Should You Use That Front Brake Lever?

Front Motorcycle BakeSPEAKING WITH NEWBIES ABOUT STOPPING MOTORCYCLES. I was at one of the local motorcycle dealers this week. As I was walking around the large showroom, I happened to pass by a sales person while he was pointing out the motorcycle controls to a potential customer, “…and this is the front brake lever…”

But before he could say anymore, the potential customer jumped in, “Oh, but you shouldn’t use that, right? Wouldn’t you flip over?”

I didn’t catch everything the salesperson said, as I was shortly out of hearing range, but I did catch just enough to understand that he was trying to politely advise the newbie that the front brake was an important part of a bike’s stopping system.

Who knows where the newbie got his idea, but over the years I’ve listened to a number of other inexperienced riders remark about how they are timid about the use of their front brake lever.


The front brake does deserve some respect, since it accounts for the majority of braking force. However, I am still amazed that riders will risk their lives out on public roads without having full confidence in how to use ALL of the bike’s braking potential.

That potential customer on the showroom floor was wise to have blurted out his understanding (or lack thereof) of the front brake, so that he could have that bad idea corrected before he even owned a bike. Imagine if he didn’t mention it? What if that guy bought the bike in question and rode for quite a while harboring the notion that a front brake is a taboo control?

At some point that bad idea would get him hurt.

(Here in California, it’s illegal to ride a motorbike without a motorcycle license, but it is not illegal for a dealer to sell a motorcycle to an untrained and unlicensed rider. This results in various brand-new motorcycle accidents with first-time riders, right on dealer parking lots. And I’ve been there when it has happened! But that’s a different story altogether….)

Anyway, if you know of a new rider, or any rider who is not a trained motorcyclist, you would be doing them a favor to find out what their understanding is regarding the use of their front brake. If they have any notion that they should use it as little as possible, you ought to invite their appreciation to the reality that front brakes account for about 70% of their bike’s braking power, and that they should use their front brake ALL the time, in conjunction with their rear brake, so that they are fully familiar with using both, and can bring their bike to a very quick stop any time the circumstances demand.

Riding is where all the fun is. Efficient stopping is an important part of where survival is.

How much do YOU use your front brake? (Post your comment below.)

23 thoughts on “Should You Use That Front Brake Lever?

  • Wow…I don’t remember posting that comment back in 2013. I was just now reading it and then realized it was MY comment. LOL. As I said, I rarely use the front brake alone…and when I do, I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m using it and use it lightly.

    I remember how in the MSF course, they did NOT teach us to use both brakes together. I learned that from my brother and from my readings on line. They told us to stay off the front brake because it was too ‘touchy’. Come to think of it, the MSF course didn’t do much for me. Most of what I learned came from studying books and practicing in a parking lot as well as riding with my experienced buddies who mentored me throughout.

    I would like to see a topic here about the MSF courses offered across the USA and what people’s experiences have been…good or bad.. and why?

  • I was taught to use both brakes for regular stops and quick stops. I’ve been riding for 4 season now and using both brakes is automatic….except when I’m going down a steep hill at which point I will shave off some speed by lightly using my back brake (NOT MY FRONT!). Often, starting the decline in a lower gear allows my engine to slow me down so I don’t have to use my back brake.

    If I find myself taking a curve too fast, I GENTLY apply my back break (NOT my front!) and lean into the curve more. It never fails to slow me down just enough to take that curve. Actually, I use my back brake by itself a lot. I never use my front brake alone…it’s just too touchy.

    I think we all handle our bikes a little differently. As your skills develop, you devise your own methods.

  • The 70% figure for braking power is misleading; the percentage depends on the rake. A sport bike probably has 70% but definitely much less on raked choppers.

  • to be quick about this …. the frt brake is for slowing/stopping the rear is for control ..why because most of the weight is transfered to the frt wheel and flatens out the tire contact patch so the tire grip traction/friction is there …but if you apply the frt brake to fast without allowing the weight to shift and increase the surface/friction you can lock up the frt wheel ….so apply the frt brake slow and increase the pressure as you go [ slow mean 1 1/2 seconds so the weight can shift foward to the contact patch…then you can bare down harder… the rear brake is to check your speed before the turn … or to help the frt brake….. time on frt brake weight shift depends on weight of rider and bike ,length of wheelbase , colapse of the forks..type of tires but 1-2 seconds allows the weight to shift to the frt…there is lots more to the whys of this and how to’s but please just do not grab that lever and go for it .. think 1-2 seconds a head on useing the frt brakes.transfer the weight towards the frt… remember if you lock up the frt wheel the rear is still trying to come around you at road speed …

  • Front brake lockup does happen and you can wash out easily especially in Florida sand being on the roads. but with the bike vertical front brakes are most effective. Just the use of back brakes you will wear them out quickly! Rider Schools deliniate these uses quite well. Practice on side streets and this practice will become comonplace. Do not look down you will go down. I have seen it many times. Riding a bike is a learned art form. practice pushing the handlebars and you will see the reaction of the bike this is to avoid an immediate collision. I have avoided hitting someones bumper who stopped short and always look for a way out constantly.

    I have 75,000 miles on this bike and a few times I have used the skills learned in the advanced motorcycle riding schools.

    Be safe!

  • For those that rely on engine braking, be careful with that. Even with a new bike with ABS, the back tire will lock and cause a skid faster than anything by shifting into a too low a gear for the speed. Don’t make a novice mistake, when in doubt grab a handful of front brake and squeeze, push down on the handlebars in the direction you want go.

  • On a level road with general traction from the road surface, most of the braking power comes from the front brake while the rear’s for the stability.

    In any other situations, use of brake preference or the sequence of braking depends on the individual situation, that is ideally guided by which wheel has maximum load on it & which wheel is free.

    When the rear wheel has all the load while the front wheel is free (like while going up a slope), the rear brake should be engaged & front braking would have practically no effect or negative effect like locking of front wheels, since it has no weight over it.

    On the other hand, while going down a slope, your life all depends on that front brake cause it has all the weight over it & rear braking MUST be avoided, more so, if the slope is steep.

    However, their’s an exception to this general braking law. That is, if the road surface doesn’t provide sufficient traction & is too slippery ( like just after a shower or blacl-ice/snow on road/oil on road/ too much loose gravel), it’s best to employ engine-braking technique together with a little rear braking & leave the front brake alone. Only in these conditions, a front brake can cause skidding.

  • I am a new rider and took a motorcycle safety course before getting on my bike. I’m glad I did, because I was one of those who had been previously under the impression that most of the breaking was to be performed by the back brakes. As for those who feel all new riders should start with a 250cc, I say that’s hogwash! I am riding a 2004 Vulcan 2000, which is my first and only bike, and I am doing just fine. I am very conscientious and aware of my suroundings thanks to my very adept instructors. They had us us 250cc bikes during the course and it was grossly underpowered for me to learn on since I am a svelt 6’2″ 330 lbs! I use both of my brakes everytime I stop or slow down along with engine breaking. I couldnt imagine stopping any other way.

  • I think new riders remember the perils of using the front brake on their ten speed bikes.
    I highly recommend David L Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling, the Ultimate Guide to Riding Well. It made a big difference for my thinking about riding.

  • Here in Australia were put through a wekend course to get a learners permit to ride on road and then we are restricted to 250cc and under for the first 2 years.

    That is a wonderful plan!! I wish they had it here in Canada!! Here we FINALLY implemented a mandatory rider’s course in order for you to get your motorcycle license but, after that, you’re free to do as you wish. It’s getting rarer and rarer to see ANYTHING less than a 650 cc on the road or even for sale any more.

    I learned on a 200 cc then got a 250 cc and loved it. With just me on it, I could go full highway speed no problem. I spilled it once on a corner with gravel on it, got up, picked it up and off I went. I was 18 at the time.

    Now it’s very, very rare to see anything less than 650, to see people riding who can only touch the ground with their tiptoes, see people riding who cannot even back up the bike, it’s too big and heavy for them, etc., etc., etc. It’s just silly!!!

  • I’ve all ways used both brakes since day one. Why wouldn’t you?

    A few months into riding I heard about the so called dangers of using the front brake. I have also heard that a touch of the rear brake can slow you a little if you’ve ran to fast into corner (one of the guys who I used to work with told me that one). Experience showed me otherwise.
    All my previous bikes have had independant front/rear brakes. Now I don’t have a choice since my utterly reliable ST1100 has linked brakes. I use both hand and foot pedal as normal as that gives full braking potential which you need in traffic. On the open road I’ll use either hand or foot to slow down if needed to slow to a lower posted speed limit. It’s rare when I do that as engine braking is alone is quite good.
    But all said and done it all comes down to experience and you only get that by riding.

  • I often wonder how much the fact that US bicycles have their front brake on the left contributes to this problem. I can’t imagine trying to teach my subconscious to use the right hand for front brake on a motorcycle and the left when the power comes from my legs. Consequently, my bicycle brakes are reversed before I even leave the store, what is sometimes called ‘motocross’ style.

  • I’ve used front and rear from day 1 and it’s kept my fanny off the asphalt thus far (and there’ve been some hairy moments!). It’s like anything else you learn. If you learn it wrong it’s harder to correct when it becomes imperative to do so. I be dead, maimed or, at the very least, bikeless had I not learned to brake properly from the beginning.

  • MSF says and I agree, brake with both hand and foot… all the time, because the day will come when you really need all the stopping power of the bike and your second nature reaction WILL be with both brakes. If you are using only one all the time then thats all you got. Better to have 100% stopping power than 30 or 70% only.

  • When I work with new riders, somewhat contrary to conventional (sound) wisdom, I advise riders to ONLY use the front brake. Why? A new riders dexterity is much greater in their hands and fingers than their feet. Riders have MUCH greater feel in their fingers than the sole of their boot.

    Many riders who low side (and the occasional high side) are caused by this lack of feel on the rear brake. The rider appropriately uses both brakes, but then fails to modulate or release the rear brake. And that’s when trouble starts. I consider rear braking to be a near advanced technique because of that.


  • I had to try stoping my bike with just the rear brakes. at 100kph (60mph) it took me well over 150m to pull up my 900 sports bike (fitted with the best brake system avalible for my model). in any sort of emergency or even an unexpected corner im really hurting if not dead. But its not just the fact that this customer did not realise the nessesity for a front brake, even minimal riding experience teaches us the importance of posture under braking, preloading the front suspention, syncronised engine braking or even how the road surface dictates the weight/power applied. without all of these skills you cannot hope to be called a novice rider, your simply someone who opens the gas and hangs on.
    Here in Australia were put through a wekend course to get a learners permit to ride on road and then we are restricted to 250cc and under for the first 2 years. Any less is simply negligence on behalf of the riding community and thier state government.

  • It’s this kind of nonsense, and total lack of understanding that keeps getting people killed, and as a result, gives motorcyclists and our sport a bad name!! I wish we’d adopt a “start-at-the-bottom-and-work-your-way-up” approach with motos here in the U.S. Kids, or newbie adults for that matter, shouldn’t be blasting around on big displacement crotch-rockets, or 1200 cc two-wheeled tanks until they’ve learned a little about the basics of a how to use the brakes!!! Start with a 250 or smaller and ride, ride, ride….then think about moving up. Your confidence and abilities will grow sequentially.

  • Maybe the front brake comes from kid area of bicycles and hand brakes………..
    @ 70% of the braking is done by the front brakes on all motorcycles…..
    I use a system made by [promotional ad removed by editor] ……………….I can really put lots of ppressure on , front or rear , and not lock up ( OR FLIP OVER THE HANDLE BARS ======= L O L )
    It is very hard to mke a stop using the back only…………

    George 772 370 6630

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