Street Savvy - Motorcycle Trail Braking

Mastering The Art Of Post-Perpendicular Deceleration

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Courtesy Of Michelin

In the beginning, they taught you that braking and cornering don't mix. Get it done while you're perpendicular to the pavement. Now, after a few thousand miles of seat time, that same approach can get in your way. What if you need to fine-tune cornering speed after the bike is arced in and carving? Welcome to the fine art of trail braking.

Getting it wrong can be painful and expensive. Getting it right can make you smoother, faster and safer by putting cornering speed under much more precise control-especially in the dreaded decreasing-radius corner, or a blind one that opens up to reveal something you need to slow down for. Things change between that first braking marker and the arrival of Mr. Apex. And when proximity reveals a different picture, some deft trail braking lets you adapt accordingly.

As in any braking situation, forward weight transfer helps the front tire get a grip. Once you're leaned over, it's easier to write a check the contact patch can't cash, so don't overdo it. More lean angle means less rubber on the road, but a bit of forward weight transfer also compresses the fork a bit, steepening steering geometry and making the bike easier to turn.

It's a simple concept, but proper execution is complicated because it all comes down to feel. Heavy braking still happens when you're straight up and down, but carrying the brakes deeper into a bend lets you see more of it before choosing the best trajectory. Once you're steering, gradually lighten your lever pressure smoothly until you've reached the apex-a.k.a. the tightest part of the turn. At that point, you should be off the brakes and picking up the throttle for the exit.

Should you find yourself in too hot, or be surprised by something unexpected mid-corner, don't snatch at the lever. Pick the bike up slightly before lightly applying more front brake. You can also add a touch of rear brake, which will help you decelerate and steady the chassis. The front brake might be strong enough to lift the rear tire off the ground when you're straight up and down, but the rear brake is surprisingly effective once you're leaned over. And you're less likely to lose the front end if you overdo it.

When you're done trail braking, don't drop the lever like a hot potato. Easing off the lever lets the fork rebound gradually, keeping that front contact patch happy. When the contact patch is happy, everybody's happy. Keeping it that way takes practice. Lots of practice. So what are you waiting for?

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