Braking on a Motorcycle: A Complete Guide for Beginners

Braking is one of the most crucial skills that every motorcyclist should master. It's a basic component of safe riding, and it can make all the difference in preventing accidents on the road. Braking on a motorcycle is quite different from braking in a car, and it's essential to understand the basics of physics and braking techniques to keep yourself and others safe. In this complete guide for beginners, we'll take you through the different aspects of braking on a motorcycle, including stopping distance, front and rear brakes, ABS, engine braking, emergency braking, and trail braking. So, whether you're a new rider or an experienced one, read on to learn how to use your brakes properly and safely.


In order to ride a motorcycle safely, you need to understand the concept of braking on a motorbike and its limitations. Being much lighter than a car, according to the laws of physics and having less kinetic energy, a motorcycle should be able to stop faster than a car. However it is not so, because a car has 4 brakes, one for each wheel, while a motorcycle has only 2. Not only that, but the rear brake has very little stopping power, as all the weight shifts to the front wheel when braking and therefore braking with the brake placed on the rear wheel has very little effect. A car is also much more stable when braking, not only it has four contact points, but its tyres’ contact patches with the pavement are much larger.

Stopping Distance

A stopping distance is the time a motorcyclist needs to come to a full stop. It is assumed that an alert motorcycle rider takes 0,75 s to make a decision and start braking. The total braking distance depends for illustration mostly on the speed of the motorbike. Of course there are many other factors involved, like the road condition - wet or dry, condition and quality of your brakes, your skills, whether you are carrying a pillion passenger, the condition of your motorcycle tyres or others. Think about it in every situation, what is the safe speed.

Front Brake

A front brake is the primary brake on a motorcycle and should be used first and alone 90% of the time. This is a somewhat hard concept to grasp for beginner motorcycle riders, especially when having an experience with riding a bicycle, where the rear brake is your primary brake, that you always apply first and stronger.

The front brake has the most stopping power. Its effectiveness comes to a high extent from the front wheel being loaded when stopping, because the energy of the motorbike is directed forward. And you don’t have to be afraid that you will tip your motorcycle over the front wheel. A little bit of gradual pressure and you can go hard at it, no worries. Riding at high or medium speeds, in regular situations like slowing down before a corner, always use your front brake and don’t touch your rear brake. Always ride your motorcycle with two fingers on your front brake lever. Not only will you be ready to brake or preload your front brake, but your wrist work with throttle will be smoother.

Motorcycle front brake lever

Rear Brake

Rear brake is your secondary brake. It has very little stopping power and should be used generaly in two situations - emergency braking and slow speed maneuvering. During slow speed maneuvering the rear brake is your friend and should be used exclusively. In these cases, the front brake could lock your front wheel while performing tight turns and you would go down together with your motorbike. Furthermore applying the rear brake instead of fully closing the throttle makes the tight turns much smoother.

Drum vs dics brakes

Newer and more performance oriented motorcycles have a disc brake in the rear just as the one in the front. These brakes are not only better looking, but also more effective than drum brakes.


ABS is an electronic assistant that prevents your wheels from locking as it will ration the braking power to the wheels when it receives a signal that the wheel is skidding. You will probably never notice it on the front wheel and you don’t have to worry about rationing the braking pressure to the front brake, even if you don’t have ABS. However, if your motorbike is not equipped with ABS, you have to account for it when using the rear brake. Progressive or interrupted pressure is the key.

Engine Braking

It is not just your brakes, but your engine can be used to slow your motorcycle down. Shifting down a gear is an effective way to control your speed on a motorcycle especially when braking downhill. It is not really technically braking as it is just having the right gear in. My rule is that I should be going down hill in the same gear that I would be climbing the hill in the other direction. Letting go of your clutch is necessary for engine braking, otherwise you are going without any gear.

When to Brake on Motorcycle

motorcycle approaching a corner

The general rule is that braking should be done when the motorcycle is upright, because it is more stable. For cornering that means do all the braking before the turn. As you approach the corner, apply your front brake, shift down and go through the corner without braking and while applying smooth throttle.

Trail braking

Trail braking is an advanced technique that involves using braking in the turn. When trail braking, you wait to apply your brake later before the corner. You go hard on the brake right before the turn and release it partially when you need to lean the motorcycle. The point remains the same, that with full front brake power applied, the front wheel is loaded and you won’t be able to lean the motorcycle. However, if you partially release it and keep it modestly applied for the first half of the turn, before hitting the apex and throttle, it will allow you to ride through the turn faster. It is also a known fact that trail braking can help with traction, because the front wheel has more weight on it.

The lesson for a beginner motorcyclist is that braking can be done in a turn. When you misread a corner and fail to adjust your speed in time before the corner, you can still brake. Brake hard, as much as you can, before you need to lean into the turn. Then release, so you can lean the motorbike, but not fully, since you still need to slow down. The brake release also needs to be gradual, because a fast release would result in offloading of the front wheel and a the tyre loosing its grip.

Emergency braking

Emergency braking is when a sudden emergency situation arises and you need to stop or slow down as quickly as possible. Typically a car accident, object on the road or pedestrian steps into the road. Apply immediately front full front brake and a fraction of a second later your rear brake. If you have ABS, step on the rear brake hard and keep it pressed. You will just hear cracking noise from the rear wheel and vibrations from the pedal as it is doing its job reapplying the brake without locking the rear wheel. If you do not have ABS, apply the rear brake gradually to prevent locking the wheel. Keep the motorbike straight and even locking the rear wheel won’t be any problem.

If your original speed was high, shift down as well one or two gears while being on both brakes. Your engine will help you slow down faster. Emergency braking is the only time when you need to lock your arms in the elbows and shoulders and be as stiff as possible. A large force from your body’s kinetic energy will come forward and you need to grip firm and push hard against the handlebars. This is especially true, when you carry a pillion passenger, since you will have to push against the force of two bodies.


In conclusion, braking is a crucial aspect of motorcycle riding that requires careful consideration and practice. As we have discussed, there are several factors to consider when braking, such as stopping distance, braking techniques, front and rear brakes, ABS, engine braking, emergency braking, and trail braking. By understanding these concepts and incorporating them into your motorcycle riding, you can become a safer and more confident motorcyclist on the road.

Remember that braking on a motorcycle is different from braking in a car, and it is important to adjust your technique accordingly. Always use your primary front brake unless emergency braking or slow maneuvering.

In emergency situations, stay calm and apply both brakes simultaneously, with more emphasis on the front brake. Shift down gears to help slow down faster and keep your body stiff and engaged to counteract the force of the stop.

It is essential to continuously practice and improve your braking technique to ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road. Ride safe, wear appropriate protective motorcycle gear, and always be mindful of your surroundings.

What kind of brakes are used on motorcycles?

When it comes to motorcycle brakes, there are two types that are most commonly used: the front brake and the rear brake. Both brakes work together to slow down and stop your motorcycle, but the front brake is more effective and provides the majority of the stopping power. The front brake is located on the right handlebar and is controlled by squeezing the lever. It is operated by hydraulic pressure and is responsible for about 70-90% of the motorbike's stopping power. The rear brake, on the other hand, is located on the right foot pedal and is used to provide stability and control during braking. It is operated by a cable or hydraulic system and provides around 10-30% of the motorbike's stopping power. Many modern motorcycles are also equipped with Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), which help prevent the wheels from locking up during hard braking. This can be especially helpful in emergency situations where you need to come to a stop quickly. Another important aspect of braking on a motorcycle is engine braking, which is when you downshift to slow down instead of using the brakes. This can be helpful in situations where you need to slow down without losing control, such as on a steep downhill grade. Lastly, trail braking is a technique used in cornering where you continue to brake as you lean into the turn. This can be a more advanced technique and should only be attempted once you have a solid understanding of basic braking techniques.

What are the benefits of using ABS brakes on a motorcycle?

There are several benefits of using ABS brakes on a motorcycle. First and foremost, ABS can help reduce your stopping distance, especially in wet or slippery conditions. When you apply the brakes, the system will automatically pump the brakes for you to prevent the wheels from locking up, allowing you to maintain control of the motorbike while coming to a stop. Another benefit of ABS brakes is that they can help you avoid skids and slides. If you are in a situation where you need to brake suddenly, ABS can help keep your tires from losing traction and sliding out from under you. This can be especially important in emergency situations where you need to make a quick stop to avoid a collision. ABS brakes can also provide a more confident and comfortable riding experience. Knowing that you have this safety feature can help you feel more in control of your motorbike and less anxious about braking. This can ultimately lead to a more enjoyable and stress-free ride. Of course, there are some downsides to ABS brakes. They can be more expensive to purchase and maintain, and some riders may find that they prefer the feel of non-ABS brakes.

How can you tell when it is time to replace your motorcycle brakes?

One sign that it may be time to replace your brakes is if you notice a decrease in braking performance. If you have to apply more pressure than usual to slow down or if you hear squeaking or grinding noises when you brake, it may be time for new brake pads or rotors. Another sign is if you notice your brake pads have become too thin. Most brake pads have a wear indicator, which is a small piece of metal that makes contact with the rotor when the pad is worn down. If you can see the wear indicator, it's definitely time for new pads. It's also important to pay attention to how your motorcycle handles when you brake. If you notice vibrations or pulsations in the brake lever or pedal, it could mean that your rotors are warped and need to be replaced. Lastly, if your brakes feel spongy or if the brake lever or pedal feels loose, it could indicate that there is air in your brake lines. This is a serious issue that requires immediate attention from a mechanic. Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your brakes. If you're unsure about the condition of your brakes, it's always best to have a professional take a look.