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Old 05-02-2013, 08:01 PM   #1
mars OP
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Adventures in trail braking

After talking to Nick Lenatsch at the World Superbike races 2 years ago I decided to explore his website A great site with many riding tips but one over all theme, the virtues of trail braking. Nick claims lives are being lost because we have all been taught to not brake in corners. After reading a number of his essays and videos I decided to explore the concept.
I read his book Sport Riding Techniques back in 2003. I also bought into his theory of 100 points of traction. That is about all I came away with from the read, with the exception of maintenance throttle, but it has served me well. Consciously thinking about traction allocation while riding is at the very least a good mental exercise.
At it’s very best you can increase your safety factor. Pre conceiving the amount of traction you allocate to lean angle creeps into your actions and some how starts to work with practice. I make an effort to use 60 to 80 percent at the most to stay well within the safety zone. Maybe I will make the conscious effort to take more risk some time in the future but that is about what I am comfortable at my age and with my teetering amount of health care.
Maintenance throttle is the other biggie reinforced in Nick’s book. Using positive or negative maintenance throttle during a turn will decrease your points of traction available for lean angle. Keeping it neutral is the standard mode, rolling on more throttles exiting a turn as the lean angle decreases makes sense.
Trail braking started to make sense to me as accelerating out of turn did. It is just on the other side of the corner.
Nick describes it as loading the front tire going into a turn with front brake. Decreasing the amount of front brake as lean angle increases. Nick claims loading the tire makes it work better in a corner by design. I think it also heats the tire up creating even more available traction and thirdly he claims a properly set up suspension will work better when slightly compressed. I have to say, it seems to work.
Scot Harden tried to work with me back in 2006 when I was riding with him one day. Grabbing a little brake before a turn to load the suspension was one of the tips I received. I grasped the rest of what he was talking about, but my brain was just not quite up the task of making the trail braking thing happen. This is the crux of my riding limitations. I have been told very instructively that is what I need to go a lot faster but making my brain learn these lessons is another issue. I did pick up the rest of his tips about using the rear brake to set the bike up mid turn and the right acceleration exiting a turn on hard pack. I also learned to stand when off road for extended times. This is an exercise I used to train with before many of the rallies I rode in. I am getting off track, pun intended.
With two track days set aside to working primarily on trail braking; I started re programming my brain. My bike is very well set up right now after a 3500 dollar suspension rebuild and a 60 pound diet this winter that included race plastics and some good clip-ons. I forgot to mention two brand spanking new race tires, they are confidence inspiring to say the least.
First day I enrolled in the beginner class mainly because I hadn’t ridden on that track in 8 years. This was a mistake for me. Not to build my abilities up but the bike was so much more advanced than the rest of the bikes out there, I literally wasn’t pushing it enough in the turns to even feel like I could practice. I ended up passing 10 to 12 riders on the straight away and then realized I was getting some “not so good” attention from the instructors. I was told to amp it down, I simply rode the rest of the day like I was on the street and found myself sitting upright in turns and hardly leaning the bike at all. It is truly harder to look good at slow speed than with some speed.
Day two I requested a bump into level 2 and was greeting with a smile of good.
This was a great group of riders, most of them faster than me and I was delighted with the challenge.
Firstly I tried to recover a somewhat correct riding position. Something I found myself mimicking on day one. Bad habits are ease to create and hard to forget. After a few sessions I started to try the trail braking for real.

I did take the first step on day one trying to trail brake when traffic wasn’t an issue. You can see my first reaction was a 4 finger grab on the front brake. I quickly found it impossible to use maintenance throttle and when I did it was jerky at the very best, not a good thing when smooth is the name of the game. Notice the complete lack of form as my walnut size brain was just trying to squeeze the brake lever.
On into the next day I started to master the three and two finger application that allowed me throttle control. Eventually I ended up with a solo index finger on the lever but I am going to try using 2 in the future with some lever adjustment.
Towards the end of the day I started to find myself breaking further into the corner while starting my lean. From my observation, Nick is absolutely right. I found new confidence in my cornering along with a smoother entrance. If I over cooked the entry a tad I just braked further into the corner and went a little wider if needed. Not nearly as wide if I had tried to take the corner too fast then drifted out from the speed.
Nick evangelizes about how many lives can be saved with this technique on the street and I have to say I am starting to jump on this bandwagon. If you read his articles, he has had many a discussion with other instructors and riding schools that disagree. Many of us have had safety courses where they tell you to never use the front brake in a turn, Nick will call this one of the biggest crimes in motorcycle safety training. I think he is right.
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Old 05-02-2013, 08:26 PM   #2
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I've never ridden the track, nor do I typically heat up corners on the street. However, I do appreciate fast riding talent, and these are some interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing :)
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Old 05-03-2013, 02:46 AM   #3
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To the OP: "They'll" be along to crucify you soon.

I'm with you though. I trail brake every day in almost every turn. I've never had a wreck on the street due to trail braking.

Here's a pic you might enjoy.

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Old 05-03-2013, 02:57 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by B.Curvin View Post
To the OP: "They'll" be along to crucify you soon.
I was waiting for someone to note that.
Originally Posted by RottenScummyTroll View Post
Show folks something with a clutch and carburetor, and it's like teaching a baboon to use a Macbook.
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Old 05-03-2013, 05:21 AM   #5
mars OP
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I expected it too. Where are they?
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Old 05-03-2013, 05:33 AM   #6
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I didn't trailbrake for a long time. Now I do it in moderation on most turns. When done correctly the bike feels a LOT more settled coming into and going out of the turn.

I still don't believe it should be taught to n00bs, as they haven't developed enough brake/throttle coordination yet.

I also believe the result is somewhat bike specific. Long wheelbase heavy bikes don't respond to it as well as short wheelbase lightweight bikes. My lil' Ninja trailbrakes just fine. The VFR just gets nose heavy and doesn't want to lean. I can imagine that trying to trailbrake on a cruiser would have even worse results, but I've never tried it so I have no idea.
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Old 05-03-2013, 06:29 AM   #7
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As a fairly new(2 1/2 yrs) rider, I feel this is great advice. I came into M/C riding from a long background of recreational XC mtn biking. I sometimes find myself braking (or starting to) the moto as I would my mtn bike. On road this could be an issue as I'll often use my pedal front brake to plant my front wheel when I enter a corner a little hot.

However, I feel many things can carry over. I too will be one trying the trail braking bit as described here. I can definitely visualize what is being described with regards to the suspension and traction, and it makes sense to me.

I also understand the MSF's position on braking in a corner. If one has not practiced the technique under controlled circumstances, it could easily lead to overpowering or stabbing the brakes while leaned over, and we all know how that ends up. Especially when you're on a friend's Radian with dual front discs and what you're used to is a CM250 w/ drums front & rear.
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Old 05-03-2013, 06:29 AM   #8
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The most common fatal accident (single vehicle) we suffer from is "Running wide in a turn and striking a fixed object". Meaning you left the road on the outside and found something to apply blunt force trauma to your person.

One of the unfortunate side effects of training riders is that they remember what they remember, not neccesarily what you said. When training total newbs you want to give them 'best practices' which means, "Don't come into corners hot". How do you do that? Regulate your entry speed hence, "brake before corners." As far as "NEVER brake in a corner" the Idaho/Oregon program does address trail braking in corners. Simply by mentioning it in the classroom with "You can do it. It's called trail braking. It's an advanced technique generally used to increase speed."

The "never, ever, ever" part comes from the students who only hear "Don't brake in turns" because during training we're working on basic, best practices. I believe it's also a heritage issue--akin to "never use the front brake" or "lay 'er down". Simply put it's a very, very common accident and the easy fix is to blame braking in a turn...not poor planning or crap braking.
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Old 05-03-2013, 06:53 AM   #9
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I would love to see the MSF change a bit to say something like this...

"There is a fixed amount of traction available between the tyre and the road. You will learn to manage it over time and learn how to get the most out of it. The way to start is to learn to brake before you turn. Build this into your mind and body and get good at it. One day, you will find yourself having to brake while turning. This is the outer fringe of the traction limit, where the big risks of crashing are. If you have not polished your skills enough, this will go pretty badly for you. But if you have worked hard, learned to feel the bike, and built the proper techniques into your body and hands, this will be not only successful, but safe and fun, too. Your goal as a rider is to become that good. My goal as your instructor is to get you started on the way."
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Old 05-03-2013, 07:08 AM   #10
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Agree with what most have said.

In the BRC they do teach to not use either brakes when cornering. And Yes, that is because they are noobs. Many of them are scared silly and will grab that front brake hard if something scares them, at the most inopportune times.

In the MSF ART they teach trail braking among other things. I've taken that class and it's very much based on Nicks Sport Riding Techniques book.

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Old 05-03-2013, 07:13 AM   #11
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Mea, it's a learning/building thing. Most folk don't get beyond lesson one. So, let lesson one be conservative. Do your braking before the turn, and you'll likely make it through, regardless of the difficulties you run into in the turn itself.

Later, if a student wishes to learn more, they can. Then you get into line optimization, traction circles and the like. Most folk can't do it, and don't want to learn to do it. So, for them, simply having them learn to brake before the turn works fine.
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Old 05-03-2013, 07:26 AM   #12
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Been on a bike for years but I never took the MSF course. I learned from both my father and step father who both have had a couple years where all they had was their bikes.

They both instilled that there is only so much traction to be had from the tires. You can use that traction to either brake, turn, or accelerate. I got a brief lesson in front brakes in the dirt, not braking while using a lot of that traction to turn nor to accelerate too early, yada yada yada. Point being, they left me to my own devices to see what the brakes do while you try to turn. Front brake makes it want to stand up, rear brake will bring the back end out if you're not careful. I also started to feel out along the way basically how to trail brake. Use the front brake as you initiate your lean and you get a lot more control over your entry speed/angle. I'm not too proficient at it, but I understand the concept. Talked to them about it once I thought I had an idea how it worked, they confirmed what I had found.

Thinking back, I don't think I could ever match how good they were as instructors. I've got more miles than my father, close to as many as my stepfather, but they just had a innate ability to teach in a way that you learn as you go. Though through the whole process, I was always safe and have not put myself in a situation where I was in trouble.
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Old 05-03-2013, 07:42 AM   #13
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MARS you may have made your case so well people won't have to many ways to do the "your an idiot"reply to your thread.I don't ride hard on the street but I have many friends that do and your thoughts seem inline with things my friends tell me along the way.Thanks for posting,I subscribed and will follow with interest looking for informative post.
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Old 05-03-2013, 10:10 AM   #14
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In this vlog the host is doing a test ride on a GS and he describes "dragging the rear brake" which I take to be a kind of trail braking. He first mentions it around 2:45 and again in a few other places. There's a part 2 in which he discusses it more.
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Old 05-03-2013, 01:34 PM   #15
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I teach the MSF BRC and ERC, in which we do stress maximizing traction by separating cornering from braking actions. For noobs and riders not experienced enough to really use trail-braking it is just easier. In fact, its enough work in many cases just to get riders to believe/trust how much traction and lean angle capability bikes have.

But trail-braking is a very effective technique that I use sometimes. Used right it helps maintain a smooth pace through the twisties. Often though, I'm able to set my entry speed on my BMW R1100RS using downshifting and powering through the turn. The Telelever has very little front end dive during braking so the turn-in attitude of bike changes little with braking applied.

But it is surprising how many riders have no idea what trail-braking really is. I had a MSF student once tell me, "watch me in corners because I do a lot of trail braking." Ok I said, but I asked him to describe what he meant by trail braking. He described it as only dragging the rear brake into the turn. He said nothing about applying both brakes while downshifting to the turn apex, and then applying throttle while blending off the brakes from the apex to the exit.
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