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How to brake hard on track or road

Published: 29 June 2018

Too many riders are focused entirely on scraping their knee sliders and hitting top speed down the straights on-track, but braking correctly is not only crucial for keeping you shiny-side-up, it can knock seconds off your lap time and improve your cornering and exit speed too.

The braking skills you learn on track can also be crucial on the road. We're taught to ride in such a way that we never have to brake hard on the road, but we all make mistakes. If your brakes were the only thing between you and the back of a tractor, it would be useful to get the most out of them. 

1: Get your body position right first

A lot of riders get themselves muddled up on the way into a corner about the order in which to do things. It’s best to get as much done as possible before you start braking so you can concentrate on getting it stopped and avoid unsettling the bike by moving your body weight while you’re braking. Get your bodyweight shifted early and it’s one less thing to worry about.

2: Grip on with your lower body

The most G-force you can generate on a bike is under braking. With forces up to and over 1G being pulled, it’s crucial that you’re gripping on hard. Squeeze the tank between your legs and hook your outside foot onto the heel plate. You shouldn’t need to lock out your arms this way, but you will still feel the effort of holding your body up.

3: Roll off the throttle and squeeze onto the brake

There shouldn’t be a gap between getting off the power and onto the brakes. As you roll off the throttle, squeeze onto the front brake in a smooth motion. Once you’ve built up your confidence you’ll be squeezing very hard on the lever (think shaking hands with someone you don’t like). At this point, you’ll want to start getting your gear changes done too.

4: Bleed off the brake as you tip it in

You want to have your braking done before you tip it in, but you can’t just let go of the brake all in one go. Start to release at the start of your turn and let go smoothly. Make sure you’ve let go completely by about half lean to avoid a low-side. If you’ve got it right, you’ll have enough momentum left to get through the corner off-throttle, and then all you’ve got left to do is pick your moment to get back on the power.

MORE HOW TOS

Practice braking hard on your motorbike

Expert MCN contributor, Rupert Paul, was shocked by what he heard at a track training day. Proof that some so-called advanced riders can get it wrong too.

See if you can believe this. I was at a track training day a few years ago, and the chief instructor explained in a classroom session that the next track outing would focus on using the brakes hard. On hearing this, two people who had introduced themselves as RoSPA trained and IAM observers went into a huddle, and then announced: “We’re not happy about this.”

It turned out that they had been taught not to brake, on the basis that they should always ride in such a way that stopping quickly would be unnecessary. But that wasn’t the half of it. They’d also been taught that braking hard was dangerous! In the awkward silence that followed I suggested it wasn’t as dangerous as getting impaled on the oncoming prongs of a combine harvester. Perhaps that was a bit tactless.

In fact, it’s not just the fundamentalists who can’t brake hard. Lots of people can’t, because they never practice. And braking a motorbike demands practice because, unlike stopping a car, it’s really difficult. On pre-ABS bikes you have to get near the limit while avoiding wheel lock. On ABS bikes you have to summon the nerve to get the ABS working in the first place.

The hardest you can brake, on a decent sportsbike, adventure bike or naked, is at a rate of about 1g. That means stopping from 65mph in three seconds. Next time the roads dry out, find an empty stretch and see how good you are. Count the seconds in your head, or say something that takes that long. If you ride a custom bike, you’ll need about 3.5-3.7 seconds, because its lower centre of gravity pushes the front wheel along, inducing lock-up. A sportsbike or naked carries its weight higher, so it pitches forward more, and so allowing more braking force to be applied. The reason you can’t exceed 1g by much is because you are already putting all the bike-and-rider weight onto the front wheel. Any more will send you over the bars.

Racers do rather better, hitting 1.6 or 1.7g. That’s because they brake while sitting up at 190mph, at which speed the sail effect of their body provides the extra stopping power. By the time they get down to 100mph or less, they’re stuck with the same physics as the rest of us.

Braking hard on the road

Braking technology on bikes has come a long way and the forces generated when you jam on the anchors can feel a bit intimidating while you’re getting used to it, especially if you’ve stepped up from a less capable machine.

Manufacturers have increasingly added ABS to their bikes over recent years too, which could be adding another element of the unknown to the mix.

Heavy braking should be avoided on the road if possible, but there will be times that it is necessary to avoid an accident.

MCN’s expert contributor, Mark Edwards talks through the safest way to apply the brakes hard, should the need arise.

1. Know your bike’s capabilities

Knowing how hard you can brake means knowing what your bike is capable of too. Not knowing this could lead to under-braking in an emergency, risking an avoidable crash.

2. Front loader

Load the front tyre with your initial braking force to achieve the maximum braking power. This is crucial if you don’t have ABS.

3. Brake harder

As weight transfers to the front wheel, you can then load it harder with increased braking force and add in the rear brake.

4. Re-evaluate

If you’re stopping faster than you need to, try to back off to increase your grip safety margin, or do the opposite if you have to.

5. Stopping

Putting your left foot down wen stopped lets you maintain rear brake pressure all the way to your stop point; practice this.

6. Composure

It’s easy to find yourself stopped in fourth gear and flustered. Learn to quickly evaluate the scene and recompose.

If you have ABS

It’s important to get used to the sensation of your ABS activating. Find a quiet stretch of well-surfaced road and start by activating the rear ABS without any front brake, which is really easy. Build up to activating the front by gradually increasing your pressure on the front brake.

Here's chief road tester Michael Neeves talking about braking on track...

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