Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Motorcycle Braking Tips for Track Days

Braking should be a pretty simple affair, but you'd be surprised to know that out of all the riding techniques we use on track it is during braking that the greatest number of panic buttons are pushed if it's not done correctly.

In this guide I have outlined what we should work towards to improve our braking technique, as well as some of the results of getting it wrong; this I hope will leave you feeling confident on the brakes and have you pushing back your markers with ease.

The primary goal of braking

If pressed for an answer as to what we are trying to achieve with braking, I would expect most people to say we are simply trying to slow the bike down ready for the corner; but while this is true, it isn't our primary goal. What we are really trying to do is accurately set our speed for the corner ready for our turn-in. This will then give us a consistent base to work on everything from the turn point, out to the exit.

The structure of motorcycle braking

As you may know, we don't apply constant pressure to the lever when braking, the pressure will vary from the time you first apply the brake to the time you release the lever. There are a number of ways in which you can structure your braking, such as light pressure at first then hard at the end; hard first and then light; light then hard then light; as well as a whole host of other arrangements. Which one is best though?

The most effective way to set our speed for a turn is to get the bulk of the braking done before you arrive at your turn point. If you leave all your hard braking right up until it's time to turn the bike it will often have you feeling like you're going in too fast, causing you to over brake and ultimately go in too slow. There are also some other potential ways in which this late hard braking can be damaging:

    You try to carry too much brake into the corner.
    You're unable to quickly and accurately turn the bike, meaning a shallow entry that will spoil your exit.
    You overshoot your turn point which then puts you off line
    Your attention becomes very much fixed on your braking, rather than where you're going and what you're doing.

All of these things have the potential to push your panic buttons and/or have you making mistakes, mistakes that could see you in the gravel.

Instead what would be more ideal is to start off by braking hard at first then trailing the brake pressure off as you approach your turn point. This will not only have you feeling more relaxed at the turn point, but you will no doubt be going faster too. Another plus is that your brain will feel less rushed, meaning more concentration on what's to come after you have finished braking.

The application of the brake

When talking about the initial application of the brake there's only really one main point to raise and that is don't snap the brakes on. By snapping the brakes on you are risking the suspension bottoming out which will increase the chances of the front wheel locking up. Brake application should in fact be quick (between a quarter and half a second between initial application and full power), but it should not be instant.

Imagine a line graph showing your braking efforts between your braking point and turn point. You would see a steep but gradual curve from initial application to full brakes; the line would then stay at the top of the graph while you scrub your speed off, then as you get closer to your turn point you would see the line come back down the graph slowly as you taper off the brakes.

The only other point to mention about brake application is what to do in the instance of a wheel lock up. If this happens then ease the pressure off the brake lever to allow the front wheel to start turning and stabilise itself and the bike.

A word on the rear brake

Whether or not you use the rear brake will mainly be down to personal preference, but in my opinion until you have mastered the use of the front brake then the risk vs reward of using the rear brake means it's something you don't have to focus on.

A spinning rear wheel provides the stability for everything from the headstock back (due to the gyroscopic effect is creates) and when you are braking so hard to the point the rear wheel is skimming the floor, any application of the rear brake is going to lock it up and lose you that stability. It is then down to the front wheel alone to keep the bike upright which isn't ideal. On that note, I will leave the decision up to you regarding the rear brake.


As you can see from these motorcycle braking tips, the way we should be braking is fairly simple, but even the fanciest braking system in the world won't help you if you don't get it right. The main lesson to take away is get all your hard braking done early to eradicate your internal panic buttons being pushed, this will mean a more relaxed head at the turn point and fewer mistakes being made as a result. You'll probably be going faster too!

Secondary points are get the brakes on quickly, but don't snap it on as this will only translate into an unsettled bike.

It'll take time and practice, but with enough of it your braking will come along nicely and you'll be pushing your braking markers further back when you see all the time you've given yourself at the turn point.

Now go heat those discs!

Want more riding tips?

Get more Motorcycle Riding Tips over at Bike Track Days Hub. There I've covered some of the various aspects of riding on track that you can learn, which in time will help bring your riding on in terms of both speed and safety.

Visit Bike Track Days Hub for more info.

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