So yesterday coworker Dan comes up to me and he says his bike is effed up but he's not sure whats going on. The description started out like a possible clutch issue or maybe something in the primary but as more questions were asked and answered it became obvious it wasn't something simple.
A test ride was in order. At first I wasn't sure if I'd need to take it out on the road and torque the crap out of it to find a problem but when I gave it the first little twist I noticed right away that the back wheel wanted to go in a different direction than the front. Its funny how a half inch of movement can feel like the wheel is exiting the fender. I went less than a hundred yards and nursed it back to the shop. He'd been riding it this way so long he didn't even notice the issue. Or...maybe because I'm so spoiled on the Ultra that any little deviation from normal is grounds to question whether or not I can take advantage of that extended warranty I paid for.
It looks like the transmission is cast with a long hole that the swing arm bolt passes through. This hole is completely broken in half lengthwise and the arm is allowed to flop around between the frame bushings. This looks terribly dangerous to ride and I'm surprised he has gotten away with it for this long. I couldn't stick around long enough to find out if any other problems were found but I did learn something else that shocked me. Here we are with ten guys standing around shooting the shit and the subject of using the front brake comes up. I felt alone on an island preaching about front brake use and only hearing back that the front brake will cause you to drop the bike or whatever. Come on, its 2018. Aren't we all past that? The news has been out for decades. Yes if you lock the front wheel in a slow turn you could have problems but thats not what we're talking about. In an emergency you need that 90% of your stopping power to stay alive and you'll never use it if you have trained yourself to always use the back brake. The harder you apply the front brake, the more weight you transfer to the front tire. The more weight on the front tire means you have more braking grip with that tire and the road. Do it. Practice it.
Yes there are times when the back brake is appropriate like greasy stop sign intersections, some rain situations, slow speed maneuvers and gravel. Some squid type riding in the twisties may also call for feeding in a little rear brake but that's something completely different. If you need to stop from hiway speed in a hurry and you don't step hard on the pedal then odds are good you'll hit whatever you wanted to avoid. If you do step hard then odds are good you'll lock the rear and go into a skid. I guess then you'll be able to say "Dude, I couldn't stop and had to lay it down".
Do yourself a favor and train your muscle reflex to include squeezing the front brake lever when you want to stop. Using both the front and rear is acceptable also but remember as the back end gets lighter from using the front, it will want to lock easier and you'll have to ease up on that rear brake. Your concentration is better used focusing on how hard you can use that front brake without locking the wheel.