Have a question about riding techniques? Ask a coach!
We’re launching Riding Academy, a series of short articles where all your riding questions will be answered by professional instructors.
This week, your coach will be Dusty Wessels, adventure motorcycle off-road instructor and guide of West 38 Moto.
What’s the best brake policy when riding off road?
How many times have we heard, “Don’t grab the front brake off road”? But the truth is, the best brake for stopping off road is the same as on road: the front. It still controls roughly 70% of your stopping power. The key is knowing when to use it and having control over it. The rear brake certainly comes into play in many off road situations. However, the results of improper use of the rear brake are not usually as great as the front brake. The biggest thing to understanding the difference between on road and off road braking is the lack of traction when off road. You must operate the brakes with very delicate touch and control. It takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable using your brakes in a controlled manner. So practice, practice, practice.
Generally speaking, use the brake that is supporting the most weight. For instance, if you stall halfway up a dirt hill, the rear brake should be used. That’s where most of the weight of the motorcycle is. If you used only the front brake, you may slide backwards. Inversely, if you are going downhill (at a controlled speed) the best brake to use is the front because that’s where the weight is. It requires a very delicate touch to control the amount of brake that is applied. Too much and you’ll wash out – especially bad on a hill. Not enough and your momentum can be gained at such a high rate you can’t recover. The key is constant pressure on the brake lever while adjusting it ever so slightly, avoiding the back brake entirely. When you engage the rear brake, it will follow the grade of the road. On a hill, all the back brake is going to do is slide out from side to side, giving the rider one more thing to worry about.
Using the front brake on straightaways is best. Once you start into a corner the contact patch (part of the tire that is providing traction which at max is about 3 inches) starts to decrease. When you pull the front brake in, the effect can be what we call ‘wash out’.
Dusty Wessels co-founded West 38 Moto after logging over 200,000 miles on a wide array of big-bike Dual Sport and Adventure motorcycles over the last 10 years. West 38 Moto provides participants everything from foundational riding skills to ultra-advanced riding techniques.