What Should I Do If My Motorcycle Front Brake Is Locked Up?

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This is a more common scenario than one may expect. You are cruising down the highway, and when you try to slow down, you find that your motorcycle’s brakes are locked up. This can prove to be a dangerous scenario if you know what you are doing.

This article will be pondering the question, what should I do if my motorcycle front brake is locked up? Several checks need to be done, with the most common ones being:

Why Do They Lock Up:

  • Clogged Master Cylinder Reservoir
  • Too Much Brake Fluid in the Caliper
  • Disc Brake Binding
  • Old Brake Fluid
  • Brake Lever Stuck
  • Faulty Brake Lever

What To Do If Motorcycle Brakes Lock Up:

  1. Checking For Problems
  2. Fixing The Problem
  3. Preventing The Problem
  4. Which Brake To Choose And When
  5. Failure Of Braking Components
  6. Types Of Brake Fluids
  7. Mixing Brake Fluids

There are many other things that you should know about if you are looking to get your motorcycle back in working condition. This article will be getting into the details of this topic, allowing you to fully understand the problem.

So, without any further ado, let’s get straight into it.

How Do The Front Brakes Work?

Before we discuss the problem in detail, one must understand how the front brakes work. As we are focusing on the front brakes only, they are operated from the right side of the handlebar.

This is standard on all motorcycles. They work the same whenever they are applied. A cable engages the master cylinder. The cylinder then pushes a piston, which puts pressure on the brake fluid.

As brake fluid is designed not to be compressible, the pressure is sent to the caliper—the caliper presses on the brake pads, which get rubbed with the rotor. The friction slows down the tire, which leads to a decrease in speed.

Although rear brakes are not a part of our discussion, they work similarly. You may be familiar with these names because they were talked about in the introduction.

Why Do They Lock Up?

Let’s first look at what causes the front brakes on a motorcycle to fail. As this problem can happen to any motorcycle, no single brand is to blame here.

The most common reasons were listed above, but let’s check them out in detail:

Clogged Master Cylinder Reservoir

The master cylinder reservoir normally has two holes in it. These holes are used for the transfer of brake fluid. The smaller hole is for the brake fluid to return to its original position once the brakes are applied.

So, you can already imagine what would happen if these holes were clogged up. The brake fluid will not be able to move as freely, which will result in the braking process not working efficiently.

If the smaller hole is clogged, it will result in the brake lever not coming back too. So, if you notice this, you should automatically know the root cause of the issue.

The return hole is extremely small, and it may look insignificant. But poking it can save you from the hassle of getting your motorcycle checked by the mechanic. So, if your brake is indeed locking up, this is the first thing you should do. All you need is a thin wire, and there is a decent chance that you will be good to go.

Too Much Brake Fluid In The Caliper

Next up, this problem can occur when brakes are applied too harshly. As we have already talked about how the front brakes work, understanding this problem will be easier for you. There can be a scenario where you have to suddenly press the brake. The sudden pressure is transferred using the brake fluid to the caliper.

Well, if too much pressure is applied, too much brake fluid can enter the caliper. When there is an excess of brake fluid in the caliper, the pistons will not retract fully. This will result in the brake pads not being engaged completely. They get stuck halfway, and the brakes will get locked up.

Disc Brake Binding

The binding of the disc brakes should also be checked. Some of you may be unaware of this issue, but the disc brakes get stuck in one position. This usually happens when something else gets stuck, such as the pistons with the caliper or the slide pins seizing. This can lead to brake fade, which has been discussed in this article.

Old Brake Fluid

Just as with a car, you need to take extra care of your motorcycle. This means changing the oil the brake fluid too. Yes, changing fluid is important because it can become too old.

The issue normally arises when the fluid is more than two years old. As the fluid can get contaminated over time, it will not work and transmit pressure properly. This can result in the brakes locking up.

Brake Lever Stuck

Although chances are less, it is possible that the brake lever got stuck when it was applied. This can be due to corrosion or something stuck. As the problem is rare, there is not much information about it.

You should look at what is causing the lever to get stuck and remove it. In layman’s terms, you should allow the lever to have more free play.

Faulty Brake Lever

The problem can also arise with the use of an aftermarket brake lever. Although it’s uncommon, the brake lever can become faulty. This can result in it getting stuck, which will, in turn, cause the brakes to lock up.

When I was researching this article, I came across several forums where people had a similar issue. Well, the only fix is to get the lever replaced for a better one. You should also ensure compatibility before purchasing. This will ensure there are no risks.

What Happens When The Front Brakes Lock Up?

Well, the jamming of the brakes can lead to only one scenario, the front wheels locking up. This will prevent you from using your motorcycle at all.

This is also dangerous because the locked-up brakes can result in your motorcycle suddenly halting, which can cause an accident. The disc brakes also get jammed, which will prevent you from using your motorcycle.

What To Do If Motorcycle Brakes Lock Up

This is something that many of you may want to know the answer to. If the front brakes have stopped working, you must not stress too much because the rear ones are still present. Although they will result in the motorcycle stopping slowly, they will stop it.

Until you fix your front brakes, you should disconnect them so that they don’t interfere with the driving when they are locked up. It is recommended to get the issue fixed as soon as possible because relying on the rear brake for a long time is not viable. This has been discussed in detail in the following section of this article.

1. Checking For Problems

All parts of a motorcycle brake system, which can cause issues, have been listed above. You must start by checking every one of them. The master cylinder reservoir, brake lever, and fluid must be checked.

2. Fixing The Problem

The most common reason for the front brakes getting locked up is that the brake fluid is too old. As discussed before, the fluid needs to be replaced every few months. It is normally effective for a maximum of two years, after which the brakes will start causing issues.

  • The problem could simply be that the brake cable does not have enough space to move. So, in that case, all you need to do is move the wire so it is not restricted. This way, your brakes will start functioning normally.
  • Excess fluid in the caliper needs a bit of work to fix. When there is excess fluid, it will keep the brake pads pressed. You need to drain out some of the fluid to reduce the pressure. That can be done by attaching a small pipe to the caliper. This will allow all the fluid, which is at high pressure, to travel through the pipe.
  • If you cannot do this task, you can take help from a mechanic. The average charges for this solution are around $50. Yes, it is not cheap, and I still recommend doing this yourself. The amount will be less, and you don’t need to add more fluid. This will fix the issue.
  • The final solution is related to the master cylinder reservoir. Unclogging the holes is a simple process. All you need is a sharp and thin wire, which will be inserted into the hole. It will get unclogged, and the path for the brake fluid will not be restricted.

One of these solutions will work. As front brakes can get locked up due to these issues, these solutions will work 100%. So, you can go ahead and fix it. It is also recommended not to involve any professional or mechanic because they will charge for something that will take mere minutes and no money to fix.

3. Preventing The Problem

So, what can be done so that this issue never happens to you. Well, there are many steps one can take to make sure that their brakes will never get locked up.

There is no 100% certainty because immediate braking can cause them to lock up, which is something no one can prevent. But, apart from that, some steps can be taken, which will help a person prevent the issue from happening to them.

  • Yes, this has been repeated before in this article. This is because it is extremely important to replace the fluid.
  • Change the brake fluid every year. Although it can be done every two years, it is always better to remain safe than sorry.
  • Brake fluid does not cost a lot, and it can be done at home. All you need to do is set a reminder annually, which will allow you to remember to change the fluid on a timely basis.
  • Another thing to keep in mind is the pressure. As instant braking can always cause the caliper to fill up with fluid, the only way to prevent this, or reduce the chances of it happening, is by not topping off the brake fluid completely.
  • This will ensure that the pressure will not be exceeded, reducing the chances of it being too much in the caliper.
  • Finally, if you feel like your brakes are not performing adequately, you should always check for clogged holes. This should be a common practice that will allow you to ensure that the brake fluid path is never restricted.

4. Which Brake To Choose And When

One thing that many people must know is to know when to use which brake. Although the main portion of the article is over, it is recommended to read this section in its entirety.

The first thing that everyone should know is that front brakes are always more effective when compared to rear brakes. In layman’s terms, they provide more stopping power than the rear ones. If you are looking for numbers, the front brakes are 80% more powerful than the rear ones. So, the front brakes must be used most of the time.

5. Failure Of Braking Components

If your motorcycle’s brakes lock up constantly, and you don’t do anything to fix the issue, then there is a very good chance that some parts of the braking system would fail. There may be the issue of brake fade, which can happen when the brakes are engaged for too long.

The problem is normally seen in motorcycles that have been driven a lot, but it can also be seen if brakes are locking up. The issue is the inability of the braking system to produce enough friction for stopping the front tire.

As the fluid can only be used for so long, it starts to develop air pockets, which prevent the transfer of pressure. The pockets cannot be removed, and the only way to fix the issue is by replacing the fluid. This has been discussed in detail in the following section.

The calipers can get damaged during the process. Well, fortunately, they are pretty cheap to fix. You can expect to pay around $50 for new motorcycle calipers. They are inexpensive and are easy to replace. Before you ask, yes, calipers do have pads on them. So, you don’t need to look for them separately.

6. Types Of Brake Fluids

Before I end this article, I thought it would be sensible to explain which kind of brake fluid to use for maximum braking efficiency. There are many options on the market, which makes choosing them a lot more difficult. As there are different specifications for the fluid, you should make sure that you are using the correct one.

If you bought a new motorcycle and it is time to change the brake fluid, but you don’t know what it is, you should refer to the user manual of your motorcycle.

If it is a mainstream one, you can search for the manual on the internet. Some motorcycles also have the number written on the master cylinder. The most common of them are DOT 3 and DOT 4.

You may be wondering what the difference is between the two. Well, these fluids have different boiling points. Each motorcycle operates at a specific temperature, so you need to get one designed for the one your motorcycle is rated for. Otherwise, the risk of brake lockup increases greatly.

7. Mixing Brake Fluids

When it is finally time to change the brake fluid, you should never mix fluids of different specifications. The mix can create an unstable mixture with a high boiling point.

So, it is advised to avoid this. Problems are notorious when you try to mix DOT 5 and other fluids. As DOT 5 is silicone-based, it will cause many issues when mixed with other rated fluids.

As mixing can cause so many problems, you may be wondering what would happen if the wrong brake fluid were used. If this mistake is made, then there is almost 100% certainty that there will be a locking up of the brakes.

This can also damage the braking components, which may need replacing. The problems can be very similar to what happens if the wrong oil is used. So, you should be extra careful before choosing the correct braking fluid for your vehicle.

Conclusion

There you have it, guys, a detailed answer to the question, what should I do if my motorcycle front brake is locked up?

From the possible causes to solutions, everything has been covered to make sure that you will not have any issues. You should also read the preventative measures, which will allow you to make sure that the problem does not affect you in the future.

Brakes locking up is a serious issue and can cause an accident if it happens on a busy highway. So, you should always keep your mike in top-notch condition. Other than that, it is a problem with a low chance of occurring. So, you don’t have too much to be worried about.