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Motorcycle Braking

Considerations in Car/Motorcycle Collisions

The motorcycle is a vehicle which is referred to by engineers as a single track vehicle. This simply means that the motorcycle has all of its wheels in one line. Traditionally, motorcycles have been fitted with two independent brake systems—one for the front wheel and one brake system for the rear wheel.

While anti-lock brake systems (ABS) exist for motorcycles, the majority of motorcycles are not so equipped. Therefore, the rider’s technique in using the front brake is very important both in stopping the motorcycle and in avoiding the motorcycle falling over while it is being stopped. Generally, if a motorcycle’s front wheel is locked, the motorcycle will fall over quickly; within ½ to ¾ second. It is generally accepted that approximately 70% of a motorcycle’s total braking power comes from the front brake and only 30% from the rear brake. Therefore, a motorcycle driver who chooses not to use his front brake, or does not have the experience or training to use and modulate the front brake of his motorcycle in an emergency, may be abandoning 70% of the motorcycle’s braking capacity. Unfortunately, some “experienced” motorcycle riders do just that – they choose not to use the front brake. Such a choice is often based upon the false belief that if the rider uses the front brake, he will be thrown over the handlebars. Poor braking technique by a motorcycle operator will significantly increase the motorcycle’s stopping distance from a given speed. The motorcycle rider’s knowledge and ability to correctly modulate the front brake becomes even more important when the road surface is wet.

Many readers will have heard that motorcycle riders will intentionally “put the bike down.” Such an emergency procedure is a popular misconception, yet it is believed by many motorcyclists as well as the general public. Such an action as intentionally causing the motorcycle to fall over, on the part of any motorcycle operator, is inappropriate in the majority of accident scenarios. A motorcycle using both brakes optimally will be able to stop at a 0.7g to 0.8g deceleration or better on a paved road surface. That is, on a good paved surface the average motorcycle will stop in a 40% to 50% percent shorter distance when upright and being slowed by its brakes compared to when it is sliding on its side.

The stopping distance of any recent production motorcycle is highly dependent on the rider’s correct use of both brakes. Hence, when dealing with the issue of a motorcycle collision, it is always important to explore the rider’s experience and, if possible, any preconceived ideas about how to use the brakes.

Examination of the relative wear on the front and rear brake pads, or brake shoes, of a motorcycle may allow the accident investigator to independently evaluate the rider’s braking habits. However, such observation is only valid if the same rider has operated the accident motorcycle for at least 1,000 miles, in general.

It is clear from the foregoing discussion that a motorcycle rider who habitually uses only his rear brake will have needlessly increased his motorcycle’s stopping distance and/or the impact speed with which he hits another vehicle, should an impact occurred. Finally, it should be noted that the lack of a skid mark from a motorcycle’s front wheel, or only the presence of a short skid mark from the motorcycle’s front wheel, is not a conclusive indication that the motorcycle’s front brake was being used poorly.

In considering the investigation of a motor vehicle operator in an accident where a motorcycle is involved, it is important to explore thoroughly the motorcycle rider’s knowledge of how both the brakes were used. The rider’s training and technique may be significant factors in considering why an accident occurred and might also bear on why the motorcycle was unable to take evasive action or stop prior to an impact in the space and time available to the motorcycle operator. Where a motorcycle falls onto its side prior to impact with an opposing vehicle it is also necessary to explore why the motorcycle may have fallen over prior. Did the fall occur because the motorcyclist intentionally caused his machine to fall?