Cameron Beaubier now has a hand-operated rear brake lever on his Yamaha YZF-R1. Photo by Paul Carruthers

At Utah Motorsports Campus over the past weekend, Cameron Beaubier’s Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R Superbike was equipped with an extra lever on the left clip-on. The extra appendage was attached below the clutch lever, so naturally, we wanted to find out the why’s and wherefores of this paddock innovation.

We spoke with Beaubier and also with his Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame crew chief Rick Hobbs, who knows Yamaha Superbikes arguably better than anyone else in the world, given that he’s been working on them for the better part of three decades.

“It’s a hand brake,” Beaubier said. “Pata Yamaha (Official WorldSBK Team) has been using it overseas, and I was pretty curious. Rick was lucky enough to get one from them when were at Laguna. We tried it today, but honestly, it’s too much for my brain to think about right now, trying to use it. It’s going to take some getting used to, for sure. I think there’s some potential there. I just want to go ride with it at a test or a track day or something like that to get used to it.

“(Pata Yamaha team rider) Michael van der Mark seemed to like it quite a bit. I was like, ‘Man, that might just give me a little bit more feeling going into some of the corners, especially some of the right-hand corners.’ For me, I just think that it would give me a little bit more feel. You just have more feeling with your hands rather than your foot. With your foot, you’re in a big boot and you stomp on the thing and you can’t really use it in the right-handers too much. I just wanted to try it to get a little more feel going into the corners and maybe take a little load off the front and be able to kind of slide the thing around.

“We can make the rear brake a little bit touchier just because I have more feel with my hand. It’s hard to make the rear brake touchy when you’re using your foot because it’s really easy to lock the thing up going into the corners, especially with my riding style. I don’t put the ball of my foot all the way up on the peg sometimes in some of the right-handers, and I end up dragging the rear brake a little bit.”

Hobbs echoed Beaubier’s explanation, saying, “We’ve been playing around with the idea of a hand brake for quite a while, but we never found one 100 percent satisfactory. So we noticed that our World Superbike Yamaha team has a hand brake setup. So, when they were at Laguna, we talked to them and said, ‘Hey, is it possible to borrow a set of your hand brake setup that we could test?’ They were more than happy to give us the parts to be able to build it ourselves. So we did that in the break between Laguna and Utah. So, it’s kind of in process. We haven’t dialed it in yet, but I think there’s promise there. We’re going to keep it on the bike and see if Cam can get used to using it more often.

“You have better (braking) control using your hand rather than your foot. It also allows you to access the brake regardless of lean angle and regardless of left or right corner. So that’s the biggest thing for me, is being able to access the brake. There’s some places where you might want to use the rear brake but you just can’t get your foot on it because you’re leaned over on that side, or you’re leaned over on the other side and you can’t reach the brake pedal. So the foot brake is great when you’re straight up and down braking, but as soon as you throw in lean angle, then it becomes less effective and less subtle. It’s more of a hammer than a screwdriver. So, we want a screwdriver effect. We want fine control of the rear brake.”

Alternative braking systems have been around since practically the dawn of motorcycles, and hand brakes for the rear wheel have been used successfully by a lot of riders, notably five-time 500cc Grand Prix World Champion Michael Doohan, who famously used a thumb-operated rear brake attached to his bike’s left clip-on after he suffered a career-threatening leg injury that made him unable to apply the rear brake with his right foot.

Earlier this season, Yamalube/Westby Racing experimented with a thumb brake setup for Mathew Scholtz’ Yamaha Superbike because Scholtz’ legs are so long that it’s difficult for him to apply the rear brake when he’s leaned over in right-hand turns.

The trick to getting it right, other than for the rider to re-train himself to apply the rear brake with their left hand or left thumb on an extra lever below the clutch lever, is master cylinder ratio. The lever can’t be so touchy that it locks up the rear brake caliper easily nor can the leverage be so light that the rider has to squeeze a handful, or press hard with their thumb and not get much braking effect for their concerted efforts.

It’s kind of like Goldilocks and those three bears. You want a hand brake that’s not too hard and not too soft. It’s got to be just right.