All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. DayIn the MSF program, instructors are infamous for requiring students to use their whole hand on either the throttle or the brake. Not just one, two, or three finger braking, but the whole collection of finger-like digits; "If you have 'em, use 'em." This is a position that generates a lot of controversy among "experienced riders" who have cultivated (politi-speak for "clung to beginner habits") a variety of tactics that involve various fingers applied at random times with an assortment of justifications with empirically inconsistent results. There are some strong justifications for the MSF position. Is this the best way to teach front brake use? Probably. Is it absolutely the only right way to use the front brake? Not necessarily.
I think habit explains why so many riders feel the need to rest their fingers on the brake. Safety or preparedness are pretty low on the list of logical justifications for this practice. Fear is a lot higher on the list, but most riders won't acknowledge that. They began hanging on to the grip when they first started riding and haven't re-evaluated the practice since. New riders are terrified of letting go of the grip and just as nervous about taking their fingers off of the brake. Terror does justify a habit.
I'm a long ways from an MSF-fanatic, but I do think our training organization is right in teaching the four-fingered braking habit. Being the single-minded, single-task animal we humans are, learning how to use the front brake with power and confidence is life-saving. In fact, if you never learn how to use the rear brake, you're only giving up on 10-30% of your stopping power. Precise front brake operation is one of the most critical skills in motorcycling. One of the reasons for learning how to perform a skill absolutely correctly is, then, you can intentionally modify that technique when conditions change. If you never learn how to use your brakes correctly, you won't suddenly figure it out in an emergency.
First published in the Rider's Digest #171 Winter 2015-2016.