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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them

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 rider's 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 motorcycle's braking capability, the rider's technique, and available traction.

TOTAL STOPPING DISTANCE = Perception + Reaction + Braking distance.

riding right stop sign ahead
We don't always get "a heads up" on a stop ahead like this, so it's 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 rider's 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: It's 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. It's 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. It's 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 you've 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. Don't 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. It's 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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