Two Fingers on the Front Brake?

I grew up on dirtbikes and BMX bikes. Us dirtbike kids always covered the brake levers with two fingers while riding. Most of us had special little “dog leg” levers that only allowed room for two fingers. As a motorcross, trail and enduro rider I constantly worked the front brake lever with just two fingers. The remaining fingers allow you to hang on for dear life over bumpy terrain and control the throttle at the same time. Later in life I returned to motorcycling and bought a Harley-Davidson. I took the beginner and experienced MSF courses where I was instructed over and over to use all four fingers! I was even shouted at by instructors! Anything less than four fingers is frowned upon!

During the first cold weather ride of the 2010 season with my HOG Chapter I wore bulky winter gloves. Not being used to winter gloves the slight weight of my two fingers on the brake lever was just enough to engage the brake light (but not the brakes). The brake light stayed on and caught the attention of the other riders. They thought I might have a blown fuse or something and became concerned. When I explained to some of the other Road Captains that I often cover the front brake with two fingers I was told that what I was doing was contrary to all the instruction they heard. I argued briefly that covering the brake and being ready to stop at anytime allows me to stop quicker than someone who is waiting for the full four finger method taught in the MSF classes. I dropped the topic because I felt dumb. But the debate continued in my head. Did I have a bad habit that I needed to break? Or was I right and covering the front brake at all times while still controlling the throttle with my other fingers was an advantage? I often thought I should write a blog post about this skill set… but then I decided that it is probably just something that works for me and I should keep it to myself.

Then I read the chapters called Braking Techniques and Still Bringing Up the Rear in Ridin’ Safe by Larrry Grodsky and was relieved to find out I was right all along. Hopefully you already know a motorcycles stopping power is in the front brake. According to Larry the rear brake is not neccasary for stopping the motorcycle however it is a valuable aid in controlling the bike. Regarding my two finger braking here is what Larry says: “Two fingers are enough-if yours are long and strong enough, and if the lever hasn’t so much travel that it’s trapping your unused fingers against the grip.” I have been vindicated!

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Stayin’ Safe

15 Responses to “Two Fingers on the Front Brake?”

  1. I totally agree with Grodsky. It has a lot of sense in it. If form does not impede function then it can be used.
    I tend to use the whole hand, both on motor and bi -cycles.

  2. I two finger it. If the instructors don’t like it they can kiss my ass.

    1) In panic braking the two fingers, even weak ones, are enough. Four fingers usually wind up in a front wheel lock-up in panic mode. Seen it over and over and over.

    2) Two fingers on the brake lever and two on the throttle grip. Quicker response time plus it’s easier to release the brake and throttle hard if you need to.

    You have to remember that these instructors are teaching new riders most of the time. For a beginner, it’s a good thing because they have not trained their mind or developed the muscle memory to do the job right. It’s just like anything else you want to be really good at. “Start with the basics and move your way up to more advanced techiniques.” Just because you went to a riding school doesn’t mean you know everything…you just enough to get started on the real learning that is coming up…people need to get this in ingrained in their heads. Less new riders would be in trouble. They come out of these classes thinking they know everything. You and I know this just isn’t reality. Jay…you could write a book by now with your experience and you would just a correct as anyone else out there at this point.

  3. Yes, I two finger it also. More so on the trike however. It seems that all the weight of the trike as compared to the Softail leaves me with a habit of covering the front brake with two fingers. I don’t think anyone wants a 1000+ trike rear ending them.

  4. I know for sure I don’t want to be rear ended by a trike or anything else.
    Dave you make 100% perfect sense to me today and I’m glad to keep getting your comments.
    Mark, nice to hear from someone new. Love the photography. Awesome stuff on your website there.

  5. I two finger it as well. Plus how else do you do a burn out? J.K. I like my tires.

  6. I seldom comment, but I have been reading a bit 😉
    Glad to be here.

  7. Jay, I drive both with my fingers and hands in all sorts of configurations. It all comes down to the traffic who I,am riding with, and which bike I,am on. The big bike in heavy traffic or with unfamiliar riders I will have a high percentage of my riding time cover the brake with at least two fingers and add as risk increases. However on the XR the front brakes are so powerful four fingers will cause you to hear loud rubber screeching noising right before you go down. As I always say know your bike know the conditions know your skills and constantly adjust. Bob M

  8. Thank you Bob. As the above post indicates, I thought I was doing something wrong. Glad to find out I’m not the only one who believes you can cover the brake effectively with less than all four fingers.
    You bring up a good point regarding the XR and Dave pretty much said the same thing above… four fingers oftentimes results in too much brake. I can finese the brake with two fingers. I don’t feel the same sensitivity with all four fingers on the lever.

  9. Just one other thing to think about, if I may. Only food for thought. Not about the effectiveness of two fingers versus four. I agree that two fingers can offer enough pressure and control.

    It’s important to understand the difference between how we respond under normal circumstances and during crisis. My training sergeant always told us we don’t rise to the moment, we default to our level of training.

    The real question is what will we do when Bob in the Buick pulls out right in front of us? When every orifice in our body wants to pucker? Will our brain tell us to only use two fingers or will we fall victim to the Human Response syndrome and grab with all four fingers in our panic, as it were?

    If the answer is that we will unfailing never use more than two fingers on the brake then I say go for it. If we can’t guarantee that, then perhaps four fingers is the best habit.

    The worse scenario is being used to two fingers and then using four in a moment of crisis. It’s a variable we can certainly do without.

  10. Excellent feedback ID and delighted to hear from you. What I am wondering about lately is “panic” or what you call “response syndrome”. I’m concerned that no matter how much I practice I will lock the brakes up when surprised. I think the best answer is ABS. For now I’m just trying to never be surprised. Covering the brakes most of the time. Constantly scanning, etc….

  11. So just an hour or so after leaving a class where we practiced smooth braking I was startled by a giant car chasing dog who came out of nowhere. I locked up the rear wheel putting a three foot skid mark on the fresh pavement. So much for any question as to what I would do if “surprised”.

  12. How many fingers did you use to reach for the front brake? Just curious.

  13. Diana says it was a six foot skid. Honestly I went into panic mode, jammed on the foot brake and didn’t even go for the front brake. I suck! Mind you this was a very big dog! Can you say Rottweiler? What can I say? I’m just human and that is the human response syndrome.
    In my defense if I was alone I think I could pass the dog, but I didn’t want him to get Diana who was behind me as a consolation prize if I was able to get by him. In the end we had to go for it and he had disappeared into the woods and didn’t ambush us as we made our run for it. All was good… but shortly thereafter it started to rain and we still had several hours of riding to get home and we had to cross the Annapolis Bay Bridge in the rain. It was an interesting and educational trip to the Maryland Ride Like A Pro school. More storys to come about this trip.

  14. There are several good reasons for the MSF instruction. For starters, if four fingers are good enough (and necessary) for Valentino Rossi, they’re good enough for you. No, you can’t exercise all of the power of the front brake (especially on your weak-braked Harley) with two fingers. You do have 70% or more of the braking hp in the front wheel, but that doesn’t mean you can get at it with 1/2 of your braking strength.

    Second, if you ride dragging the front brake all the time you won’t have maximum braking capacity when you finally need it. You may think you’re just hitting the brake switch, but if you have disk brakes you’re most likely wearing pads, too.

    Finally, most crashes come from bikers doing dumb things in emergencies. The skills and habits you practice the most will be what you use when you are in panic-mode. “Jusy layin’ ‘er down” means “I screamed, I panicked, I pounded the brakes, and I fell over” to real motorcyclists. If you are already on the front brake, chances are that you will grab that brake in a corner when you should be sticking with the throttle and you’ll slide off of the road into a ditch or worse. Having that extra moment to think about your response in a panic moment could be what saves your ass.

  15. Thank you for your comment. I see you purposely write with a chip on your shoulder and are well versed in getting a negative reaction from people. You have succeeded.
    Let me know why you are so sure Valentino Rossi uses four fingers. I am under the influence racers use two and I argue that two fingers on softer Harley brakes yields greater sensitivity that will avoid a front brake skid.

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