2 vs 4 Finger Braking

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Image of four finger braking on motorcycleEarly in our courses, our expert motorcycle riding coaches teach riders about preferred motorcycle braking technique. This is important because it has to do with your ability to come to a safe and timely stop, which is imperative for avoiding motorcycle crashes. Furthermore, there’s a vast disparity between the brake performance of different motorcycles. These provided techniques require refinement through practice, so we recommend taking your motorcycle to an empty parking lot for some emergency braking drills. Let’s learn a little bit about preferred motorcycle braking technique.

Motorcycle Braking Technique

One of the most common questions we get is, “should I use two fingers or four fingers when braking on a motorcycle?” Surprising to some, the answer to this simple question is that it depends. It depends upon where a rider is at in their skill development and sometimes it can depend upon the type of motorcycle and braking system.

It should be noted that while most motorcycle riders use two fingers or four fingers, there are some riders who have developed habits contrary to the preferred braking techniques we recommend. For example, famous motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi uses three fingers to pull the brake lever upon occasion. While the three-finger technique comes naturally to Valentino, he’s one of the best motorcycle riders in the world, so he can pretty much do whatever he pleases. Not so for us mere mortals.

For the rest of us, sticking to either two fingers or four fingers is probably best. Our Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse typically teaches riders to use four fingers when braking. Here’s why a four-finger braking technique is best, especially for anyone who is new to developing riding skills and is still at the entry-level of motorcycle riding:

  • Braking with four fingers makes it easier for beginning riders to roll off the throttle and apply the brakes easier.
  • Using four fingers to brake your motorcycle makes it less likely that you would accidentally roll on the throttle while you’re braking. When you use the two-finger motorcycle braking technique, you have two fingers on the brake and two fingers on the throttle. If you’re not careful, or even if your hand slips a little bit, you can accidentally manipulate the throttle when you’re only trying to hit the brakes.
  • Engaging all four of your fingers allows you to apply more force to the brake lever. You’re pulling on it with twice the amount of fingers, making it easier to brake hard in a hurry. You might have strong hands or think it’s silly to require extra force on something as small as a motorcycle brake lever, but both every instant and every millimeter count when you’re on a motorcycle.
  • Since you don’t have any fingers left under the lever, you’re able to squeeze the lever all the way to the bar. Keeping two of your fingers under the lever could possibly restrict maximum brake level travel.
  • One of the top motorcycle training philosophies is to build gross motor skills before fine motor skills. By starting braking with four fingers, we allow the necessary neural connections to develop and strengthen before migrating to a technique that requires finer motor skills and may present a higher risk to the rider.
  • With four fingers on the brake lever, we may be able to generate more force on the brake lever than if we used two fingers. If you use the two-finger motorcycle braking technique which requires the use of your index and middle fingers then your fingers are close to the brake lever’s anchor point. To understand why this is important, you have to think a little bit about the physics of levers and fulcrums. Or, more simply, you can think about it this way: the handle of a car door is far away from the hinges because less pressure generates more movement out there. If the handle were right by the hinges, it would be hard to open the door. Now, relate that to your motorcycle braking technique. If you only use your inside fingers, they’re closest to the brake lever’s anchor point, which is also harder to generate significant force.
  • Four-finger braking instruction makes it easy to receive consistent training across all Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses.

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Is It Okay to Brake a Motorcycle With Two Fingers?

Maybe you’ve been riding your motorcycle for a while now, and you consider yourself to be a more intermediate or even advanced rider. You may hear a lot of your friends say that they only use two fingers, too. In that case, is it alright to use two fingers while braking?
The short answer is yes. If your motorcycle is capable enough and your motor control skills are developed enough, two-finger braking is entirely acceptable. We teach people to brake with two fingers in our TEAM Arizona Advanced Riding Techniques course. Furthermore, there are some benefits to using this braking method. The benefits of braking your motorcycle with two fingers include both of the following:

  • Reduced reaction time before you can apply your brakes
  • The ability to perform the trail braking technique, which requires you to use the throttle and your brakes at the same time
  • We can use our brakes to dynamically alter the geometry of our vehicle so that we can make cornering easier and more confidence inspiring

While the trail braking technique is an essential step toward becoming a skilled motorcycle rider, and a vital tool to have in our riding toolbox, because it requires fine motor skills with respect to brake and throttle, it may not be for everyone. We strongly recommend against trying this technique until you’re already confident with your throttle and brake application control. Furthermore, you need to have a thorough understanding of your motorcycle’s braking ability before this can be considered an option. How can you tell if you have enough skill to try this technique? The easiest thing to do is come out to a course and let the coaches evaluate your skill level.

So what are you going to use? 2 or 4 fingers?

There is much to consider when it comes to deciding how many fingers to use when braking. That’s why we always recommend that our riders completely master braking with four fingers before they move on to braking with two fingers. Like all other motorcycle riding techniques, it’s best to focus on safety and master the basics before worrying about more advanced motorcycle riding tips. The fundamentals NEVER go out of style!

Learn More Motorcycle Braking Tips

We occasionally like to say the best place to practice your motorcycle braking is in a church’s parking lot right across from a hospital. All jokes aside, though, the best way to learn about more motorcycle braking tips and master your technique is to take a course with an experienced motorcycle coach. If you’re just starting, try our Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse, where we’ll help you build gross motor control and work on braking with four fingers.

If you’re already a confident rider looking to be more skilled or a highly-skilled rider looking to refine your braking technique, check out our Advanced Riding Techniques course. It will help you expand your abilities as you master things like braking with two fingers and even performing the trail braking technique. No matter your level, our motorcycle riding coaches in Arizona can help you reach your riding goals. Sign up for a course today to hone your techniques and build your confidence on the motorcycle.