Engine braking is when forces within your motorcycle motor seize, effectively slowing the bike’s momentum without applying external front and rear brakes.
Not only does this disengage the fuel injection, but engine braking also closes the throttle valve and restricts forced airflow.
The airflow restriction causes a vacuum that works against your motor’s cylinders, converting energy to stopping power without employing your brakes.
Engine braking is an effective method of managing your bike’s speed, but even some seasoned riders I know wonder, is motorcycle engine braking good or bad for your motorcycle?
Find out the answer in this article.
Here’s the short answer to whether engine braking is good or bad:
Not only is engine braking harmless to your motorcycle motor, but engine braking is also the safest way to regulate the bike’s speed while descending steep slopes without overheating your brake pads or glazing your brakes.
Here’s Why You Can Safely Use Your Engine to Brake
I try to start engine braking early enough to come to a complete stop without applying my external brakes, saving them for emergency use only.
Engine braking maintains my regular speed by converting that forward motion we talked about earlier into stopping power, offsetting the acceleration effect of gravity.
It’s not bad for your engine, but some specific techniques can mitigate potential transmission wear caused by engine braking.
I often hear concerns about damage to the clutch plate when slipping the clutch during a downshift.
Avoid clutch damage by rev-matching appropriately in the same gear setting first.
Rev-matching minimizes friction, allowing the engine braking to pull against the vehicle’s speed without transmission stress.
Every rider I know uses engine braking on the reg, and I know some semi-pro motocross racers and veteran bike builders who pack some hard miles.
Moto-GP riders use engine brakes in their curves to avoid brake overheating or spilling sideways in the middle of the curve.
If your bike is fuel injected, there’s more good news—some injectors will disengage during an engine brake, meaning you’re not using any gas the whole way down that mountain.
And even if your bike doesn’t have that feature, remember you’re converting forward motion to slow down power, meaning you’re not burning fuel like you are when your cylinders are competing with your brakes.
Are there Some Motorcycle Models You should not Engine Brake?
Engine braking is safe to do on any motorcycle and is especially useful when slowing down while descending a hill.
So why do people worry engine braking is terrible if it isn’t?
Engine braking revs up your engine, and this can make the bike sound strained. This isn’t an issue unless you’ve downshifted multiple gears, shooting your RPMs into the redline.
Your motorcycle OEM engineered your transmission to withstand full-throttle force, providing you’re rev-matching to the gear in which you’re ripping.
If your transmission can take your full engine power, there’s no reason your cogs won’t endure the sliver of stopping power that engine braking puts on it.
The only thing that changes your clutch assembly is whether it’s moving or stopping while generating the power. The stress from stopping is less concentrated, as the bike is generally in motion and halting simultaneously.
Also read our article about how to know if your motorcycle has bad brakes.
How to Properly Engine Brake a Motorcycle
Engine braking is a matter of feel, but you can take steps to cultivate that feeling by practising your timing and attention to detail that can only come through repetition and trial and error.
Below, we’ve put together ride-behavior patterns a new rider can follow to build a feel for the sweet spot of engine braking.
Every bike is different; I’ve been riding so long that paying attention to my hands only distracts me when I’m on my bike. But when I get on a bike for the first time, I still follow these steps.
It’s a matter of practice, but is it worth the time?
Engine braking is an essential part of riding a motorcycle. It’s safer to use for slowing down when roasting into a tight corner or in an emergency.
If done correctly, engine braking is more effective and even safer than braking with your front and rear brakes.
3 Easy Steps for Engine Braking Correctly
Follow these three steps to perfect your engine braking maneuver:
1. Pull the Clutch and Drop Your RPMs
Pull the clutch all the way in and look to make sure your RPMs are dropping.
The RPMs should be dropping into the low RPM range. I can’t give you a number; RPM ranges differ drastically depending on what type of bike you’re riding. The owner’s manual will let you know what’s considered low on your bike.
Your tachometer will show you your RPM range, and the needle should be dropping into the low range. Pay attention to the sound the engine makes during the decelerating RPM drop, and in time, you won’t have to use the gauge to know your revs are where you want them to be.
2. Downshift Gears One By One
Downshift just one gear from the gear you’re currently riding in.
If I’m in fifth gear, for example, and I’m approaching a curve, I downshift (see step 3) into fourth gear, and the engine brakes a little there first.
If my RPMs drop smoothly and I’m still not where I want to be, I’ll downshift down to third, engine brake, RPMs drop, etc.
3. Release The Clutch Lever Gradually
You want a smooth transition from gear to gear, and you get this with a nice slow extension of the clutch lever.
Don’t pop the clutch unless you want to jerk back and slap teeth against teeth in your helmet.
Go slow enough, and you’ll feel the sweet spot. Ride that friction zone until it feels like someone hit the brakes.
The friction zone is different on every single clutch, so I can’t explain it more precisely than that. Just trust me, and trust yourself; you’ll feel the friction zone, and the bike will slow down.
Make sure to also read our article about things to check if your motorcycle smells like gas.
Is Engine Braking the Same as Downshifting?
Downshifting and engine braking are different processes. On a motorcycle, a rider can engine brake without downshifting by just pulling in the clutch lever.
Riding the friction zone then converts forward motion to stopping power.
Proper downshifting is pulling in the clutch, slowing either by engine braking or gently brushing your external brakes, wait for the RPMs to drop and then downshift your foot shifter, and engaging the clutch.
Sporty riders use a race technique of downshifting and then accelerating to skyrocket their RPMs. This can also help straighten yourself out of the apex of a curve. That said, if the bike is already revving high, this technique can shoot your RPMs into the red zone, and this can cause wear on your engine.
In general, the rule of the road on two-wheels is rev-match for the gear you’re shifting into before re-engaging the clutch, and you’ll get silky smooth shifting every time.
Please also read our article about why your motorcycle vibrates while braking.
Can You Also Engine Brake Downhill?
Engine braking is the safest way to slow down when riding downhill. Using external brakes downhill generates excessive heat, wear and fade on your brake pads, calipers, and eventually even your rotors.
The heat produced by your external brakes when applied against downhill force is enough to damage the entire brake system.
The engine brake turns your intake vacuum power against the bike’s momentum to slow you down without overheating your brake pads.
It is similar to Moto-GP riders who use engine braking to halt before a sweeper, as it allows them to boost their RPMs at the curve’s peak.
Is there such a thing as Motorcycle Engine Braking Light?
Engine braking doesn’t trigger brake lights, so some riders gently tap their rear brake pedal to signal their stop, while others buy aftermarket engine braking lights.
Why? Well, since engine braking doesn’t illuminate your brake lights, so the person behind you doesn’t know you’re slowing down.
Aftermarket electronic options pick up when the bike is decelerating, whether by engine braking or downshifting. When these aftermarket devices feel the bike slow, they activate your brake lights whether you used your external brakes or not.
My Motorcycle Engine Makes Braking Noise
An engine should not make a braking sound during engine braking. Braking sound coming from your machine could be a sign of low or contaminated motor oil or a worn cam chain.
Motor oil is a critical component of a healthy motorcycle engine, as crucial as any other part of the bike.
Engine oil protects your engine’s components from the wear-and-tear inherent in metal-on-metal contact by lubricating the bike’s inner parts.
That metal-on-metal contact generates friction, and friction produces heat. Another function of oil is to reduce that heat production before it hits a temperature that damages the motor.
If your bike is low on oil or even oil pressure, your valves will clatter and rattle. This is not the sound of braking and is a sign your bike needs attention.
Another possible culprit for the neck-hair-singeing sound of metal ringing against metal is a stretched-out Cam Chain Tensioner.
All timing chains wear out in time, and once they get slacked-out, they make a startling sound we call a chain slap.
Chain slap could result from a loose rear axle, though, or a rear suspension that needs some adjusting. A loose or malfunctioning chain adjuster could also cause the metallic rattle scrape sound in question.
It doesn’t have to be consistent, but it might be; a loose chain could slap the inside of the chain cover on every rotation.
Investigate the source of the sound. If it’s your transmission case and not your motor, you could also have a loose clutch nut.
Either way, engine braking shouldn’t make a sound, so if your engine or transmission is making metal-on-metal, braking sounds, getting it looked at before the problem worsens, or damages other engine components.