Linked to the Past?

Pete coaches a student in Stayin' Safe braking exercise

Pete coaches a student in Stayin' Safe braking exercise

The 1980 Hurt report suggested that in many frontal crashes the motorcycle operator failed to operate his brakes effectively.  Effectively?

OK, we weren’t there in each instance, but let’s presume a significant number of those folk weren’t highly skilled roadracers who could apply full force braking — right up to the point of lock-up — each and every time.  One might conclude that perhaps, given the wide mix of riders’ abilities, a few of these panic-stricken riders only employed one of their two brakes with any force at all, leaving the other set of pucks sleeping in their calipers; maybe sometimes someone only stomped the rear brake pedal, or hastily grabbed the front brake alone, rather than using them effectively in unison?

The motorcycle industry apparently was aware of this problem early on.  Since when — late 70’s? — we’ve been seeing different iterations of linked braking systems.  Several variations emerged; however, the basic idea was to present a system which operated some of one wheel’s braking force when the brake was applied to the opposite component.

This was industry’s attempt at compensating for rider error; if you didn’t activate both brakes, the system would do it for you, thus saving a few of the hides which were data entries in the Hurt report.  It sounded like a great idea to help the less skilled or attentive riders.  I’m sure the manufacturers’ attorneys and a few safetycrats endorsed the concept.

I would have.

Until a rode a few of these various examples.  I recall testing a large touring bike of the late 80’s.  It didn’t have front brakes for squat…  until you applied the rear pedal, as well, and then it would stop pretty well.  But not with the front alone, no way.  I recall not particularly liking the feel, but accepted it as a quirk a rider would become accustomed to.

Other bikes came along which had the front caliper rather strongly linked to the rear brake pedal.  The result was that you did not dare use the rear brake in a low speed turn; doing so would pitch the bike over on its low side, leaving you the rider wondering what happened.  I consider that a flaw which does not work with my personal riding style.  I depend on the rear brake to fine tune my control of the bike at low speed, especially when I’m turning the bike.  Also, on unpaved surfaces, I insist on having precise and separate brake control for each wheel, as locking the front or the rear on gravel is an occurrence which I prefer to modulate separately.  Anyone else have this problem?

I’m not an expert on 2008-9 models and their systems but I’ve been told most have engineered around this problem by either seriously reducing the transfer to the front from the rear brake pedal, or linkling the brakes in only one direction — from the front brake lever to the rear piston(s).

Experienced riders, especially experienced (ahem) male riders, often make blanket assertions they can manually out brake the newest hi-tech stuff, be it linked or ABS versions.  I prefer to try to keep an open mind, assessing each option on each bike in which I might have a personal interest.  There’s always at least two sides to the question, involving my vigilance (am I always 100%?) and my skillset (again, am I always 100%?), and then there’s the third side of greater complexity bringing perhaps a higher risk of component failure.

It’s hard to beat a rock for basic simplicity…but it’s a pretty limited tool.



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