Rear brake | When should you use it?

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Everybody rides differently. When you do your bike test, you’ll probably be taught to use your rear brake and your front brake in roughly equal measures. If you come from an off-road background, you might use your it more. If you’ve done a bit of road racing, you might not use your rear brake very often at all, if ever. But you really ought to, because not only will it help you slow down quicker, it’ll help you go faster, and be in more control of your bike. This is when you should use your rear brake, and why…

Slowing down

This is fairly obvious isn’t it; you use the back brake to help you slow down. But you’d be surprised how many people never touch it, particularly on track. But the fact is, it will help you.

On track, the reason a lot of people (myself included) rarely use the back brake to slow the bike down, is primarily because they’re anchoring on that hard with the front brake, there’s little, or no, weight on the rear tyre. Stamping on the rear brake will only lock the tyre up. But a little lean on the back brake a split second before you squeeze the front brake will almost always help keep the bike settled down. A touch of back brake (just before the front brake) initiates the weight transfer in a much more gentle way, so that when you yank the front brake lever, you don’t get such a severe front end dive. With less front end dive you’ll feel more in control, and you’ll soon be braking harder, later and lapping faster.

Another reason rear brake usage is rare on track is because you can quite often control the bikes ‘engine braking’ with the gearbox and the clutch. On some bikes, you can slow the rear wheel down almost as effectively with this engine braking. But not on all bikes. If you’re riding a two-stroke, or a bike with a particularly ‘slippy’ slipper-clutch, you won’t have much engine braking. And it’s on bikes like that, that the rear brake is mega important, just for helping you decelerate.

But of course, we don’t all just ride on the track. If at all. That said, although your more likely to use your rear brake on the road, I still know road riders that rarely touch it. When I’m riding on the road, I use it as much as, if not more than, my front brake. Particularly in the wet. Because a slight loss of grip from the rear tyre, whilst your leaning on the rear brake is both easy to control, and easy to rectify (just take your foot off the pedal); but it’s a good way to get a feel for the level of grip. You could try and do the same with the front brake, but I wouldn’t if I was you.

If you’re a road rider who’s not a big user of the rear brake, you’re not alone. But next time your out on the bike, give it a try. It’s a really good way to slow a bike down gradually and safely, without loading the front tyre up and unsettling the bike. If you can get used to it, it’ll make you a better rider.

Speeding up

Yes, you can use your rear brake to help you go faster. I know that’s a little paradoxical, but it’s true. Obviously, there’s the benefit to your lap times, if you can use the it to help you brake later. But that’s not what I’m getting at. Using the rear brake can help you accelerate faster. Well, it can on some bikes, anyway.

This point is probably only relevant to bikes with over 150bhp, or bikes that like to wheelie. Because if you’re trying to set a lap time, and all your bike wants to do is spin up and wheelie, you’re going to struggle. To counter an unwanted power wheelie you could ‘short-shift’ into a higher gear, or roll-off the throttle. But that’s not what the fast riders do. The fast boys and girls will gently lean on the rear brake to bring the front wheel back into touch. That way they don’t have to roll the throttle, so as soon as the front wheel’s where they want it, they can release the brake, and they’ve got instant drive.

Setting off

The rear brake can come in handy whether you’re setting off from traffic lights, or doing a racing start.

If you’re setting off on an incline, the rear brake is your best friend. It’ll stop the bike rolling backwards until the clutch engages the drive, and you’re rolling. But we all know about that.

What a lot of people don’t realise, is how it can help you perform a perfect race start. Just like when you execute a hill-start on your bike, you can use the rear brake to gauge exactly where the ‘biting point’ of the clutch is. Once you can feel the bike trying to push forward, you’re there. When the lights go out, release the brake and you’ll start rolling instantly. It’s not a one way ticket to holeshot city, but if you can master the technique, it’ll almost certainly help.


The rear brake can help you slow down, speed up, set off, and go round corners. Yep, that’s right. Because every now and then, we all run into corners a little bit ‘hot’ (or fast). Grabbing an extra handful of front brake when you’re approaching the apex probably won’t help. Nor will it help you hold your bike on a tight line through a long, fast corner. A touch of rear brake might though.

Gently leaning on the rear brake mid-corner can sometimes make it easier to get to your apex or hug the inside line. Partly because of some complex geometry. But mainly because it allows you to gently scrub some speed off, without loading the front up too much, which would cause you to run wide (or crash).

But be careful. Too much rear brake when your on the side of the tyre is a recipe for disaster.

In an emergency

Using a combination of front and rear brake will help you slow down (and stop) faster. But not necessarily more safely. Because if you never ever use your rear brake, you won’t have the feel you need to use it safely in an emergency situation. An inexperienced rear brake user stamping on the pedal in a blind panic could quite easily make the situation worse. Because a locked up wheel when you’re not expecting it often leads to a written off motorbike. And a ride in an ambulance.

But if you use your rear brake every time you ride your bike, you’ll know, without even thinking about it, how much pressure the pedal needs. And how much pressure is too much. I know most modern bikes are kitted out with ABS, but there are still plenty of bikes without it. But whether you’ve got ABS or not, it’s always good to know what you can (and can’t) get away with, with your rear brake.

Because the rear brake is just as important a control as all the others on a motorbike. It’s not just handy for helping you slow down; it helps you stop, go and turn. If you never use your rear brake, you really ought to learn to use it. It will make you a better rider.


6 Responses

  1. Interesting article, I’d love to have some coaching on it but It is hard to trust information online. I’m a track day rider in top 10% of advanced and never touch my rear brake other then to keep my front wheel down on specific points on a couple tracks. May have to try the “start with the rear to keep the bike more settled when braking hard with the front” next time out!

    1. Have always used the rear brake but didn’t realise how much it can help until I did a training course on a quad bike. We were taught to use the rear slightly before the front as it drags down the rear of the bike, and so stops along of the dive when getting hard on the front brake.

  2. I’ve always been a big user of the back brake, love using it to help tighten my line in corners.
    I have definitely felt the benefit of using a little rear brake before front but have to really consciously remember to do it as it seems so unnatural.
    My son however barely touches it! He’s now quicker than me too but ssshhhh.

  3. Just installed a Galespeed thumb brake on my RSV4 race bike. I’m one of those guys who almost never uses the rear brake – mainly because I struggle to reach the rear pedal at lean – I know why I need to use it – hopefully the thumb brake will make it easier to do so!

  4. I was taught to use the rear brake from the moment I threw a leg over a bike.
    Both my instructors drummed it into me, so I really had no choice but to use it.
    As with everything we do, its all about muscle memory and to be honest I don’t realise I’m using it when I ride.
    Roll on to 2021 and another new bike hits my garage.
    First ride out and the balance of the bike feels very different especially in the corners.
    Turns out (looking across the forums) that its a common problem and the rear brake is just piss weak…..
    So by applying a lot more pressure on the rear brake I’m getting a more desirable effect.
    It really does make a massive difference to the stability of the bike, give it a go and you’ll never look back.
    Good article Boothy, keep them coming.

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