Braking

Today, I’m going to talk about that all important aspect of scooter riding – effectively bringing our scoot – and ourselves – to a stop (hopefully at the same time).

Now, before we get started, I’d like talk about general stability on a scooter.

It is always worth bearing this in mind: A scooter is at its most stable when travelling at a constant speed in a straight line.
Why is that important to remember? Well, it’s because anything that causes us to deviate from that ideal condition is going to rob us of some stability. It is something we obviously can’t avoid, but it is worth keeping in mind so that as we are riding, we are continuously trying to keep the machine as near to that ideal as possible.

So, on to the brakes:
On most modern scooters, the brakes are laid out such that the rear brake is operated by the left lever, and the front brake is operated by the right lever. The exception to this is on vintage scooters, or any scooter that has manual transmission – where the rear brake is operated by a foot pedal on the right of the running boards.

How much braking should be done by each brake?
The optimum ratio in the dry is: 70% front, 30% rear.
The reason for this is that, as you apply brakes, most of the weight of the scooter and rider will be transferred onto the front wheel. For a given material, traction is a function of how much weight is applied to the surfaces (and surprisingly nothing to do with size of contact patch). This added weight on the front wheel will increase traction.

Conversely, weight will be taken off the rear wheel as we brake. This will make the rear wheel more prone to locking up. When the rear wheel is locked up, most of the traction will be lost, and the rear of the machine will want to “overtake” the front.
Take it from me, keeping the rear wheel at the rear is a very satisfactory state of affairs!

Does this braking ratio alter when it’s wet?
Yes, it does. When the roads are wet, this ratio should shift to 50/50.

Application of Braking

“A scooter is at its most stable when travelling at a constant speed in a straight line.”

How you apply the brakes is crucial to your safety. If pressed to come up with one word that describes the very best way to keep safe control of your machine at all times, it would be: “smooth”.
Everything we do on a scooter should be done smoothly and progressively. That includes braking, accelerating, turning, shifting gears (if riding a manual). There is no more sure way to upset your scooter than giving it sudden, erratic input. This smoothness becomes even more crucial in wet conditions.

Let me talk now about how this smoothness applies to braking.
It is necessary that all brakes have slack in them. You can feel this on your scooter as the free-play that can be felt when you first squeeze the lever. When braking – even in an emergency situation , it is important to first take up this slack – sometimes called “setting up” the brakes, before we start to progressively apply more braking pressure.
This will help us to avoid locking up the wheels. It also allows time for the suspension to do its job – and the suspension has a very important job to do in keeping your wheels on the ground.

Further, the front brake should be applied momentarily before the rear.

So, with all this in mind, let me outline the sequence of events which should take place – in order – when braking. Of course, this all happens hopefully in a fraction of a second:

  • Front brake is “set up” by taking up the slack.
  • Actual braking power starts to get applied to the front brake.
  • Rear brake is “set up” by taking up the slack.
  • Actual braking power starts to get applied to the rear brake.
When to avoid braking
You will remember me talking earlier about a scooter being at its most stable when travelling at a constant speed in a straight line. We can see that the very act of braking is taking us away from that ideal.
With that in mind, it would be prudent to avoid compounding things that take away from that ideal.
One sure way to compound this is to be braking while cornering. This really should be avoided at all costs.
A tyre has a finite amount of traction available to it. You can see in the image to the left that much of that traction is being used to turn the scooter.
If we exceed that available traction (say, by braking), the tyre will give way – often with disastrous results.
When we are braking in an upright position while going in a straight line, virtually all of that traction is available for our braking. When we are turning, a large percentage of that traction is being used for the actual turn. You can see that asking for more traction for braking purposes could easily cause the traction limit to be exceeded.
For this reason, braking is to be avoided while turning the scooter.

 

When entering a corner,  it is important to have all your braking done before you start the turn. You should enter the turn at the desired speed, and then gently accelerate out of the turn.
Aside from pushing the limits of your traction, braking while cornering will also cause the scooter to want to “sit up”, and will create a tendency to go straight. Going straight in a curve isn’t the most efficient way to get where you want to go!
If you find yourself in an emergency situation while taking a turn, and the road allows, consider sitting the scooter upright, doing your braking, and then leaning back into the turn.
In this situation, keep your eyes on where you want to go. Do not be tempted to look nervously at where you may be heading. I have seen many riders fixate on their potential landing spot when they get into trouble, and, sure enough, that’s exactly where they go!

 

What should I do if a have a wheel lock up?
Firstly, don’t panic! Easier said than done, right?

It is worth remembering that if a wheel locks up, it is not a forgone conclusion that you have a date with the asphalt. It is just a very nicely worded invitation! You can avoid it if you don’t panic, and take preventative measures in a calm, smooth way.

If a wheel locks up, let go of that brake, then smoothly and progressively re-apply it. If it locks up again, rinse and repeat. Keep calm, and there is a very good chance you will recover.

About ABS brakes
ABS, which stands for Anti-Lock Braking System, was previously the domain of higher end motorcycles, but they are starting to appear more and more in the scooter world.

Personally, I am a big, big, fan. ABS works by continually monitoring the relative speed of the wheels. If the system detects an out-of-the-ordinary speed differential between the wheels, it starts to do precisely what I outlined above for dealing with a lock-up situation.
The difference is that the computer can modulate the braking far faster than we possibly could. It can also detect a lock-up situation well before we can, and will often start to modulate the braking even before a lock-up has occurred.

If a scooter you are considering buying has this facility, I would highly recommend it.
There is, however, one important point about scooters equipped with ABS brakes:
Just as it is important to actively practise braking – and emergency braking – on your machine, you should also practise braking if your machine is fitted with ABS.
Studies have shown that in a huge number of motorcycle crashes, it was found that the rider didn’t brake as much as they could/should have because they were afraid of locking up the wheels..
It is important that, if you have ABS brakes, you train yourself to brake to the fullest in an emergency situation, and let the ABS do its job.

Safe Scooting!

[Update: One of our readers, Bob, brought up a very good point about “ponderous” brakes on some scooters, and how this may affect the regular 70/30 rule. Please take a look at the comments for this post.]


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30 thoughts on “Braking

  1. Hi I got a 150 Vespa and rode motorcycle in the past I had a weird occurrence I have not had before where I was driving Vespa slowed to go into a turn lane and the whole front of bike shuttered and wobbled out of control after I got home my husband checked out the mechanics and all well I keep reading maybe the way I brake is the issue it was dry I usually apply both brakes fairly evenly then I read to apply back first and then front and today I read your 70/30 front more so I am getting confused and would like to figure out so does not happen again. Thanks

    1. Hi Susan. I’m sorry you experienced this. I think it highly likely that you just came across some oil or other contaminant on the road. I don’t think it was anything you were doing wrong. You are right that you are using both brakes. Usually, the rule in the dry is 70% of the braking on the front wheel, and 30% on the rear (front brake applied fractionally before the rear). The Vespa is a slightly different case in that so much if the weight is on the rear wheel. In this case, I often find that a 50/50 ratio—even in the dry—is more appropriate.

      There will be times when you may unavoidably lose traction. In this case, it’s important to maintain composure, release the brakes, and reapply. Sometimes it is necessary to do this repeatedly and quickly until you gain traction again.

      I’m glad your scare wasn’t anything worse. You have gained a little more experience from the event though!

  2. Stumbled across this thread while looking for information on Honda’s CBS “Combined Braking System” which features on a Honda Vision Scooter that I have bought. I haven’t been able to work out if it is ever worth using the front brake lever at all? From what I can find it only seems to have been provided for legal reasons to give two separate braking systems???

    1. Hi John. Sorry for the late reply. No, it is always important to use both brakes. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, the system will have been designed for a rider using both brakes, and, secondly, it is very important to keep yourself in the habit of using both brakes correctly for any time you may ride a bike with standard brakes.

      I ride a BMW motorcycke which has linked brakes. I ride it no differently to a bike without them.

      I hope this helps.

  3. iam reduce accelerator completely even iam braking… this is good theory?? plz tell me what will I do when iam braking

  4. Hi I had an accident riding for my scooter license last week their on an old aprila 125. I have been riding for 2-3 years in Bali on a Honda scoopy and never had a problem. On the day of the test I was following the assessor at 60klms for approx 20mins without any problems very closely while the other four applicants were quite far away from us..( I did think the assessor would ride a little more slowly as we lost a rider and they were all far behind) anyway as I approached a roundabout I started to brake and noticed my left hand brake was not working. I tried 3 times then tooted my join to alert the assessor of the problem. He turned around and as he drove to me I was slowing down but could feel my bike sliding back a little so I then put more pressure on my right hand brake and the bike fell ontop of me..
    I am sore and sorry with a cut on my lower right leg and my knee very swollen.. But my question is this..
    I was told afterwards that I had overheated the brake as I always ride with 2 fingers gently over the brakes ready in case of an emergency.. The trainer said I should not do that. I said in Bali everyone rides that way and I had never had a problem. He said the bikes were different and when I came back again he would teach me not to ride with my fingers over the breaks..
    I am confused.. I am wondering if the bike was faulty or was it my fault and do I need to change the way I hold brakes or not?? Can anyone advise me please.. PS I am quite a proficient rider having riden from the mountains down to Legian and Seminyak and in the busy area of Denpasar many many time on the bypass.. My top average speed on the highway there is 60-70 and in the village about 30-45kms.. I look forward to a response.. Thanks

    1. Hi Maria. Sorry to hear about your crash. I hope you recover quickly. I tend to agree with your trainer. I don’t advocate riding with your hands covering the brakes as a matter of course. There is the danger that you could be slightly operating the brakes, and this could indeed cause the brakes to overheat and fade. The other issue is that you’re not really holding on to the handlebars when riding in this way. While you shouldn’t be riding with a vice-like grip on the bars, I feel that you should be actually holding them, and not just resting your hands on the bars as you would be if you were permanently covering the brakes this way. Of course, covering with two fingers is a mid-way measure, but may I suggest another alternative?

      I tend to ride holding the bars, and not resting fingers on the brakes. However, when I see a potential hazard developing, such as a car waiting to exit a junction in front of me, or pedestrians nearing the road, for example, I will then cover the brakes until the hazard has passed. I will then resume my regular position of bar holding. I see this as a useful midway measure which avoids the risk of accidentally riding while operating the brakes.

    2. When you rest your hand on the brake lever. Do you actually press it?

      The rear drum brake need periodic adjustment, if your rear brake was not working, then the service station did not do their job properly.

      In my opinion, it is better if you keep placing your finger on the brake lever. There is a research that mention that 35% of accident happen without the biker have a change to brake.

      Placing all the finger on the handle bar reduce reaction time.

  5. I am 57 and want to hire a scooter in Greece this summer. I am pretty confident but not over confident. My biggest worry is a series of steep uphill turns especially right turns where there is a tendency to be pushed in to the middle of the road towards oncoming traffic. I have done a 2 hour basic training but on the flat. What is the best way to get round very steep curves without gears and without falling off?! The roads in this part of Greece are very steep indeed.I know you have to brake and keep your revs up but it all seems a bit scary…
    Any advice gratefully received.

    1. Hi Rose. You don’t mention whether the scooter you’re going to be riding will be manual or automatic. I am assuming it’s going to be automatic. Things will be different if it is manual.

      You’ve highlighted one of the more difficult manoeuvres that scooter riders have to make. I have nearly come unstuck once or twice while riding motorcycles on such a turn (very steep, very tight, slow-speed uphill turn). Fortunately, it is going to be much easier on a scooter than on, say, an 800 pound manual motorcycle!

      It is going to be mostly a matter of confidence. Like all turns, aim to get all your braking done before the turn, and avoid braking at all while in the turn. If it is unavoidable, then some gentle application of rear brake only should be considered. What you want to achieve is entering the turn at the correct speed, and navigating the turn with constant gentle power applied. If you feel as if you are not turning enough, remember counter-steering. Apply gentle pressure to the bar, and try to avoid letting off the throttle unless really necessary, as this will upset your balance even more. In fact, if you feel yourself tipping to your right, applying more throttle will help the situation.

      Regarding positioning, on such a turn we have to maintain the proper balance between being toward the left of your lane enough to gain view and visibility, and putting yourself into harm’s way should a vehicle come around the corner encroaching on your lane. If the turn is exceedingly tight, I would (as always) err towards safety, and not put myself too far “out there”. However, avoid hugging the inside of the turn, and certainly avoid starting the turn at the very inside, as that has a tendency to propel you toward the outside.

      This may sound a little complicated, but, in all honesty, it’s really is just a matter of doing it a few times, and your confidence will grow very quickly. I would suggest trying to find somewhere quiet to practise this as soon as possible.

      I hope some of this helps. Please feel free to reply if you have any more questions! Enjoy your trip, and be safe. Please take extra special care, as the demographic you are entering (holiday-makers on a rented scooter) is statistically one of the most hazardous.

    2. Maybe late comment but someone may also read it: In Greece, specifically in holiday places, the roads are covered with dried juices from the trash trucks in addition to dust and dirt from nearby woods or sun dried land. You must drive like total beginner, like having neadle up in your a**. No leaning or sudden action is recomended. Use it only for transfer not for joy ride. BTW, Greece is awesome place in summer!

  6. Hi, not sure if this is still being read by the author, since it was posted about two years ago, but about turning and breaking in an emergency situation, wouldn’t it be better to clarify to just use the rear brake? After all, if we break with the wheel that has the job to turn we will disable the turn ability, and probably just go forward, or worse.

    1. Hi Gabriel. That will not help, and could make matters worse. Of course, it is advisable to avoid braking (especially emergency braking) while in a turn.

      However, if you think about it, the “turning wheel” is what initiates the turn (see the post on turning), thereafter, both wheels are sharing the turning pressure. If you really have to brake at that point, doing so with only the rear wheel will put all the braking pressure on that one tyre. As you know, there is a finite amount of traction available before a tyre will break free. When turning, that traction has to be shared between the forces to turn, and the forces to brake. It makes sense to share that traction that is being used for braking carefully between both wheels. Braking with the rear only will invite a “low-side” or a “high-side”. The only advantage would be that you have a little more chance of controlling a locked rear wheel than a front – but using only the rear will cause it to happen sooner.

      Of course, if at all possible, it would be advisable to stand the scooter up, do your braking, and turn again.

  7. Could you address the issue of braking/controlling speed when going down a steep and/or long hill? Those make me nervous, especially where there is a stop sign or signal at the bottom. Thanks!!

    1. Hey thats funny you asked that because that happened to me t for my first time on my new moped today! This is my second moped I’ve owned(I’ve rode way more than 2 different ones from riding mopeds opened by buddies) and my first one I rode around on for two years in Hawaii, riding up volcanos, through jungles, in heavy traffic, during heavy rain storms, and up and down giant hills including mountains/volcanos. My first one I just described was only 49cc but my new one is 150cc, not that it’s very relevant for this. But when you are going down a big hill with a stoplight or sign at the bottom it’s scary facing it for the first time! The best thing you can do in that situation is to lightly hold your breaks the entire way down to keep you speed very slow and controlled the whole way down, because gaining a lot of spend down a hill makes it nearly impossible to stop when required without sliding out or flipping over the handle bars. So even though this author says its 80%left break/rear break-20%right break/front break,(or similar to that) it is the complete opposite when riding down a huge hill with the need to stop near the bottom. If you apply more than a very small amount of pressure on the front tire, the momentum, speed, angle, and weight distribution witll cause you to kind of catapult the rear tire up and rotate similar to a front flip, throwing you over the handlebars. So use nearly all back break and just the tiniest bit on your front break to avoid flipping. Depending on the length and slope of the hill, you may safely be able to go 20mpg, or it might feel more comfortable at 5mph. You will know what feels safe when in that situation, so just follow your gut for a safe speed. If vehicles behind you are being assholes because they think you are holding them up forever by going to slow, fuck them! Do not go faster than what feels comfortable to you in order to prevent road rage because I’m sure you would take a middle finger aimed at you as you get passed over road rash and broken bones! If at all possible, you should pull over to let the cars pass you if there are more than 2 or 3 cars being held up by you. If you have no safe place to pull over, just continue applying the rear break and go whatever speed feels safe and comfortable I know this question is pretty old but I hope it helps you or someone else with a similar question!

  8. nice post – might I add that PRACTICING panic and aggressive stops sure helps for when the real thing occurs. I have an ET4 with an awesome disk front brake and can nearly stand it on its nose after learning how aggressive I can really be. Of course, this practice should be in a car park / parking lot or other out of the way place as to avoid becoming a public nuisance.

  9. What if you actually fall off the scooter? Let’s say you are going around a corner and your scooter slips and falls on its side. Should you hold onto the scooter until you come to a full stop, or should you let go of the scooter or jump off?

    1. Honestly don’t even worry about that situation. It sounds great to have a plan in case that situation arises, but realistically, it’s just not practical. If you do fall, you will go down in less than a second and you will have no time to react. I think of it like this. If you have time to resort to your safety measure of choice during a fall, you would have plenty of time to correct it and you wouldn’t fall in the first place. But realistically, if you do fall, it will be insanely quick and especially quick during a turn because it will slide out underneath you In one smooth motion. That will only really happen if your tires are bald, you take the turn at to high of a speed, you lean too far, if you are riding during or right after a heavy rain without adjusting to the conditions by lowering speed(especially if it was the first time raining in a while because the oils from the roads will be brought up to the surface, making it very slippery and dangerous), or if you hit a patch of loose gravel covering the road or a big oil spot. The guy who wrote this article is good at explaining moped safety and I learned that you should use more front than rear breaks from reading this. You should take his advice for sure but I’m honestly not too sure the break comparison because the physics don’t add up there and I know that with every two wheeled vehicle, it’s important to use the front less Iin order to prevent an indo(stopping with the front tire and momentum causing to back tire to lift way off the ground with all the weight and momentum on the front of the moped, which throws you over the handlebars. I know that’s a very common cause for accidents

    2. Where proper gloves and gear to avoid road rash. Trust me when I say this. Taking a shower with road rash is the worst stinging ever. And don’t try to hold onto to anything with two wheels that’s sliding down the road. Do you want to be dragged?

  10. Side winds, and mud. Recently a strong sidewind gradually forced me to the side of the road. I went onto a line of mud. The scooter wobbled and I ended up in a ditch. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt and managed to pull my scooter out of the ditch. Any tips about side winds and mud

  11. You say that if a wheel locks up you should release the brake and carefully reapply. I was taught that this depends on which wheel locks up. It’s okay to release the front brake and reapply, but if the rear wheel locks up then the brake should not be released until you’ve come to a stop.

    The reason for this is that If the rear wheel skids it’s likely to get out of line with the front wheel as the rear end trys to overtake the front. If traction is suddenly regained by the rear wheel in this position (by relasing the brakes so the wheel no longer skids) you risk a high-side or at least some MAJOR instability.

    1. Hi Brad. Thanks for your input. What you are talking about here is the classic “high-side” situation, where the rear wheel locks up and the rear of the machine is allowed to come so far round that – if the brake is released – the sudden resumption of traction launches the rider and bike forward.

      Although this isn’t the situation I was addressing (remember the advice to avoid braking while in a corner at all costs), it is indeed true that once a slide as opposed to a skid becomes this bad, letting go of the rear brake at that time can indeed be not the best course of action.
      Some people advise that keeping the rear wheel locked up will enable a “fish-tailing” stop to be achieved. I don’t agree with that where the rider is in a curve (the situation where most high-side situations occur). The rear of the bike will simply keep on its course of attempting to overtake the front, and the best thing that could be achieved would be a low-side rather than a high-side. What often happens is that the machine ends up facing the opposite direction.
      A “fish-tailing” stop could possibly be achieved if the skid was started when travelling straight. If that is the case, then it could all be avoided by releasing the rear brake and re-applying before any kind of real slide situation develops.

      Of course, once things have progressed to the level of a slide – and imminent high-side, you’re almost certainly going down whatever. It’s a case of choosing your method. A “low-side” (where the machine crashes with wheels facing forward) is generally preferable to a “high-side” in that scenario.

      At the end of the day, I’m most interested in helping people to avoid the situation where things get that bad. Most (not all) high-side situations are brought about by braking (or accelerating too harshly) in a corner. That can be avoided simply by not braking in a corner, and avoiding harsh acceleration in a corner). For those situation where a high-side situation could develop when travelling in a straight line, my opinion is that you have more chance by avoiding that rear wheel coming round in the first place. That is done by releasing the rear brake before it gets that much out of line.

      To quote from the book “Motorcycle Roadcraft – The Police Rider’s Handbook”: “If you start to skid – remove the cause”.

  12. Thanks, Bob. I have plenty of topics to go! If the interest keeps up, I hope to be doing some video blogs soon from behind the bars.

    Your question is a very good one. I’m glad you brought it up. I must admit that I have exactly the same situation with my GTV. Previous scooters I have owned have acted largely like any other motorcycle as regards braking.
    With the Vespa, however, I find exactly the same as you do. The front brake feels pretty weak – and locks up easily, and the rear brake tends to supply most of the stopping power.

    I am assuming this is a function of the most of the weight being on the rear wheel because of the engine being right there. That and possibly the geometry.

    Although I quote the 70/30 rule as taught to me during my training, I’m aware that some scooters (such as ours) don’t feel “right” doing this.
    In this case, I don’t think we have any other choice than to cater to the foibles of our machine, and apportion the braking where it is most effective. Just like braking on any machine, it is a case of being smooth, and ever vigilant about wheels locking up – and adjusting should this happen.

    I too, tend to get most of my braking from the rear wheel on the Vespa. It does make me extra vigilant when riding that machine. I dearly wish we could get the ABS version in the US.

  13. Thanks again for another great post; I hope you don’t exhaust your supply of topics anytime soon!

    Question regarding the ‘70% – 30%’ braking rule you cite: this makes plenty of sense with my scoots that have a disc brake up front (ET4, PX150), but I have a ’65 Lambretta Li that has drum brakes fore & aft. It’s been well restored, and the brakes are properly adjusted, but I do find the front brake isn’t that great, and I find I get most of my stopping power from the rear. Front end ‘dive’ (which was the nature of the beast with scoots of that era) is a factor as well. Does the 70/30 idea still apply in this case?

    I know it’s kind of a noob question, but this is my first vintage scoot, and I have to learn somewhere, yes?

      1. Hi Sucahyo. The rule will still apply as it’s not about the type of brakes, but the amount of braking force—however that is brought about.

        1. It’s getting confusing as I’m reading the comments. I ride genuine scooters buddy 50 cc. I had been using the rear break first and a second or so later the front break. Clearly I’ve been doing that wrong (I thought I’d do what I used to do with bicycles).
          I’ve read a long of comments and just want to make sure I am understanding correctly and should start with applying the front break and then the read break in 70/30 ratio. Wet conditions 50/50 but still start with the front break?

          Thanks for clarifying.

          1. Hi Elma. Yes, that is exactly it. The main purpose of applying the front brake fractionally before the rear is to “set up” the suspension. Also, if you start applying the rear brake first, when you then apply the front, the rear will lighten up due to the weight transfer to the front wheel. The degree of braking sufficient for the rear could then become enough to lose traction on the (now lighter) rear wheel.

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