TOTW: Your shoes are not brake shoes

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

You will often see riders dragging their feet on the ground while moving at slow speed. Sometimes this is to aid their balance as they decelerate, while sometimes they are actually pressing their feet to the ground to help stop the bike. Both are bad habits that you should break, or ensure you don’t form.

Dragging your feet can hurt your balance more than it helps; It should not help your bike stop (your brakes are quite capable of doing that all by themselves.); It puts you at serious risk of injuring your feet, ankles, or legs (think what will happen if your boot snags on a protrusion in the pavement); It wears out your boots for no good reason; And it is often the symptom of additional control problems.

Reasons

People seem to develop the foot-dragging habit for a variety of reasons. It may be a habit carried over from dirt-riding experience (where it is a legitimate technique in quite different circumstances) but it has no place on the road. Or, it may come from a misunderstanding of the best way to correct some problem or concern. We hear reasons like these:

Equipment or Clothing Problems: I’m dragging my feet because I once caught my pant leg on the footrest when I went to put my foot down, and I don’t want it to happen again.

Balance Problems: My bike gets really wobbly at slow speeds. Besides, it will fall over when I stop, so of course I need my feet down.

Big Cruiser: I drag my feet because if my bike ever starts to tip, I will not be strong enough to stop it, and I can’t afford to repair the plastic.

Braking Problems: I’m stopping with my feet because my brakes don’t stop me well enough. If I press any harder on the rear brake my wheel locks. And my friend told me that if I touch the front brake I’ll be thrown over the handlebars.

The solution

Dragging your feet while you stop is poor practice and dangerous. All of the problems listed as reasons above have better solutions.

Equipment or Clothing Problems: If there is a problem with your clothing or equipment, fix it. Don’t wear pants with frayed bottoms that can catch on pegs, or wear boots designed to cover the bottoms of your pants. Wear boots that don’t use laces, or tuck your laces in so they don’t dangle. And if there are protrusions or edges near your pegs that are catching you, get them fixed.

Balance Problems: Rather than accepting poor balance and dragging your feet to compensate, practice your balance skills. The two critical factors are to keep your body parts close to the bike and still, and to keep your gaze up, toward the horizon.

If your legs and knees are extended away from the bike, your centre of gravity will be shifting around as your legs move, making balancing much harder. Keep your knees pressed against the side of the gas tank.

Most important, keep your eyes up, looking in the general direction you want to be going. Looking at the controls or at the ground is the single greatest contributor to poor balance. Practice balanced slow-riding frequently and you will gain the confidence you need to keep your feet on the pegs.

Start to put your feet down no earlier than during the last bike length of travel before you stop. If you are using proper balance technique there’s plenty of time and your foot or feet should be planted firmly as you touch the ground.

Big Cruiser: Worrying about your large bike tipping is valid. But putting your feet down just before you stop tends to evolve into putting them down long before you stop. (Legs out will make your balance worse, increasing your feeling of unsteadiness and encouraging earlier dragging.) Also, catching your foot or ankle may become the most likely cause of a tip.

Braking Problems: If dragging your feet is contributing to your braking ability, you have a serious problem with your braking technique and are eventually going to collide with something.

Practice braking by always using both brakes, with more pressure on the front than on the rear. Begin with gentle pressure on both brakes, then increase smoothly. Increase rear brake pressure only slightly, but continue to squeeze more and more firmly on the front until you are getting the braking force you need. (There is an upper limit to how hard you can squeeze the front, or your front wheel will lock, which will usually cause a crash. Practice braking in a safe place, with supervision; consider taking one of our courses for help.) Keep your feet on the pegs and put them down only when the bike stops, not before.

As you’ll learn in rider training, about 90% of your braking effectiveness comes from your front brake, so if you are using only your rear brake, you are taking about 10 times longer to stop than necessary. If you take formal rider training courses, you’ll have ample coaching and practice to hone your braking technique.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.