Improving Your Braking System
Photo’s By Bill Brink | Additional Rider: Roger White
No doubt that technology has made motorcycling safer, easier and more fun. If you can remember total loss oil systems, manual spark advance and kick starters then you have an idea what I’m talking about and why I am so appreciative of how far the sport has come. Today we have dual compound tires, anti lock brakes and traction control and it just keeps getting better.
What if you have an older bike you like (that’s totally paid for) and you just want it to be a better and safer ride? That was my dilemma as I have a stock 2005 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe. I have enjoyed it immensely over the years of ownership, however it seems to be lacking in the braking department. After 32,000+ miles I figured it was time to improve upon this I began a search of options for upgrading the stock brakes. There are many solid choices, but some can break the bank. Then I came across a product by TCB Brake Systems. The company’s web site claims it “Automatically increases riders ability to brake in a shorter distance in both regular and panic stops by as much as 20% at speeds from 35 mph to 55 mph.” It also claims to “help modulate your brake system, helps avoid premature brake lock up and improves brake control conditions in most cases.” Add to that a cost of only $79 per brake caliper and I was sold enough to give it a try.
I contacted Mark Lipski of TCB and he agreed to supply the parts necessary to conduct a comparison test. In fact, he was so sure of his product he suggested a test of 2 motorcycles. One bike really seemed to need help: the Softail Deluxe. The other has adequate brakes: a 2007 Harley Sportster XL883R. The Sportester is already equipped with triple disk brakes, and weighs in at relatively light 585 pounds when compared to the Deluxe at 726 pounds with only 2 disk brakes.
The first obstacle I faced was how to conduct a fair comparison? After conferring with my son Dean, an MSF rider coach, we drew up some guidelines. We decided on two riders, with similar riding experience, getting three runs per bike at 2 pre-selected speeds. We’d then average the results to try and get a broad measure of the product’s effectiveness.
Well, then, there was the next problem. Who do I trust to ride my bikes at speed and lock up the brakes? Only one name came to mind, my friend Roger White. He is the same age as me, rode motocross in his youth and is the current Director of the Daytona Harley Drill Team so I know he rides well. In addition we are both MSF Rider Coaches along with being Riders Edge instructors, so I was confident that we’d be able to push the braking system consistently close to the edge of traction.
Test Preparation: Baseline Data
Prior to conducting several base runs with the stock brakes we had to prep the bikes. First, we set the tire pressure as per the owner’s manual, and then we inspected the tires and brake pads verifying they were better than factory specifications. After all, we were going to conduct several panic stops at speeds of 35 and 45 MPH.
If you have ever taken a Basic Rider Course you would have recognized the parking lot layout as it looked similar to exercise 9: stopping quickly. However, the lane and stopping areas were longer as the speeds would be two to three time greater than in the basic class. Furthermore, if test the rider showed any anticipation during the stop the run would not count and was to be done over.
In 5 of the 6 high speed stops of 45 mph the rear wheel locked up on the Deluxe, number we saw repeated with the Sportster. Similarly, on the 35 mph stops the rear locked in 4 out of 6 trials on both machines.
With our baseline set, it was time to install TCB’s product. All that is required is to replace your caliper’s banjo bolt with TCB’s patented bolt. Although I felt my mechanical ability was adequate enough to conduct the installation, I wanted to ensure that installation did not affect the results. I contacted a locally run and well respected shop, Custom Iron, located in Deleon Springs, Florida (386)-985-4850. The shop is managed by the husband and wife team of Andy and Sandy Anderson and has been serving Central Florida riders for over 18 years.
Sandy scheduled me in first thing on a Tuesday morning. I braved the cold temperature, rode to the shop and arrived as Bo, the head chief mechanic, was opening up the shop. He went right to work replacing the stock banjo bolts with TCB’s. The switch was pretty straight forward, just remove the stock pieces, replace with TCB’s product and bleed the brakes.
I watched Bo bleed the brakes on the Sportster several times, but he advised me the front brake still felt soft. As per the instructions Bo test rode the bike and bleed the brakes again. They worked perfectly, but the brake lever felt softer than I was used to. However, on the ride home the braking remained smooth and predictable, albeit with a different feel. To familiarize myself, I conducted several quick stops from 45 mph and the stopping was quick and I was unable to lockup the wheels. Interesting enough, but I couldn’t tell stopping distance and would need to wait for the follow up test and measurements.
I returned later on the Softail and Bo repeated the process. After the install the front brake lever on the Deluxe felt normal unlike the Sportster’s. The installation process only took him approximately 15 to 20 minutes per wheel with the dual disked Sportster taking slightly longer.
The soft front brake lever on the Sportster concerned me. As such, prior to testing I took the bike for a ride to warm up the brakes one more time and upon returning home I bled the brakes using a vacuum bleeder to ensure that the line was free of air. The soft lever was still there so I phoned Mark Lipski at TCB looking for advice.
After a short question and answer session with Mark he said what I felt was “controlled compress-ability.” This was different than air bubbles in the brake line, or old rubber brake lines going soft that would be categorized as uncontrolled compress-ability but causes the same feeling. Despite the soft feel at the lever the brakes of the Sportster continued to work well so we decided to carry on with the test.
Testing TCB: Results
The morning we were to conduct the test with the TCB braking system installed the photographer, Bill Brink, was the first to show up at my house. He was followed closely by Roger, and they both commented on the soft front brake. Roger questioned me and shared his doubts, but wanted to ride the Sportster to the test site for better familiarization with the bike. Upon arrival Bill commented on how Roger was playing with the brakes during the ride, but with this little experience on the road Roger was felling better about the test.
He wanted to go first, and we did the testing exactly as we did with the stock brakes. We were still able to lock up the back wheel on both bikes, however it took more press and was less pronounced than with the stock system.
The results for the Sportster showed an improvement, but was less than stellar. On average it stopped 2 feet shorter at 45 mph and 7 feet shorter at 35 mph. It was better than the stock setup but not by much.
The Deluxe, however, showed a tremendous improvement over stock. It averaged 16 feet less stopping distance at 45 mph, and 14 feet better at 35 mph. That is the bike I wanted improved braking for initially and the big bike’s improvement reached TCB’s advertised claims of 20% and better.
While we were reviewing the test numbers and discussing the performance we realized the Sportster was transferring its weight to the front wheel more so than the Deluxe. Could the front brakes have worked so well we were at the beginning stages of a stoppie? More realistically, with the rear wheel lifting were we getting less stopping traction from the rear wheel? Per the MSF to achieve maximum breaking “apply both brakes simultaneously.”
Consulting with TCB led me to try one more thing on the Sportster. I replaced TCB’s product in the front dual calipers with the stock banjo bolts, but reinstalled a single TCB system in the bike’s front master cylinder.
This caused the front brake lever returned to a normal solid feel that was similar to stock, and a retest showed reduced braking an additional 2 feet at both speeds (a 4 foot overall improvement at from 45mph, and 9 feet total from 35mph from the stock baseline).
A summary of results showed TCB’s braking system had the following effect:
2005 HD Deluxe
at 35 MPH braking distance reduced 14 feet, over a 20% reduction
at 45 MPH braking distance reduced 16 feet, over a 20% reduction
2007 HD Sportster with TB in both calipers
at 35 MPH braking distance reduced 7 feet, a 9% reduction
at 45 MPH braking distance reduced 2 feet, a 4% reduction
2007 HD Sportster with stock banjo bolts and TCB in the master cylinder
at 35 MPH braking distance reduced 9 feet, a 12% reduction
at 45 MPH braking distance reduced 4 feet, an 8% reduction
The TCB system is not just available for American motorcycles as they have systems for Asian and European bikes also. If your looking for a way to improve the braking of your bike without taking out a second mortgage TCB might just be the answer. They can be contacted via their web site at www.tcbbrakesystems.com.