On Balance  

The safest and best way to stop a motorcycle

Smokin' your stops

Ready for ski season? I’m betting there’s a fair few out there who are completely done with anything that looks even remotely like those hazy, crazy days of summer. And to think, I used to like firefighting. Egad.

I skipped writing this column for awhile, partly because our plans for the summer got “seasonally adjusted” and partly because messing around on motorcycles sort of lost significance compared to people scrambling to save lives, livelihoods, and livestock.

But we’re still out there on the road and in the (somewhat less smoky) wind. It was time, I figured, to finish some of the thoughts from earlier columns about issues related to stopping instead of crashing.

And, sure enough, there is some theme music for today’s ride. The obvious, the eternal and very loud: Smoke on the Water. Well, what else, eh?

There are three keys to safe, effective braking when it all goes bad:

• Use
• Equip
• Adjust

Step one, “use”, seems obvious but science and observation tell us it’s quite the missing link. I mentioned before that research has found riders in general achieve no more than 70% of their motorcycles’ braking capacity and, in many cases, a lot less.

There are plenty of reasons for this but one in particular jumps out when you watch other riders, and listen to the chatter at the show ‘n shine.

We don’t normally use our brakes much. We use the transmission. Shifting down a couple of cogs, as we all know, knocks a ton of momentum off in very short order (little mass, therefore inertia easy to overcome). And we need to shift down for whatever’s next on the agenda anyways, so there we go—approach a corner or intersection, pull the clutch, bang it down a few and Robert’s your mother’s brother. Touch the brakes and you’re stopped.

What could be wrong with this cool and skillful approach?

For a start, look in the mirrors. See that smoke coming from the trailer brakes on the rig behind you? Um hmm. The dude in the cab wouldn’t have come anywhere near so close to punting you into next Tuesday if your brake light had come on when you knocked off that first big chunk of speed.

Equally, when it comes to needful stopping, you’re practising the wrong thing. To play guitar, you have to play the guitar. Not the drums. So to achieve your best braking, ignore Fred over there in the vest with all the cool pins and badges on it, bragging about how he never has to use the brakes. Use the brakes!

Every time you need or want to slow down, use your brakes first, last, and always. That way, your hands and feet know the way to the right levers and don’t need a few seconds of re-training to get to business. One day, trust me, you’re going to need those seconds.

Brake first, then gear down. Think: lead guitar.

The second item on the agenda is “equip.” I’ve said it before but it bears constant repeating that riders on ABS-equipped bikes crash less, are injured less and fewer die than those on bikes without them. More than 30% less. The reason is ABS prevents skidding and losing control, which is really helpful when you need to stop.

Put another way, skidding without ABS and falling down, then sliding into whatever big nasty thing you needed to avoid, is pretty much deadly.

Reason number two is full brake lever stroke capacity. That mean’s you can use everything you have, right away, instead of having to do the “progressive braking” thing we were all taught as the way to avoid skidding and falling down. See above.

Progressive braking is absolutely the best way to use your brakes— the smooth and controlled application of the levers in stages. So keep doing that, except when Betty’s pulled a U-turn in front of your nose. Then, nuts to that, nail the brakes as hard as you can if, and only if, you have ABS. It’s there to sort it out and keep you upright. And it does. It’s a proven fact.

The third item on the list of getting all the stopping done efficiently, effectively and reliably— “adjust.”

Bikes have the wonderful characteristic of being adjustable— some more, some less, some electronically and some with the good old 10 millimetre. But they do adjust. So why put up with your fingers never actually quite reaching the levers or being stretched out like you’re on the rack? You need to be able to immediately, without compromise or complication, use those controls.

Put ‘em where you can. Take the afternoon off, get out the wrenches and get yourself a new position in life…for your life.

If your controls won’t go there, get some that will. The aftermarket’s full of help in this area but be warned, lots of it is just expensive crap. Shop carefully.

And, like I’ve been saying, your bike isn’t the only adjustable character in the play.

We all have habits and assumptions, ways of doing things and thinking about things, that from time to time need to be reconsidered and adjusted too.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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