Should You Use The Front Or Rear Brakes On A Motorcycle? Myth Busted

Front brake, rear brake, both brakes, when and why should you use which brake on your motorcycle? Unlike a car with a single brake pedal, a motorcycle has a front and a rear brake that can be controlled independently.

In general, the front brake would be used first as the brakes on the front are designed to get the motorcycle to a stop as quickly as possible. You would need a much larger braking system on the front than on the rear because the front brake is so critical in an emergency. Think of that rear brake as more of a controlled brake.

How Do You Know Which Brake To Use, And When?

Before we get into braking strategy, let’s, get some standard terms out of the way when related to braking systems.

There are linked brakes or combined brakes, a system for linking the front and rear brakes on a motorcycle or scooter. In this system, the rider’s action of depressing one of the brake levers applies both front and rear brakes.

So it doesn’t matter whether you squeeze the front brake or use the rear brake with your foot; it applies both brakes. There’s also integrated brakes, where applying just the rear brake applies some of the front brakes as well.

When it comes to the variations of integrated and linked braking systems, it’s best to refer to the Owner’s manual to see which your particular motorcycle has, as there are different variations, depending on the manufacturer of the motorcycle.

Some motorcycles also have ABS. Abs stands for the anti-lock braking system, and this keeps the tires from locking up and skidding if you get ham-fisted with the brakes in an emergency.

In reality, all of these different braking systems have very little impact on your strategy for braking. They’re a backup, but they’re, not directly impact your strategy.

I always encourage every writer to start with good technique. Then it doesn’t matter what braking system you have because the rider’s in complete control of the stocking power.

The various braking systems act as a backup to the rider’s skill. Always focus on your skill; use these braking systems as a backup.

With most of the impact on your stopping distance on the street, the brake will always be the front brake. That’s because as you stop, more and more weight is shifted to the front of the motorcycle. So, as the motorcycle begins to stop, more weight bias goes to that front tire.

Most larger motorcycles will have a brake disc and calipers on both sides of the front wheel so that the front tire has much more stopping power than the rear, which has one disc on the rear. These are designed to handle a lot of heat.

The brakes on the front are designed to get the motorcycle to a stop, as quickly as possible, even on motorcycles with just one caliper in the front.

It’ll be a much larger braking system on the front than on the motorcycle’s rear because the front brake is so critical in an emergency. Think of that rear brake as more of a control brake.

So when you’re stopping in an emergency, it provides additional stopping power to the front, and maybe the difference between stopping in time or hitting the obstacle, so you always want to use both brakes in an emergency.

In slow-speed situations, that rear brake adds additional control and refinement to what the rider is trying to do at slow speeds.

In what circumstances should you use which break and why?

Well, first, let’s talk about standard braking when coming to a stop sign or a stoplight. You want to use both brakes in this scenario.

The smoother you are with the brakes, the smoother the motorcycle will come to a stop. I always tell riders to initiate every stop with the front and the rear brake.

You build up your muscle memory, and that way, in an emergency, that muscle memory is built up using the front and rear brake to get the motorcycle to a stop.

However, suppose you’ve become proficient at braking in normal braking situations and emergencies, so for our skilled riders. In that case, there’s one trick that you can use and experiment with to smooth out your regular stops even more.

Remember, we call that rear brake the control brake when coming to a regular stop.

If you initiate braking with both brakes, you’re using that front and rear brake to initiate the stop, and a few feet before the final stop, you can smoothly release or let out on that front brake and finish the stop using the rear brake.

You’ll find that if you do that, your stop will be much smoother and in a much more controlled manner. The motorcycle will also be more balanced as it comes to a stop. This is because there’s not quite as much forward bias on that front tire.

The technique is you have the front, and rear brake applied for a regular stop.

If you want to smooth out your stop, say the last five or ten miles per hour, slowly release that front brake and finish the stop, maintaining the rear brake.

The motorcycle will be much more balanced and control when you come to your stop.

How Do You Do An Emergency Stop On A Motorcycle?

When braking in an emergency, you want to get the motorcycle stopped as quickly as possible, without locking either tire. That’s whether you’ve got ABS or not on the motorcycle; you don’t want ABS engaged if you could avoid it.

You want to use both brakes to accomplish this, but primarily your focus should be on that front brake, where most of your stopping power comes from.

The initial application of the front brake should always be smooth. Still, in an emergency, if you continue to smoothly apply that braking power to the front brake, as more and more weight transfers to the front, you can stop the motorcycle in a shorter distance.

So, if I’m riding down the street – and I come up to a stop, I’m going to start squeezing on that front brake, and I’m going to squeeze until I have enough stopping power to get the motorcycle to a stop.

Now I’m riding down the street and a car’s pulled out in front of me. I’m going to go to that front brake in the same manner. I’m not going to grab it. Remember, if I grab it, I’m locking up that tire.

If you don’t have ABS, it’s a quick way to crash. If you do have ABS, you’re going to extend your stopping distance a little bit. So you want to go straight to that front brake the way you usually do.

The difference is, in an emergency I’m, going to continue applying pressure to that front brake.

As the motorcycle begins to slow down, more and more weight is transferred to that front tire, giving it more stopping power.

I’m using that stopping power by applying more pressure to that brake lever to get the motorcycle to a stop.

The rear brake adds a little additional stopping power to the process, and how much it applies to the process will be dependent on the type of motorcycle you ride.

So sportbikes get less stopping power from the rear, and cruisers and touring bikes get a little more.

It depends a lot on factors like the rake of the forks and the motorcycle’s weight distribution. Also, when carrying a passenger or a lot of luggage, you’ll get more stopping power from the rear brake in those situations as well.

Use the rear brake for slow speed control, for example, when performing a U-turn, moving through slow traffic out on the street, especially when the handlebars are turned at slow speeds, light use, or dragging the rear brake.

So, keeping a little steady pressure is a useful technique to practice in these slow-speed situations. Using a little rear brake to drag it at slow speed helps balance the motorcycle out.

Slow Speed Control

In slow-speed situations, you want to stay away from that front brake. The quickest way I know of to drop a motorcycle is to apply the front brake with the handlebars turned at slow speeds.

It’s the perfect recipe to learn how to pick up a motorcycle by having those handlebars turned and getting hold of that front brake.

You want to make sure you’re using the rear brake and that you’re smooth with it, especially when the handlebars are turned.


Keith Mallinson has been a motorcycle enthusiast for the past 20 years. He has owned a variety of bikes during this time, ranging from sport bikes to cruisers. Keith has a passion for all things motorcycle related, including riding, maintaining, and customizing his bikes. In addition to his personal experience with motorcycles, Keith has also kept up to date with industry news and trends. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and insights with others through his motorcycle blog. When he's not out on the open road, Keith can be found tinkering in his garage, planning his next road trip, or spending time with his family.