice on a quiet street or parking lot.

1. Mark about a 100 foot approach to a stopping area. You can mark the stopping area with chalk or a bucket or some other item that you can clearly see.
2. Approach it in second gear, somewhere between 12 and 18 mph.
3. As your front tire crosses the marker, stop in the shortest distance that you safely can, without locking either wheel.
4. Measure the distance from the object to your front tire where it touches the ground. Try to make that distance shorter and in the safest way possible while maintaining control. If you have a buddy to practice with, have her or him provide a stop signal and stop when they give it. Try to shorten your braking distance each time.

Maximum Braking refers to stopping safely in the shortest distance that you safely can. Its a skill that requires constant practice to stay sharp. During maximum braking, simultaneously squeeze the front brake and apply the rear brake without locking either wheel. Keep your body centered and your head and eyes up while looking well ahead. This helps the motorcycle stop in a straight line.

Riding right stop

Braking in a curve: The most important key to stopping quickly in a curve is to get the motorcycle upright as soon as possible. Here is a technique to practice. In a safe environment like a parking lot, accelerate to 12-18 mph (in second gear) and while you are in a curve, straighten the motorcycle and smoothly apply both brakes (without locking either wheel). You should be stopped in a straight line and your head and eyes should be in line with your body and looking straight ahead.

Your handlebars should be “squared” to maintain stability at the stop point. Its best to really get into that curve and try not to anticipate by slowing. Once in the curve, try to imagine that an animal has appeared and stop using the techniques above. Be sure to practice curving to the left and to the right.

Having excellent stopping skills is one of the skills a motorcyclist should practice, practice, practice. Regardless of how long youve been riding these stopping skills should be honed in a safe area on a regular basis. When you need your skills, ensure they are there. Dont hope make it so!

Another term you may hear is “scanning ahead.” It refers to aggressively looking well ahead down the road. Practice aggressive scanning even when in your car. Its part of riding right and riding safe.

Lizz Egan is an MSF certified instructor residing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She rides a red Harley-Davidson Road King.

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9 thoughts on Riding Right: Stop!

  1. I also attended a motorcycle class and they taught us to downshift when slowing down and to stop in first gear. Why would you stop in second gear? Thank you for your articles keep them coming.

  2. Thanks for the refresher. I am sure that some will disagree with me, but I think that perception is the key to this. Looking forward, anticipating, being aware of your surroundings – all of this can change a tense, sudden (panic) stop into a controlled, slightly irratated stop. We like to complain about cage drivers on cell phones but riders fiddling with iPods or cell phones (particularly w/bluetooth capable helmets) or whatever technology (adjusting GPS on the run) that comes along are going to be increasingly to blame for accidents. I have always tried to tell my children that driving is a participant sport. Riding ups the ante exponentially. Be aware – ride safe.

  3. Breaking and stopping in a curve is one of the hardest things to learn. However, when I took a motorcycle safety course years ago, this was one of the things the instructors spent a lot of time teaching. They also taught the class to downshift and be in first gear when you stop. That way, if you need to move quickly to get out of the way of traffic, you are ready to take off and don't have to wait to put your bike in gear.

    I highly recommend a certified safety course to everyone who mentions they are thinking about getting a bike. It is one of the most important things you can purchase as part of your “bike accessories.”

  4. I agree. Great article. I found myself only using the rear brakes when I first starting riding. I have since learned to use both brakes all of the time. Thank you for such a wonderful article.

  5. Great article. This morning I had to stop quickly when a light turned. Thank goodness for rider safety classes.

  6. I've read this advice before, but I can never read it often enough! I also practice “head talk” and don't just repeat the same old mantra of “people don't see motorcycles easily.” Although true, I tell myself I am also part of the equation to make myself more visible and safe. And focus on every stop being a square, solid stop, leaving plenty of room between me an something bigger — like a car or truck. And scanning ahead? I'm a much better car driver, too. My practice of scanning ahead while riding my motorcycle also transfers to my driving a car. Good reminder. Thank you for featuring this post!

  7. We practiced the quick stop in the safety class, but not in a turn. A lot of times when I am out in the rural areas at night, deer, and especially racoons, dart out in front of you. I do know to square the wheel. I learned that one the hard way. I didn't go down, but lost my balance. That was a bit scary when stopping quick in a turn!

  8. Great article and good tips. One important reminder, as mentioned, would be to s-q-u-e-e-z-e that front brake and never grab at it. Many riders that don't practice this will usually panic and grab a hand full of brakes and end up locking that front tire. This is important considering that the front brake offers the most stopping power. Get into the habit of always using both brakes when you stop so that when you need to stop quickly, you can do it properly. This really is a time when “practice makes perfect.”

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