Should I use the front or rear brake?

Should I use the front or rear brake?

Scarily enough, two questions regarding motorcycle braking continuously pop up:

    1. Should I use both brakes?
    2. How do I know when to use the front or the rear brake?

The empirical and straight forward answer to the questions above could be boiled down to experience; however, that is not enough of a solution.

As far as theory goes, many different aspects need to be covered for a proper answer.

That being, and since this is a highly complex subject, I will only briefly cover three different concepts to help you understand what braking can do.

But before anything else, why do people even feel they need to ask those questions in the first place?

The front brake is where most braking power comes from, and as such, misusing it can create dangerous situations such as: 

    • An inverted stoppie
    • The front washing out 
    • The front suspension diving unexpectedly

An inadequately taught rider will get himself scared enough by the front brake to stop using it, and will end up sharing his personal experience as a general fact.

Multiply this by thousands of riders around the world, and confusion is settled.

And how can we bring clarity to this idea?

By taking the time to understand how braking works, and that using the front and the rear play different purposes on different occasions.

    • Emergency braking

    Although I believe no one should be allowed to get a license without knowing this rudimentary, yet crucial skill, that does not happen in the real world.

    In fact, when asked, many riders either don't master this technique or have never even tried to perform it.

    Using the rear, the front, or both brakes is entirely different in terms of stopping distances, and considering that sooner or later we all will have to come to an abrupt stop, we need to know what to expect.

    Front & rear brake | Braaaaaapp

    Reference: Image form Braaaaaapp 

    As you can see from the image, the front brake is the most powerful of the two, and as such, is the one that will help the most in stopping the bike; however, the rear clearly plays a part in stopping, and not just in preventing the rear from wobbling.

    With this in mind, knowing how to use both is vital for your road safety, and it's a perfect first step in understanding that both brakes are needed.


      • Loading and unloading suspensions

    When we use just the rear or only the front brake, we are loading and unloading our suspension, which translates itself into an unbalance of the bike by transferring weight back and forward.

    Weight shifting when braking | Braaaaaapp
    Reference: Image form Braaaaaapp

    We can use this to our advantage since we know that a loaded suspension forces the respective wheel down, which means traction, the same way that unloading it implies a lack of grip.

    Depending on the situation, as if you are riding road or off-road, you can use this by-product of braking to your advantage, but only if you correctly understand how braking affects your driving.

    Both trail-braking on the road, as well as sliding pivoting corners off-road, are great examples of how braking and weight shifting can be used as an advantage.


      • Tightening or widening corners

      When cornering, a motorcycle follows a turning path dictated by the contact points of the wheel with the ground and the center of the corner.

      This being, if we apply more front brake or more rear brake, we can “anchor” one of the tires down, modifying the main turning point of our cornering line.


      Front & rear brake | Braaaaaapp

      Reference: Image from 

      With this very basic example in 2D, we can very roughly understand that applying rear brake during a corner will sharpen the turn, making the front dive faster.

      Of course, that is not only achieved by a light application of the brake alone, but many more factors are also at play.

      If we correctly juggle the same array of factors like counter-steering when applying the front brake, we can force the bike to become upright faster, widening the turn.

      Much more can be said about this VERY BASIC concept explanation, but what is key to retain for the purposes of this article, is that using more one or the other brake when cornering, can effectively change your trajectory.



      None of the braking effects I pointed here work alone, as nothing on the bike does.

      Brakes, suspension, tires, driver’s body positioning, amongst others, all play a part in the end result, meaning, in your driving.

      This being, and now that you know that braking has influence in more than just stopping the bike, read some more, inform yourself further, take some advanced classes, and keep practicing.

      Most if not all I talked here, many experienced riders do by instinct, but knowledge is always the first safety line, so understanding what is at play is vital.

      1 comment

      • Aurelio Rocha

        Very nice explanation.

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