Two Fingered Motorcycle Braking And How It Could Save Your Life

The concept of two fingered or covered braking on a motorcycle is a simple one and yet so many riders fail to employ it. Many aren’t taught the technique when learning to ride and we’ve even heard instances where riders are told not to use it because it’s dangerous (more on that later). Yet, by using two fingered braking you can reduce your stopping distance by around 14 feet (4 meters) when travelling at 60 mph. It all comes down to reaction times.

We’ve created a video on reaction time and two fingered braking which you can view below, or read on.

On a bike (or any motorized transport), total stopping distance is a function of the following:

Stopping Distance = Mental Processing Time + Physical Reaction Time + Vehicle Reaction Time

Mental processing time is the time it takes for an individual to perceive that there is something that needs to be reacted to. For example, a rider detecting a car pulling out from a driveway and deciding that they need to brake. The duration of mental processing time varies widely depending on circumstance. If you’re lane splitting in heavy traffic, your mental processing time will be quicker than if you had been riding on a quiet country road for a few hours and all of a sudden an animal runs in front of you from the bush.

Physical reaction time is the time it takes for a person to perform the muscle movement to physically react. In braking while driving a car, the physical reaction time would be the time it takes for a driver to move their foot from the accelerator and then press the brake pedal. Physical reaction time again will vary depending on the situation. Obviously, moving your foot from the accelerator to the brake is going to take longer to do than pull in the clutch lever on a bike if your hand is already on the lever.

In a study by the Promocycle Foundation which we rely heavily on for this article, they found that on average, it takes a rider 0.62 seconds to move their hand from the throttle bar and pull in the brake lever.

The third factor in stopping distance is the vehicle reaction time. Simply put, this is the time it takes for a vehicle to stop once the brakes are engaged. This time will depend on vehicle speed, tires, brake quality and road surface conditions.

So how does two fingered braking reduce stopping time? By reducing the physical time it takes to engage the brakes. Instead of having your fingers wrapped around the throttle bar, by placing your index and middle fingers on top of the brake lever you can reduce this physical reaction time by 0.15 seconds. That might not sound like much, but take a look at the graphs below:

Two Fingered Motorcycle Braking And How It Could Save Your Life

The yellow bar is the physical reaction time and we’ve used a period of 0.62 seconds. At 60 kph, you will travel 16.67 meters a second. So if you reduce physical reaction time by 0.15 seconds you in turn reduce the distance traveled by 2.5 meters. Obviously at higher speeds the more distance you’ll save – if decelerating from a speed of 100 kph you would reduce your total stopping distance down by 4.16 meters. That’s a reduction of 5 per cent in stopping distance that costs you absolutely nothing in upgrades.

Going back to what we said at the outset about how some instructors have that said two fingered braking is dangerous. This comes from the fact that on some bikes, you need to pull in the brake lever almost all the way to the throttle bar. If you were to leave your ring and pinky fingers holding the throttle bar in such circumstances you wouldn’t be able to fully depress the brake lever and therefore wouldn’t be applying all brake pressure. That’s obviously bad, but it can easily be avoided by either adjusting your levers or if your stock levers don’t after adjustment, install ones that do.

Comparison Between Normal Braking and Covered Two Fingered Braking

With your hand wrapped around the throttle, you need to physically move your fingers to the brake lever and then pull it in. If you employ two fingered or covered braking, you only need to pull the lever in.

Alternatively, don’t use two fingers, use all four of them. That’s why the term covered braking is also used. It’s not necessary to use the index and middle fingers only, it’s just what most people do because they find it comfortable. You could have all fingers wresting on top of the lever – the result is still the same reduction in your physical reaction time.

One other piece of advice is to have your fingers on top of the lever but not wrapped around it. For new riders especially, it’s all too easy to pull the brake lever in without rolling off the throttle – not a good situation to be in during an emergency braking procedure especially if the clutch isn’t pulled in.

Our recommendation is to use covered braking as much as possible, but it should be used without fail when riding in situations where you may need to stop suddenly, such as in heavy traffic. Given the distance saved, using two fingered braking might not just save you from a crash, it could save your life.

 

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter
Subscribe!
  • Giffiez T. Senajak

  • i have short fingers

    • So adjust your levers..

    • both my index fingers are cosiderably shorter than the middle. i use my whole hand in the city, palm the throttle. 30,000 miles, no issues

      • Strong Delusion

        Good technique James! Stay safe brother!

    • using stock levers, lookin to get some shortys

  • rinfrance

    On long straights or freeways etc this is not only not possible but uncomfortable. We were taught in the 1960’s using gauntlets, not gloves and they were far better but in towns etc one rested ones hole hand on the brake.

    • Strong Delusion

      Seeing the problem before it develops is 9/10 of the battle, ride like your going to die every time you get on your bike, and your invisible!!! Because you are to most Asians, lol, just kidding! Stay away from heavy traffic until you have a lot of experience, and always glance at intersections, both ways, as we cannot take a hit, like a vehicle! Lay it down before you take a hit, because the car always wins!

  • Strong Delusion

    Been riding for 50 plus years, 2 fingers on the front brake has saved me innumerable times, never been down yet? But have been close on the dreaded left turn in front of you! I always use the right side of the lane to give me more time and I watch the driver and his wheels if I see him even looking like he’s going to go? it’s either throttle or brake and that comes from experience, so is keeping the bike in a lower gear “on the pipe” means revved up, so you have instant power and no lag! Saved me more then once as well! New riders stay on the highway, gain experience then ride in the city, take a course on city driving. God Bless.

    • rinfrance

      Gosh it took a long time to respond to that, well seeing as you have not been riding to long,me 0ver 55 years and taught many in the army, the 2 finger conception is possibly OK when on a newer machine with hydraulic disc brakes, it will not work on my machines even though 1 of mine is a 1996 Yamaha Virago 535, one cannot apply enough force, but on my 1951 BSA you may just as well use the two fingers for another reason. Ha Ha Ha also it is terribly difficult to use two fingers when wearing a proper gauntlet. In fact in cold weather I used to have a glove and then a large waterproof gauntlet covering all except the thumb. You are far better using your head and not just going down the outside. I learnt that lesson at 17, a line of cars was stopped in Eton High Street, one car stopped to let a car out of the side road and he did not look, either way! and I hit him, so now and have done for many years treated stopped traffic, side roads, roundabouts as potential killing zones…of me. I have in the past removed door mirrors ( If they do not use them take ’em off) jerry canned doors when forced of the road by a car *they like that it makes ’em feel as though they have seen action,) broken side windows with a reinforced glove, (better that than getting knocked off) In the last 50 years, touch wood on bikes I have not had a bang, but have done all the above including smashing a police car window! He had already scratched his car on my handlebars when I was actually stationary! (Ex Cellar Boy, frequenter of the Ace and the Bee, and did a ton legally through the Windsor Great park!)