Fingers wresting on the brake lever and around the throttle
Fingers wresting on the brake lever and around the throttle

Do you cover your motorcycle brakes?

If you are riding in a situation of concern, do you cover your brakes – that is, do you hold your hand and foot over the brake levers?

There are arguments for and against covering your brakes.

In any reference in this article to covering your front brake, we are talking about only using one or two fingers while the rest remain around the throttle as in the top photo.

Reaction times

The notion of covering your brakes is that it reduces vital reaction time for applying the brakes.

Some riding schools instruct their students to never cover their brakes, saying it causes panic stops and crashes.

They say the millisecond lost from uncurling your fingers from the throttle to apply the brakes makes no difference.

However, any faster reaction time on a brake could save several metres in stopping distance.

That could be the difference between hitting something or not.

There is also the argument that you can brake harder with four fingers than two.

Try it yourself. If your brake lever is so heavy you need four fingers to apply full force, perhaps your brake cable need some attention.

Most modern hydraulic brakes don’t need an Iron Man to apply them.

Total control

Some instructors say that covering your brake also reduces your throttle and handlebar control.

But you shouldn’t be throttling the throttle anyway. Your thumb and third and fourth finger are enough to maintain control.

Using one or two fingers to apply the front brake also allows you to use the throttle to match engine speed with ground speed on downshifts.

This prevents dangerous rear wheel lock-up.

Click here for more on holding the throttle.Tattoo throttle hand

Cover for caution

Situations where you should think about covering your brakes are:

  • In heavy traffic where anything can happen such as sudden lane changes or traffic coming to a halt, even on a highway;
  • riding through suburban streets where cars may not see you and pull out in front of you from an intersection;
  • riding down a country road where you expect a kangaroo, deer or other fauna to suddenly appear from the bushes; and
  • when you perceive an erratic driver in traffic who you suspect may suddenly do something stupid.

You may think of other situations as well where this approach is necessary.

boots Footpegs pain - throttle wrist handlebars - cover
Your foot should always be above the brake lever

Rear brake

Your foot should always be hovering over the foot brake lever in road riding, anyhow.

Click here for more on where your foot should be.

Rather than just hovering your hand and foot over the levers, you should also think about engaging the lever a little bit to switch on the rear brake light in some situations.

This does not apply the brakes, only switches on the light.

This is a handy warning device for motorists who are following you.

It is also a trick you can deploy to make tailgaters back off a little bit.

In fact, rapidly engaging and disengaging this switch will catch the attention of the motorist behind you who will see your brake lights flicking on and off.

  • When do you cover your brakes and has it saved you from a crash? Leave your comments below.

  1. I cover the front lever with finger next to thumb most of the time I’m around other vehicles also I find that spirited riding or not as I’m closing the throttle my peace sign comes out because there already over the top of the brake lever meaning my brakes are applying just as my throttle is shut keeping my 2 outside fingers firmly around the twist grip

  2. “A millisecond faster on the brakes could save you several metres in stopping distance”

    Several meters means more than one. Let’s assume two, to be conservative.

    2m/ms is 2000m/s, which is 7200km/h.

    At that speed you’ll need double horizontal braking parachutes, a reverse jet stream, and a tug boat to help you stop in time for a pedestrian or someone opening a car door.


  3. I feel covering the brakes also takes away some steering input and throttle control. Steering input and throttle control can be more important then brake application in avoiding a accident. Also I find it doesn’t feel comfortable for me on my current bike (it does have adjustable levers). The sum of these two makes me only cover the brakes when i’m in first gear around town.
    That’s just my 2 cents 🙂

  4. How about “setting up” which is to reach for both levers and take out the free play? Hovering there does not activate the brake light, does not start the slowing process, can lead to people rolling on the throttle whilst braking. If not all fingers are used then it may end up in a situation where you cannot squeeze the lever harder. Setting up the brakes, rather than covering them will work better if threatened.

  5. I cover the front brake all the time and in countless emergency situations I’ve never once locked up.
    The rationale of tensing up at something unexpected is honestly a little odd to me; I think I’d certainly over-react and over-compensate if I had to make up for “wasted time” reaching for the lever in a panic vs. being ready.

    Ultimately it’s each to their own and one size will never fit all, thankfully.

  6. In times of concern cover your brake, they are not talking about all the time. If I am riding in a group of bikes I will cover my brake. At 100kmh my bike is travelling just over 28m per second. If it took me 1/2 second for my fingers to leave the grip to start applying the brake then I have just travelled 14m before applying brakes. Bit of a no brainer! I don’t ride covering all the time but in areas of concern I will certainly cover. Everytime I get on a new bike the brakes are the first thing I check out. If you don’t know how to use those brakes properly, your dead.

  7. Specifically told not to ride covering the front brake by British Driving Standards Agency instructors, professional race instructors doing the Enhanced Rider Scheme (first tier advanced training), Police instructors that ride for a living including those that have served on the Special Escort Group, and the Institute for Advanced Motorists.

    The rationale behind this is the inate reflex when startled by an unexpected event is to tense up. This can lead to a sudden over application of the front brake and subsequent loss of control and is proven to cause accidents. The time it takes to open hand and close around the brake lever is usually sufficient for an experienced rider to perform controlled braking or to have instead chosen an evasion manouvre. It is especially dangerous to snatch the front brake whilst turning or performing an evasion manouvre.

    Covering the rear brake is usually safe as the same tensing reflex is unlikely to result in a dangerous braking effort, and showing some brake light is generally a good thing. However, it is important to remember that the rear brake transfers weight to the front so the rear may need to be released as the front is applied in the main phase of braking.

    1. Nice to know the experts agree with me;-) in my earlier post I said the only time I do it is when filtering and there is a high chance of a pedestrian bolting between cars and or doors opening. At the speed I’d be doing the bike would stop dead no skid or forward travel just stop usually with the rear wheel lifting about ten cm off the deck and the sound of other riders swearing and abusing the idiot who caused me to stop as they picked their bikes up. On one occasion I had a arrogant fu type pedestrian just stroll through moving traffic giving the finger to everyone I stopped but a cruiser rider in the next lane either didn’t see him in time or choose not too and ran over his foot, that was funny but what was even funnier was the fact that the car behind the cruiser was an unmarked cop car so when the creature tried to chase down the cruiser limping through traffic the cops grabbed him, I’m not sure if he went to the watch house or the nut house.

    2. Not sure if I agree with you nor the experts on this: In the situations noted above, you are prepared for sudden braking. The issue of tensing up and over applying the brakes would not happen. You would be making a calm reaction because you are prepared.
      This, at least, is my experience. Many times I have anticipated a need for sudden braking before and, because I was prepared and covering the brakes, I was able to apply the brakes quick enough without over-reacting.

  8. Covering is ok as long as you are constantly aware of what is
    behind you, they may not be paying as much attention as you
    personally i am always ready for evasive action and looking for escape routes
    especially on intersections i am always aware of line of sight obstacles
    that may make me harder to be seen

  9. I always ride with my index and middle finger in the brake covering position. Didn’t think anything of it until I saw a discussion elsewhere on the net recently with most contributing saying it was a bad habit based on being poised to grab a handful of brake unnecessarily.
    I tried riding without my 2 fingers in the covering position but it just doesn’t work for me.
    15 years ago I was clipped from behind by another bike as I was turning along a one way street. 25 stitches to my middle finger has left it stiff compared to my others and uncomfortable to have in a clenched position for long so its better to ride with it extended.
    Great excuse to give the middle finger to that argument.

  10. Just covering brakes can lead to a grab if braking is needed, compromising the braking performance, maybe inducing a premature lockup. Best practise is not to cover brakes till you have a concern, then actually start to brake, taking up the slack in the system, or ‘setting up’ and initiating a progressive braking application. This not only reduces reaction time, but also drops a few kms off your current speed, which also shortens the stopping distance. Then release, or go on with it as appropriate.

  11. Actually covering the brake can cause as many or even more accidents than it prevents.
    It can add to fatigue and actually reduce reaction time as well as contribute to over reaction.
    If the brake light is always on or constantly flickering the cager behind you may start to ignore it. Also sometimes that millisecond extra it takes to apply the brakes is a good thing , the number of times I’ve gone to apply the brakes then changed my mind and weaved to avoid an obstacle is countless and in a good sixty percent of those times stopping would have been very bad even fatal.
    Don’t get me wrong when it’s necessary I will get into a prepared to stop position and even cover the brakes but only when there is a high chance of a door opening or a mad pedestrian bolting between cars when I’m filtering. All other times I’m in a relaxed state of total paranoia

      1. I got that but it’s a level of degree kind a thing.
        If it were a pot of water you were watching boil a lot of people would start to cover the brake when the water is only lukewarm some when they start to see steam where as I and most who have had a lot of city filtering experience would wait until we saw bubbles start to form at the bottom of the pot. But to us the pot is always steaming.
        I guess I get a bit riled by dangerous safety advice, I saw a tv spot where a Harley rider was advising covering the rear brake and going on how not having to move your foot very far makes the bike more stable in an emergency. It may have been bad editing but that was the total of the advice. Too many riders have killed them selves by only applying the rear brake or applying too much in a panic. I like to remind everyone especially well meaning do gooders that on a bike the brakes are not always your friend and often can be an enemy and the throttle your friend.

  12. That’s where adjustable levers come in handy. I find covering the front brake awkward on my CBR500R (2014 model) as the gap of the non-adjustable levers is not quite enough to allow me to uncurl my fingers from the throttle and keep the input steady. It;s possible, but takes concentration, so I probably don’t cover the front as often as i should.
    I recently rode a friends RE Continental GT which had been fitted with adjustable levers, covering the brakes on that was a doddle.
    I am a rear brake ‘dragger’ in slow traffic, as much to provide stability as to warn drivers I’m stopping, but being aware that a slight pressure will activate the light is certainly a comfort.
    I think Honda have addressed the lever issue on the updated 500’s, which for a bike popular with LAMS riders is a great addition.

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