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RobF

Covering the front brake

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I understand that "covering the brake" is considered a best practice. I also understand the reasoning behind it, namely:

 

  • it (theoretically) reduces reaction time in emergencies
  • it (hopefully) makes it less likely the rider will panic and inadvertently grab too much brake too quickly

 

The reason for the parentheticals is that personally I'm not 100% convinced that the technique works in practice the way that it does in the classroom -- especially for non-elite riders. Still, as my wife regularly reminds me: I'm probably wrong. Here is my beef with covering the brake (two fingers):

 

  1. I really don't like the feeling of how it weakens my grip on the bars. My ring finger and pinky alone are much weaker than all four fingers. Also, it feels unnatural and is straining on the small muscles of the back of the hand. I can only maintain the configuration for a few minutes at time before my right hand desperately wants to relax back to a normal, full grip.
  2. It weakens my braking strength. Braking is, of course, still possible with just two fingers, but if I were trying to set a personal best for short-distance braking, I would without question use all four fingers.
  3. If I do proceed with two-fingered braking from a covering position, my outside fingers become trapped under the brake lever. Again, this feels super awkward and, in some cases, limits the lever travel and hence stopping power. I guess one could apply the brakes with the two inside fingers while simultaneously extracting the two outside fingers from beneath the lever, but I don't have that kind of nimble dexterity.

 

So, what am I doing wrong?

 

Or, better still: Are there any of you who had a similar experience when you first began covering the brake who eventually overcame these points of resistance?
 

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In Corner Carver's class at T-mac he explained our hands are physiologically evolved to grip with the small and ring fingers and to manipulate with the middle and index fingers. It should be natural to cover both levers. Covering the brake lever was emphasized in my first rider training class so I took up the practice and now it is second nature. And few people have weaker hands and wrists than I, having broken both wrists and being an old phucker.

 

Additionally, very few mc's can out-brake a VFR. The front brake on my fifth gens have been so easy to lock up that I've never used more than two fingers after I grabbed a handful on my first test ride, locked up the front wheel on a vinyl turn arrow and was high-sided when the wheel slid and hit bare tarmac. (Needless to say, I had to buy the formerly pristine machine; and I'm so glad I did.)

 

It could be an issue for you if you are supporting your weight on the grips instead of holding on with your feet and knees (on the gas tank) and using your core to keep your elbows,  forearms and wrists loose at all times.

     

Other than that I don't know what to tell you Rob, except practice, practice, practice.

 

BTW, I've benefited tremendously from advanced rider training that teaches proper rider positioning among all the other factors that go into making one a safer rider. Best money I ever spent on mc riding.

 

Hopes this helps Brian.

 

I hope Corner Carver chimes in with better explanations. He is truly a talented dood with a talented family to boot.   

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Hey Robf, I'm not an expert, just my two cents on the subject and what I do. I almost always ride with my index and middle finger or middle and ring finger covering the brake (pinky is too short). Admittedly it takes some practice but you are definitely reduce your reaction time to stop. I've heard it reported as up to a second. You can also ( with more practice) operate the brake and blip the throttle to down shift simultaneously or almost simultaneously. It really works well.  As you are slowing down with your two finger control bring the rest of your fingers up to the brake lever if needed. The only time I don't use this method is when I'm doing slow maneuvers when I use the rear brake only. Don't want to apply front brake with my handlebars turned, you'll go right down. 

 

Perhaps you can adjust your brake lever so your fingers don't get trapped, my MC doesn't have adjustable levers but I never seem to trap my other fingers. 

 

I'm a competitive pistol shooter so my right hand grip is pretty strong. You can easily strengthen your hands with one of those spring hand exercisers. 

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Braking is for pussies!!!!!  :goofy:

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Took a few classes over the years, done some trackdays, and some miles on the street.  Position on the bike is important...balls of the feet on the pegs (not the crook of the heel of my boot) was demonstrated to me by Jason Pridmore -- and it really makes a difference on how you balance on the bike--especially during braking and accelerating...

 

That brings me to grip...If you ever watch throttle hand cams on MotoGP you see a bunch of different styles...some cover, some don't both clutch (in case of a bad up/down shift) and brake (Hayden is a braker and a blipper).  However some don't (Rossi comes to mind).  Regardless of "style" on the street or on the track having a proper grip on the bars is important to many aspects of riding.  Too tight a grip and you can get tired quickly--the first time you do a trackday after a long brake and your forearms KILL...two days after.  Mostly because people tense up and grip the bar REALLY hard.  Problem with this in braking is you tend to "lock" your wrists and your weight is borne by your arms...not your feet properly place on the pegs, your legs and your core.  

 

The other thing it does is make it really hard to turn the bike...ask a beginner rider why he couldn't make a turn?  They don't know, but I can tell you (and I've gone back and thought about this) but I've "target focused" early on and the bike just "wanted" to go straight...a death grip on the bars has both hands keeping the bike straight rather than using counter-steering to get the bike to tilt and turn...This happened MORE than once...but I was young, inexperienced, but I wanted to get better--so I talked to people, went to classes and learned.  

 

The other lesson involved basically how to steer and how to grip the bars.  Pridmore recommends gripping the bars, not like you're holding an egg--but as if you're holding a baby chick...just snug enough he can't get out of your hand, but not so tight that you suffocate or crush it.  IT TAKES PRACTICE...but the rewards you by allowing you to use less energy holding onto the bars--which means a couple things.

 

First, you obviously get less tired...your chances of getting "arm pump" are reduced as well.  Second, because you're not gripping the bars as hard, you can relax and modulate your braking more consistently AND with more feel...so if you start to lose the front (and I have) you can release or reduce front brake pressure increasing your chances to save a low side--on the street, or on the track...in gravel, wet leaves, rainy conditions et al.

 

I'm NOT saying you have a death grip on the bars. I'm saying I've been taught the difference, and I've practiced.  I also tend to cover the brake MORE in high traffic situations and during trackdays...it saves me a few tenths of a second tring to ungrip the bar, move my hand over the brake lever, and then take up the slack before the brake starts to grip.  Those few tenths mean YARDS at speed...and can be the difference between not kissing someones trunk lid, or the back of a Semi or dumptruck, or heading off track and dirt-biking my way on the grass at Mid-Ohio or Thunder hill or hitting the NASCAR wall at NHIS.  

 

YBMV

 

Matt

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Oh, its very important to have the postition of the brake and clutch lever in the right position so your wrist ins in a natural position.  Makes it also less tiring to cover clutch and brake...especially if you like to ride for 8+ hours a day...

 

Matt

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I only cover the brake lever with two fingers in high traffic or otherwise dangerous situations, where I might have to stop unexpectedly.

I also Only apply brakes with two fingers.  No need for more on a VFR or most other modern sport bikes.

 

If your fingers get trapped under the lever, adjust it out a notch and/or bleed the front brakes.

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I do exactly as RICE has mentioned.

 

In traffic I want to instantly apply the brakes, sat on a motorway cruising I don't cover..

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On 6/22/2016 at 0:48 PM, RobF said:

I understand that "covering the brake" is considered a best practice. I also understand the reasoning behind it, namely:

 

  • it (theoretically) reduces reaction time in emergencies Not theoretical.  For realsies.  The act of moving the hand from the grip to cover the front brake lever takes at least 1/3 to 1/2 a second for a good rider.  At only 60mph that is 30 - 44 feet travelled. Don't think that is worth covering? I imagine you would prefer to have 15-20 feet in hand instead of stopping on the ground 5 feet in front of an Oldsmobuick that has just presented itself in your lane.
  • it (hopefully) makes it less likely the rider will panic and inadvertently grab too much brake too quickly The act of covering the front brake does nothing to prevent the rider from panicking.  The only thing that can help a rider keep their wits about them is to know in their brain that the situation they are in is not the end of the world as we know it. The only way that can happen is if the rider is practiced in what to do during an emergency stop. Having your fingers over the brake lever is great first step. If you are in a turn it would be even better if you not only had your fingers over the brake lever but also were trail braking as the pads would be lightly in contact with the rotors and this would save valuable feet in stoppping distance should an emergency stop become necessary. Even if you don't need to come to a complete stop in the turn this would be very beneficial for slowing and avoiding an object or animal in the road.

The reason for the parentheticals is that personally I'm not 100% convinced that the technique works in practice the way that it does in the classroom -- especially for non-elite riders. Still, as my wife regularly reminds me: I'm probably wrong. Here is my beef with covering the brake (two fingers):

 

  1. I really don't like the feeling of how it weakens my grip on the bars. My ring finger and pinky alone are much weaker than all four fingers. Also, it feels unnatural and is straining on the small muscles of the back of the hand. I can only maintain the configuration for a few minutes at time before my right hand desperately wants to relax back to a normal, full grip. This sounds like the brake lever is too high. To test if that may be the case while reading this simply put both hands out in front of you as though you are griping the bars and then rotate your hands up and back (as though you were twisting the throttle with both hands).  If you feel that same straining of the small muscles of the back of your hands that you are describing here then you should play around with rotating the master cylinders down to reduce this effect. With a little tinkering you will find a more comfortable position for the levers. 
  2. It weakens my braking strength. Braking is, of course, still possible with just two fingers, but if I were trying to set a personal best for short-distance braking, I would without question use all four fingers. Any modern bike can lock the front tire with two fingers.  That is, of course, not the goal but braking power with two fingers is beyond reproach. If you are using all four fingers then you are more than likely either panicking and grabbing the brakes or you have given up on controlling the throttle and the brakes simultaneously.
  3. If I do proceed with two-fingered braking from a covering position, my outside fingers become trapped under the brake lever. Again, this feels super awkward and, in some cases, limits the lever travel and hence stopping power. I guess one could apply the brakes with the two inside fingers while simultaneously extracting the two outside fingers from beneath the lever, but I don't have that kind of nimble dexterity. If either of your fingers are becoming trapped under the lever then you have air in the lines or you need to adjust the lever further from the grip. You have to find that happy medium between long throw of the lever and reach of your fingers if you have shorter fingers or smaller hands.

 

So, what am I doing wrong?

 

Or, better still: Are there any of you who had a similar experience when you first began covering the brake who eventually overcame these points of resistance?
 

 

I agree with the majority of the responses here.  Good feedback from the group but I wanted to offer some more specific feedback on certain areas that you questioned.


Terry explained very well the physiological differences in the fingers.  The pinkie and ring finger and designed for gripping. Almost all of the strength of your grip is in these two fingers.  The first two fingers are for fine motor skills such a trigger pull and squeezing a brake lever.  If you do the Vulcan Star Trek thing with your hands and then partially close your hand as though curving it around a grip you can feel that these digits kind of "go" with each other. 

 

You can also practice the motion of smoothly rolling on and off the throttle while you smoothly squeeze and release the front brake lever while you are seated on a plane or waiting in the dentists office.  When most people say be smooth it is hard to describe but if you can be smooth with the transition from throttle to brake and back that is the essence of riding smoothly as the suspension is not over reacting to ham fisted inputs.  

 

Trail braking into a turn is not an elite rider trait but one that should be practiced by all riders and the proper way to do it is with the index and middle finger smoothly applying and releasing the brake to minimze impact on chassis movement while putting the bike where you want it when you want it within the lane that you are traveling.


It takes practice and good instruction because as we all know practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

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Gentlemen, as always, thank you for taking the time to educate me.

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Interesting discussion. 

 

Some (hopefully valid) observations from me;

 

I use my ring & pinkie to cover the front brake at all times. They may be seen as weaker than the 2 forefingers but they are also placed further along the brake lever, which as the name suggests is a lever and therefore the further away they are from the fulcrum, the greater force they can apply. The 2 forefingers are much closer and therefore whilst they are stronger, the force they can apply is less due to the reduced distance. Or something like that! 

 

If I need to brake hard, it's easier to extract my 2 forefingers and wrap them around the lever.

 

I used to get the same pain/tiredness issues from trying to maintain that hand position, so I bought a Scottoiler Cramp Buster which means I can use the heel of my hand to control the throttle thus relieving the pressure on my grip and you can actually take your fingers completely off the throttle and still control it so it's easy to maintain that "baby chick" grip whilst retaining precise throttle control. It takes some getting used to but I don't like riding without it now. The only potential gotcha that I've come across is the tendency to inadvertently accelerate when you want to brake caused by rotating your hand to get a better grip on the brake lever when trying to brake - clearly not a good thing, but my muscle memory has quickly adapted and it no longer happens. 

 

Correction: Just rode home from work and realised that I use my middle finger as well as my ring & little finger to cover the brake. And my Pazzo-style levers make this much easier as they are adjustable and have a bend just where my middle finger sits.

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I find that covering the brake and clutch with middle and index finger has the added benefit of helping me keep a light touch on the grips/bars.  Less fatigue and lighter more responsive steering inputs.  I find quite often that I'm not actually holding the grips.  With a cramp buster, I can operate the throttle with my palm and my fingers are quite relaxed and not wrapped around the grips.

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About those throttle rockers and cramp busters. I had a crash that the responding officer suspected that while countersteering I inadvertently applied slight pressure to the rocker thus increasing my turn radius and missed missing the curb by about one foot. (He was a mc rider.) And a fellow riding officer is convinced that one caused him to crash. The LEO suggested that if I used one I only use it on long trips. I need the rocker because carpel tunnel syndrome make my hands go to sleep. I subsequently got my wrists fixed, ditched the rocker and eliminated the need and the danger. I also learned at the same time to keep my weight off my arms, wrists and hands. The combination was a HUGE increase of safety and control.     

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I installed one of'em crampbusters and it nearly killed me. Use with caution.

 

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Use crampbuster on motorway only, "fold away" in town/twisties.

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I know someone who rode a motorcycle once and died.

 

Don't ride motorcycles! :tongue:

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I know someone who fell and died in the bathroom I guess I shouldn't go to the bathroom either

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Been using a cramp buster for 31 years.  Guess I've been lucky! (Not saying you don't need to be careful how you position and use it.)

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Got out of shape trying to get out of the garage.  I am a tool, so your results may vary.

I have wished for it during some highway stints at times.

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On 6/29/2016 at 3:40 PM, Conedodger said:

Been using a cramp buster for 31 years.  Guess I've been lucky! (Not saying you don't need to be careful how you position and use it.)

I'm not saying there was no user error involved in my crash. My throttle hand was out of position. And of course no one else makes mistakes so just write it off to a ham-fisted know-nothing operator. Your mileage may vary. 

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I would not be able to ride the bike covering the brake with the little and ring finger, let alone apply the brake in an emergency situation.

I cover the front brake with my index and middle finger, and I can use the throttle, use the brakes hard and bleep on down changes without a problem. I can also do this for a long time without pain. 

Ive even done an accidental stoppie with just two fingers. 

But I only cover the brake when I'm in traffic or upping the pace in the twisties and can't see the end of the corner. 

Your grip on the bars should be very light as stated by others. 

 

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On 6/22/2016 at 1:48 PM, RobF said:

I

2. It weakens my braking strength. Braking is, of course, still possible with just two fingers, but if I were trying to set a personal best for short-distance braking, I would without question use all four fingers.

 

OP - if your 05 takes 4 fingers to get max braking strength, consider flushing the fluid and upgrading to EBC HH pads.  I just did this on my 02, and it is a NOTICEABLE improvement - I can stand the bike on the front wheel with 2 fingers now, which was not quite the case before.

 

I've added a lot of farkles and things to the bike, but the top 2 without question are installing JD-upgraded suspension front/back, and really cleaning out the braking system and upgrading the pads.  

 

Touching more on the original topic, I cover the brake really only at specific times - in heavy traffic, running through intersections, blind corners, driving at a high rate of speed.

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17 hours ago, MaxSwell said:

I'm not saying there was no user error involved in my crash. I throttle hand was out of position. And of course no one else makes mistakes so just write it off to a ham-fisted know-nothing operator. Your mileage may vary. 

My comment was not meant as a personal attack.  I've made plenty of mistakes while riding.  Like I said, maybe I've been lucky.  Experiences of others are a great learning tool.  I'll definitely be more aware of how I use the cramp buster.

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This is a very good and useful thread.  That said, look at some Youtube videos of MotoGP riders and I've noticed that everyone of them uses different styles of riding in every way there is.  All of them can out-ride us so I suppose the moral to that story is learn all you can, practice it, and you'll end up doing what works for you.  In reality, I think that's what we all do regardless of training and practice.  We aren't willing in the long run, rightfully so I think, to ride in a manner we can't get comfortable with or don't feel safe doing.  That's contrary to someone teaching us their "right way" of doing things but, in the case of MotoGP riders, it just a fact that no two of them ride even close to the same way if you look at the details.  So, circling back around, listen to good riders, like those above, and try to constantly improve.  

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