Stopping Power Last Guide to Brakes You’ll Ever Need – Part 1

Stopping Power Last Guide to Brakes You’ll Ever Need – Part 1

Posted by Ben Baker on Sep 2nd 2016

A motorcycle that won't start is a much smaller problem than a motorcycle that won't stop.

So how do we stop our steel steeds? Brakes. Here's a look at brakes and some things you need to know about them.


Motorcycles today use hydraulic braking systems. The brake fluid is a non-compressible fluid. It comes in three types, DOT fluid. It's sold as DOT3, DOT4 and DOT5.

"DOT3 and DOT4 are glycol-based fluids, and DOT5 is silicon-based. The main difference is that DOT3 and DOT4 absorb water, while DOT5 doesn't," says How Stuff Works. Jim's Garage adds, "DOT 4 fluids are much like DOT 3 fluids, but also contain borate esters. There is another rating called DOT 5.1 that consists of borate esters." Borate ester affects the boiling point of the fluid.

More borate ester gives a higher boiling point. Brakes rely on friction to provide stopping power. Friction generates heat. Brake fluid needs to be able to stand up to heat.

DOT5 is silicone based.

WARNING - Every repair site and every mechanic says DO NOT mix brake fluids. Adding DOT5 to a DOT4 brake system, and vice versa, changes the boiling point and worse. "Mixing brake fluids, adding the wrong fluid to your vehicle brake system can cause many problems and even degrade the seals in your brake hydraulics," says EBC Brakes.

Does brake fluid need to be changed, just like the oil? Well, not as often, but yes. "Even though brake fluid dwells in a sealed system it still can absorb moisture over time, and that can lead to corrosion in the brake system. Moisture also lowers the boiling temperature of brake fluid, and that can reduce braking effectiveness in repeated hard stops," says


Motorcycles come with two basic types of braking systems - separated or integrated.

A separated system means you have to brake each wheel independently. Most often the front wheel brakes with the lever on the handlebar. The rear wheel brakes with the foot pedal.

The Integrated brake, AKA combined or linked braking, means one control operates the brake on both wheels. There's a third kind that is a hybrid. "If, when you apply your rear brake, your motorcycle also applies front braking for you, then you have some form of 'integrated braking.' In the case of the Honda GoldWing, there are two front disc brakes and one rear disc brake. One of the front brakes is independently controlled by the front brake lever while the other front brake and the rear brake are both activated by the rear brake pedal," says James Davis. Mr. Davis' article is an excellent read on integrated braking with pros and cons.


Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are common in cages these days and more bike makers are looking at this for bikes.

"An Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) works to prevent a motorcycle's wheel, or wheels, from locking during braking. ABS uses speed sensors on both wheels to accurately determine wheel speed, as well as sensors to determine when a wheel is about to lock," says an article on the Australian government website Vic Roads. "ABS adjusts the braking pressure accordingly to prevent the wheel from locking, and assists with maintaining the stability of the motorcycle. In many circumstances ABS has been shown to reduce braking distance. Motorcycles with ABS technology have been shown to be involved in fewer crashes on the road."

Jason Avant takes a hard look at ABS in this article at Ride Apart.

If your bike's brakes are not acting right or you have questions, the best thing to do it go to a certified repair shop.