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Behind the Bars with the Road Toad ‘Go!’ to ‘No Go!!’

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By Ron Kubicki

Hey folks, my first Road Toad article spoke about riding in the rain and inclement weather, and we have had some great ridin’ weather and some not so, but I hope you have gotten in some ridin’ already.

Last weekend I got a bit over 100 in on Saturday. It was actually hot! But then, just this past week, it was 16 degrees at 6 a.m. when I headed to work. I took a quick look at the bike and then I jumped in the Silverado!

Like I said last week, in western New York in April, expect anything and figure it is gonna change in a matter of hours. True to form, in the next couple days it looks like we will be grinnin’ in the wind again.

I hope you will accept these articles in the spirit in which they are written. I started ridin’ — like so many of you — years ago on dirt and naturally ended up on the road. I like to ride and do often.

I ride to work, I travel on my “glide” and I just “scoot” about whenever I can. I know a lot of you are the same, I see all the bikes that roll into town and pass through solo or in groups. My purpose is to just make everyone aware that we all ride “in harm’s way.” Things can instantly alter your serene outlook and cause a severe clenching of the “ol’ gluteus maximus”!

We all know to never assume — that we should always look out for ourselves and expect the worst from everyone else on the road! We have all ridden enough know that when you least expect it some fool is just likely to put a ton and a half of SUV in your lane.

With that in mind, I thought a refresher on braking might be in order. If you ride a newer bike equipped with ABS braking system, this does not so critically affect you, but you should still understand it. Actually, if you practice and perfect your braking, you may never have your ABS system engage.

The following is just a rehash of what you all know. But, early on in the season, it wouldn’t hurt to find a nice open parking lot and practice sudden braking techniques. A very effective way to avoid “emergency braking” is to look 10–12 seconds ahead of your bike. This will give you time to assess the situation and not get caught unaware. But if you do find yourself in peril, these are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Front Brakes: These provide the most dramatic percentage of you stopping power, estimated anywhere from 70–90 percent. It is important to apply firmly yet properly in all instances. Proper application is a result of gradual squeezing of the brake lever, not just grabbing a “handful of brake lever.” If you just “crush the front brake,” there will be no transfer of weight to the front tire and you may lock up. You must squeeze gradually, rapid but gradually. Once you get on the front brake, the weight moves to the front forks and compresses your fork suspension. This lowers the front end as more weight transfers to the front tire. Be conscious of the fact that this changes handling characteristics of the bike.

If you lock up the front brake, immediately release and re-apply. An indication your front wheel is locked, is the ride will get smooth as the front wheel is now sliding. There may also be a misalignment of your bars as they deflect one way or another. If this is happening, you are falling down! Immediately release the front brake and bike will upright itself, then, immediately reapply brakes properly.

Never use your front brake when maneuvering at slow speed. It will dump your ride. Use rear brake and clutch.

Never do an emergency stop in a turn. You will need to straighten up and let the bike stand up and apply brakes. All this needs to happen almost simultaneously. You should practice this in a safe environment. Set up some cones in a parking lot. Use a 75-foot inner radius and practice at 25 mph.

Rear Brakes: Used in combination with the front brakes, proper use of your rear brakes can reduce your stopping distance. Used on their own, they are not very effective in emergency or critical situations.

A commonly described method is to place foot on rear brake pedal and as front brake slows bike, it will naturally apply more pressure to the foot pedal as your weight moves forward. All these things should be practiced. But it’s best to realize that combination braking is the most effective way to safely stop your bike. With properly applied brakes, you will stop before ABS-equipped bikes.

Again, do not do emergency braking in a turn. If you lock up the rear end in a turn, you are asking for trouble. Straighten the bike up and then apply brakes.

We all know, in that “omigod” moment when a dog, deer or 18-wheel tanker is RIGHT THERE and you stomp the rear brake. If you lock up the rear brake and the rear end deflects, DO NOT RELEASE THE REAR BRAKE! If you have locked up the rear brake, you can still steer the bike. If you release the rear brake and you are more than 6 degrees out whack, you may be setting yourself up for the classic “high side dump.”

The rear tire locked up is steerable, but if you totally release your rear brake when your bike is out of line and leaning, your bike will immediately right itself and realign the rear wheel behind the front and can very easily toss you right off the bike. Go to YouTube and search “high side crash.” There are several to watch.

So, get ready for a safe season on the scoot’ and take an hour or so and practice some moderate speed stops. Try some in a large parking lot or on a very quiet stretch of road. Practice your skills to stay on top of your game … and your ride!

Ride smart, as you’re grinnin’ in the wind!

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