Street Savvy: Smooth Motorcycle Braking Tips

Braking from a fast straightaway into a slow corner can peg anyone's pucker meter, but it's a calmer and safer operation when you scrub off most of that velocity sooner rather than later. Let's say you need to get from 80 mph to 30 just in time for a cute, decreasing-radius left. Relax. Squeeze the bike between your knees to minimize the amount of upper-body weight supported by your arms and hands, and to keep from sliding forward suddenly. Keep your weight relatively low and centered on the bike. Simultaneously roll off the throttle and squeeze the front brake lever--think smooth and firm at first--as you feel the weight shift forward to compress the front suspension and load the front tire's contact patch.

Once you feel the front end compress slightly, squeeze the lever hard and smoothly, downshifting just as smoothly to keep from upsetting the progressively lighter rear wheel. Here's the crux of this biscuit: If you squeeze too hard and too suddenly, locking the wheel out here at 70 mph, there's enough forward momentum in the chassis--and hopefully enough straight pavement left--to let you ease the squeeze and let the tire regain traction. Once the wheel begins rolling your heart will start beating again, and the chassis will regain its composure and all will be right with the world.

Getting the hard braking done early and tapering off on lever pressure as the corner looms leaves enough room and momentum to correct a mistake. If you try it the other way around--starting out gently until you find yourself bug-eyed and squeezing hard at that 30-mph turn-in point--it's all too easy to wind up in a heap wondering what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks just happened.

So give it a try next time you're out for a weekend scrape, or at a track day. Make friends with your brakes, and practice, practice, practice. You can never be too good with that lever. -MC

Alex Barros hard on the Camel Honda RC211V's brakes at round 14 of the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar