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Learning precise throttle control when cornering is critical for maximum control and safety.

Emergency Swerving on a Motorcycle

Swerving is necessary when a car pulls out in front of you and you don’t have time to stop. Or when an obstacle appears and you need to go around it. But, most riders really, really suck at swerving. So much so that some experts recommend that average riders not even attempt it and just concentrate on stopping.

That’s because untrained riders do not understand countersteering or cannot countersteer with authority. These riders give up slowing or stopping, but aren’t able to get the bike moved over in time (and collide at a higher speed than if they slowed). Even if they do avoid the hazard, they often fail to recover and as a result, run off the road or into another hazard.

That said, a rider trained in swerving has a distinct advantage in that she can choose to swerve, or brake and swerve if necessary. Like in most critical situations, untrained riders better have their life insurance paid up. Just sayin’.

Ask yourself ‘What if?’

Sometimes, you need to decide if swerving is the right choice. Let’s say you are approaching an intersection with a truck in the opposite lane waiting to turn left across your path. What would you do if the truck were to suddenly turn? Where would you go? Would it be better to swerve, stop, or accelerate?

Imagine the scenario in detail and solve the problem several different ways. Then ask yourself whether you have the skills to execute all of the maneuvers required to avoid a crash. If not, then you would be wise to overcome your weaknesses so that when these skills are needed you will be ready.

How to Swerve

A swerve is essentially two consecutive turns; one to avoid an obstacle, the second to recover. One thing to consider is that you must find a safe place to swerve. Look for an escape route. Then execute.

  • Firm push/pull countersteering by pushing and pulling at the same time Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood.
  • Keep your body upright to let bike flop beneath you. Leaning with the bike will slow the swerve.
  • If you must brake, separate braking from swerving.
  • Brake then swerve
  • Swerve, then brake

Swerving Practice

The only way to increase the likelihood that a swerve during the heat of battle will be successful is to train and practice. Like the military, we train for the worst. We rarely need the advanced training…until we do! Be ready for the time the enemy strikes.

  • Find a clean and open Parking lot
  • Visualize (or place) an obstacle in your path
  • Countersteer with authority! Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood
  • Keep your body upright let bike flop beneath you
  • Practice in a parking lot first
  • Practice at speed on an empty, straight road using the dashed lines as cones.

Remember that swerving is often more dangerous than emergency braking and can lead to an off road excursion…unless you are trained. So, get to it!


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Corner Braking on a Motorcycle

Braking while leaned in a corner is usually something you want to avoid. That’s because there is a limited amount of available traction that needs to be shared between both cornering and braking forces. This means you may not have enough traction to brake and a corner at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t brake in corners, you just have to do it with care.

Just how much traction you have to work with depends on several factors, including your speed, lean angle, tire condition and the quality of the pavement. Basically, you won’t be able to brake very much if you’re cornering hard or if the surface is dodgy.

One common scenario where corner braking may be necessary is when you round a blind corner and spot debris in the road. You quickly determine that it’s not possible to maneuver around the hazard, so you decide to slow down, reduce lean angle and ride over it. You apply the brakes deftly and maintain control by managing available traction. With speed and lean angle reduced, you safely ride over the debris.

At some point you’ll encounter an emergency that requires you to come to an immediate stop while in a curve. If you panic and abruptly grab the brakes, you’ll likely skid and fall. But, panic can be avoided if you have practiced your corner braking options.

Brake While Straightening

The first option for stopping quickly in a curve is to brake moderately at first and gradually increase brake force as lean angle is reduced. You can apply the brakes fully once the bike is nearly upright. This option is used when you have a decent amount of time and space to stop.

Brake while you straighten if you can’t straighten first.

Straighten Then Brake

If the situation is urgent, you’ll need to use option two. To get the motorcycle stopped ASAP, immediately reduce lean angle (by pushing on the upper handlebar) to make traction available so you can apply the brakes hard. The problem with this option is that straightening the bike will cause you to shoot to the outside of your lane.

This is especially bad if the road is narrow or if your tires are already near the centerline or edge of the road. In this case, you’ll have to either use option one or straighten the bike as much as practical and then apply the brakes as much as the tires will tolerate.

Straighten and then brake for the most rapid stop

Saving a Blown Corner

The same techniques can be used if you enter a turn too fast. Many (dare I say most?) times, it’s best to “man up” and lean more to match your corner speed. If you simply can’t muster the courage to lean more, are already dragging hard parts, or are sure you can’t make the turn even with increased lean angle, then you’re probably better off trying to scrub off some speed with the brakes.

If your speed is only a little too fast, you may be able to get away with smoothly decelerating and applying light brake pressure. If your entry speed is way too fast and you’re dragging all sorts of hard parts, your best bet is to quickly straighten the motorcycle enough so you can brake. Once speed is reduced, countersteer to lean the bike and complete the corner. Hopefully you have enough room to stay in your lane.

If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. Even if your timing and execution is perfect, there is no guarantee you won’t crash or go off the road. Extreme lean angles, sketchy pavement and marginal tires all play a role in whether you have enough traction to introduce even the slightest amount of brake power. The real solution is to avoid this situation in the first place by choosing conservative corner entry speeds. Remember that there is no safety penalty if you enter a turn slowly. But, there sure is if you enter too fast!

Technology

If you’re fortunate enough to own a modern, premium model motorcycle, you may have “cornering ABS” made possible with the latest Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU). This device communicates with the bike’s computer to measure not only variations in wheel speed, but also the side forces.

This data allows the unit to prevent skidding while leaned by limiting brake power. I had the pleasure of reviewing this technology on a Multistrada at the Bosch Proving Grounds a few years ago and I can tell you that the system works quite well. Still, it’s best to use proper technique and let the advanced technology lurk in the background as a safety net.

So, train yourself to not need the technology and instead become familiar with these corner braking maneuvers. A little effort practicing in a parking lot or at a track day will reap big benefits. Do it!


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Getting You and Your Motorcycle Ready for Spring

As predicted, Spring has begun to awaken as it has every year. This means that it’s time to dust off the bike and head back out onto the road. But, before you strap on your helmet and thumb the starter, there are a few things you must first take care of.

Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.

Performing Maintenance

With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual, someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks we are about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, please consult your dealer’s service center.

Fuel System

One of the most common pre-season mechanical problems involve the fuel system. This is caused by riders parking their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected. The use of Ethanol makes the problem even more likely.

If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.

Air Filter

Check your air filter, as rodents seem to be particularly attracted to building nests in air boxes, which is cozy place with nest building filter material handy. Remove any debris and replace the filter if it’s been chewed or looks particularly dirty.

Tires

Tread wear indicators can be found in the bottom of the tread.

Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires show any signs of rot, now’s a good time to replace the old tires with new rubber.

And check the date code found in an oval stamp with 4 number indicating the week and year the tire was manufactured. 5 years is a good guideline to follow even if the tires look okay.

Drive Train

Pull the chain away from the sprocket to check for wear.

While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good lube. Hopefully you lubricated the chain before storage, which means no rust should be present. If this duty was neglected, give the chain a cleaning and lubricate it before the first ride, then perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.

Engine Fluids

Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).

Brakes

Change brake fluid if it looks darker than apple juice or hasn’t been changed in a couple of years.

Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or at the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good and plan to replace the fluid if it is the color of apple juice or darker.

Grab a flashlight and take a close look at your front and rear brake pads to see how much material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, have the pads replaced. It’s cheap insurance.

Brake pad wear indicators

Battery

Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged. I use a Battery Tender Junior. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is in your future.

Lights, Cables & Fasteners

Once your battery is good to go, be sure to check that all of your lights are operational. Check that both front and rear brake light switches illuminate the brake light. Check turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam) to make sure they work.

Confirm that the throttle, clutch and brake cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike with a wrench and screwdriver, tightening any loose fasteners.

Awakening the Rider

Cornering practice

Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle you can think about your first ride. But, before you press the starter button, keep in mind that your likely a bit rusty, too. Spending many months in a car can cause you to become oblivious to motorcycle issues like visibility or road surface hazards.

Some riders begin your season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or from an experienced instructor who offers on-street or track day training (like me).

It’s also smart to take some time on their own to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, we recommend that every rider practice the critical skills by performing some cornering and braking drills.

Spring Roads and Inattentive Drivers

There’s a lot to look for on the street.

Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Traction-robbing road salt and sand are used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. Keep your eyes peeled for these surface hazards. In many towns and counties, the road sweepers will eventually take care of the majority of the excess sand.

Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.

And remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road, so be extra vigilant when riding in traffic.

Your owner’s manual can help you perform these routine tasks so you are prepared for the upcoming season. Taking the time to prepare for the upcoming season can ensure that it is a safe and enjoyable one.


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Motorcycle Sidecar Essentials

I never really understood the draw toward a “motorcycle” that didn’t lean. My mentor, David Hough has been a sidecarist for many years, actively lobbying for the recognition of sidecars and trikes in safety programs.

He gave me my first ride in a borrowed Hannigan rig at Americade back in 1999 and later taxied me around his hometown in his beautiful BMW K1 outfit.

The ride was a lot of fun, but I wondered what the practical aspects of hack ownership were. Here is a list of the essentials you need to know before considering a hack.

Advantages

  • Three-wheelers will not fall over, making slippery surfaces and slow speed riding situations much easier.
  • The sidecar driver doesn’t need to put a foot down to support the motorcycle when stopped, making it possible for short riders and disabled riders to not fear dropping the bike.
  • Carrying a child is less risky, where you can enjoy the piece of mind that they are secure. They may also enjoy the ride more if they can read, color, or play video games.
  • The possibility of riding year-round even in northern climates,
  • The ability to carry a pet,
  • Increased carrying capacity.
  • Sidecars are fun!

Disadvantages

With all good things come some bad and this holds true with three-wheelers, too.

  • Extra weight and girth that effects acceleration, stopping and maneuverability.
  • Novice sidecar drivers fail to “remember the car”, running over various obstacles and curbs before learning to allow more space.
  • Parking may be easy as far as stability is concerned, but a sidecar or trike will take up most of a full-sized parking space.
  • More wear and tear on many of the motorcycle’s components– the frame, engine and brakes must withstand greater stresses.
  • Significant modifications are usually required to obtain a good-handling outfit, including a subframe to provide sidecar attachments, changing the front-end geometry to make steering easier and fitting wheels that will take automobile tires.
  • Converting back and forth is impractical once the motorcycle has been modified to handle well as a three-wheeler.

Hack School

With the inherit stability of a sidecar rig, it’s easy to think that riding one is easy. But attempting to drive a rig for the first time will quickly convince you that a sidecar outfit requires special skills. I decided that the best way to learn how to operate a hack would be to sign up for a sidecar course.

Hack school

The one-day sidecar course was for experienced riders. The course began with sidecar-specific information, such as motorcycle/sidecar attachments, and demonstrated the basics of sidecar operation, including body position, and throttle/ brake techniques.

I realized there was more to riding a rig than I previously imagined. The training company provided Honda 250 Nighthawks outfitted with Velorex sidecars. I learned that sidecars need to be matched by size and weight to the motorcycle to help keep the outfit stable. In general terms, the sidecar should weigh approximately 30% of the naked motorcycle.

Steering

One thing I learned right away is that a rig steers “backwards” from a two-wheeler. While a rigid sidecar outfit corners “flat” like an automobile, it has one less wheel to help resist a rollover, especially in right-hand turns when the car has a tendency to lift off the ground.

There are differences in turning techniques between two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Sidecars turn using “direct steering” (turn left to go left and turn right to go right) as opposed to countersteering for two-wheelers (turn right to go left and turn left to go right).

This 3-wheeler steering process is similar to driving a car, once you get the right messages from your brain to your hands. For an experienced rider, the sensation of cornering without leaning was odd at first, but became familiar within only a few minutes.

Even though countersteering isn’t part of normal sidecar operation, there are circumstances when a sidecar operator will countersteer. Motorcycle control reverts from direct steering to countersteering when the sidecar is “flying” and only two wheels are in contact with the ground.

Throttle

As with two-wheeled motorcycle operation, the sidecar outfit turns more easily and smoothly with some throttle application. Throttle can be tricky while cranking the handlebars from side to side, but the results are quite noticeable. I even started playing around with the throttle a bit more aggressively and spinning the rear tire to help the rig turn the corner. “Drifting” sure was fun!

We also learned some expert sidecar skills, such as simultaneously rolling on the throttle and dragging the front brake, to help control the rig and keep the car on the ground in right-handers.

Body Position

We repeated the exercise, but this time we learned to hang off the seat toward the inside of the turn to help prevent a rollover. It worked like a charm. We were able to negotiate the course with more speed and stability.

Braking

Braking technique is very similar between two and three wheelers– apply both brakes, squeeze the clutch, downshift, eyes up, no skidding– with the exception that you don’t have to put your foot down when you come to a stop.

I noticed with my first practice run into the braking area that the training rig pulled to the left under braking. The trainer I was driving didn’t have the sidecar brake connected. A brake on the car’s wheel can minimize this effect.

I also noticed how much brake pressure was needed to stop the rig. Sidecars add a lot of weight to a motorcycle and that weight adds a lot of braking distance to a stop. This is a good reason why a sidecar operator must recognize hazards early and maintain a greater following distance. Of course, the big advantage is that if you manage to skid the front tire, you don’t fall down.

When a front tire does skid, the rig will continue in the direction it is traveling even though the rider may attempt to change direction by turning the front wheel. If the front tire regained traction while the wheel is turned, the rig would suddenly follow in the direction the front wheel is pointed, possibly veering into traffic.

If you do skid the front tire you have the option of either keeping it locked­ or releasing and re-applying the front brake. If you decide to release the front brake, it’s important to make sure the wheel is pointed in the direction of travel!

Learning to Fly

One of the most fun parts of driving a sidecar is learning to “fly” the car. At first I thought this was more of a show-off technique than something useful. But it actually teaches the important skill of switching from direct steering to countersteering and back.

And there may be times when a hack driver needs to lift the car wheel over a pothole or curb. You want to be able to lift the sidecar wheel about a foot off the ground for extended periods by carefully balancing throttle and steering.

Swerving

Controlled flying is enjoyable, but uncontrolled flying when swerving can be hazardous to your health. Swerving a three-wheeler is not unlike swerving a two-wheeler– two consecutive steering inputs, one to swerve and the other to recover. However, a sidecar needs direct steering and dramatic body changes to keep the rig from flipping.

The driver needs to quickly move body weight from one side to the other just before the steering input. Initiating a right-hand swerve and recovering after a left-hand swerve caused the car to lift into the air even after hanging my body as far over the sidecar as I could reach.

The other issue with swerving a sidecar is that the operator must remember just how wide the outfit is. This requires a much more dramatic swerve so the car can clear the obstacle.

A Unique Experience

As a longtime rider, I’m always looking for more experiences with motorcycles and was glad to have experienced the world of sidecars. If you get the opportunity to drive a hack, just remember that operating a sidecar is not as easy as just throwing a leg over the seat and driving away. But ilike always, a bit of training is worth the effort.

United Side Car Association

The USCA is an enthusiast organization, publishing a bi-monthly magazine, The Sidecarist. The USCA holds an annual rally that is an excellent opportunity to view sidecars and talk with owners. Ask nicely and you’ll probably get a ride, too. www.sidecar.com


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Motorcycle ABS: It’s Better Than You Are

Some riders consider ABS to be a sign of weakness, an unnecessary device for rookies or grandpas. The tough guy philosophy is often something like, “I can brake better without it.”

Guest writer Lou Peck shares his knowledge about Anti-lock braking systems.

I recently stepped into a SoCal dealership looking for an ABS-equipped motorcycle and the salesman tried to convince me that “ABS doesn’t really do anything unless it’s wet, or you’re on dirt,” and “you don’t need ABS on a light bike.” Several knowledgeable riders in my own community also thought ABS was useless. That’s when I realized most riders just don’t know how and why ABS can help…and that needs to change.

As a forensic engineer, I’ve reconstructed hundreds of motorcycle collisions and have a bit of a different perspective on the topic. I’m hired to figure out how a collision occurred and if it could have been avoided. I’m typically tasked with figuring out speeds of the involved vehicles, vehicle locations, and timing. The photo below shows what I usually see when I investigate motorcycle crashes.

Notice the skid mark from the rear tire.

Notice the skid mark from the rear tire of the motorcycle. My colleagues and I see evidence of a skid from a locked rear brake in most cases we work. The famous Hurt Report found that only 22% of riders braked appropriately when faced with a hazard, stating that “most riders would overbrake and skid the rear wheel, and underbrake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration” [1].  Not good.

How does ABS Work?

The amount of stopping force a tire can generate is related to how much it’s slipping, as opposed to simply rolling. Most people don’t know that optimum traction occurs when the tire is slipping at a rate of something like 15%. Above or below that and you’re not getting max grip for stopping.

Optimum traction is at 15% slip

When tire slip approaches about 20%, ABS automatically releases the brakes a bit and then quickly reapplies. That’s the pulsing vibration you feel at the brake lever or pedal. This releasing and reapplying occurs several times per second, keeping the tire slip in the range shown in the graph.

ABS is Better Than You

Since ABS operates in a range surrounding the peak but not constantly at the peak, professional test riders can often come to a stop in a shorter distance with ABS disabled. Mr. Tough Guy probably heard this and his ego insists he can out-brake an ABS system. The truth is that the vast majority of riders do not have the skills of a test rider. It turns out most riders can only brake at about 60% of the bike’s capability, compared with nearly 100% for test riders.

The Heat of Battle

And performing an optimal braking maneuver on a test track without the threat of an impending collision is a lot easier than trying to perform a flawless emergency braking maneuver on the street. If you don’t get the bike stopped in time you’re in big trouble.

Skidding is Bad

A skidding tire makes matters much, much worse. When a tire slip approaches 100% (lock-up), stopping power is reduced by about 20%. Not only does skidding reduce stopping power, it also reduces lateral stability of the tire and with no grip to spare, the tire will slide left or right. For the rear, this means it might step out to the side causing the motorcycle to rotate, sometimes to the point where it just rotates and rolls all the way to the ground in a lowside fall. Locking the front results in the motorcycle almost immediately hitting the deck. Not a good evasive tactic.

You’re Not as Good as You Think

Most riders can only exploit 60% of the bike’s stopping power, and that probably includes you. Below are six solid studies showing the average rider can only hit a deceleration rate of 0.64 g’s when most bikes are capable of about 1.0 g [2-7]. Those studies analyzed 1,200+ braking tests, from over 600 different riders, conducted in controlled environments with no threat of injury or death and no uncertainty of the appropriate response (do I brake, swerve, accelerate, etc.). Even in this controlled environment, locking occurred often [3].

ABS is Your Friend

So, what happens when we introduce ABS? Some smart guy named Vavryn investigated the behavior of 181 riders during 800 tests [4]. The riders performed two tests on their own non-ABS motorcycle, and then two on an ABS-equipped motorcycle. The average braking rate for motorcyclists on their own motorcycle was 0.67 g’s. However, when riding the motorcycles equipped with ABS, that number jumped up to 0.80 g’s, nearly 20% improvement despite riding an unfamiliar machine. Overall, 85% of the subjects improved braking with the ABS motorcycles, and the novice riders achieved ABS-braking rates almost equal to experienced riders.

ABS helped novice riders brake as well as experienced riders.

The Difference Between Whew and Ouch

What’s the difference between braking at 0.80 g’s compared to 0.64 g’s? Say you’re going 50 mph, brake at 0.80 g’s and are just barely able to avoid hitting a left-turner because you’re riding an ABS-equipped bike. Now, let’s say you’re in the same situation, but only brake at 0.64 g’s…you’ll hit at over 20 mph. Ouch!

In 2013, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published an in-depth study of over 425,000 motorcycle insurance claims that directly shows the benefit of ABS [8]. It turns out that motorcycles equipped with ABS saw a 20% reduction in collision frequency (those equipped with ABS and a combined braking system saw a massive 31% reduction). Relative to fatal motorcycle collisions, ABS alone was associated with a 31% reduction [9]!

I used to be an expert racer with a tight and technical home-track that required a lot of hard braking, and I got pretty good at it. However, after seeing what I’ve seen in my line of work, I don’t fully trust myself to fully exploit the motorcycle’s ability when presented with a life-threatening hazard. Fortunately, ABS is there to ensure I don’t lock a tire and lose control and reduce my chances of being involved in a collision. That’s why I own a street-bike with ABS, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Lou Peck

Lou Peck is a Forensic Engineer based out of Southern California. Lou has authored many peer-reviewed technical publications in the field of motorcycle collision reconstruction and regularly testifies as an expert witness. Lou is a former roadracer and track day instructor.

[1] Hurt, H.,Ouellet, J., and Thom, D., “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical report,” Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, 1981.

[2] Hugemann, W., Lange, F., “Braking Performance of Motorcyclists,” 1993.

[3] Ecker, H., Wasserman, J., Hauer, G., et al., “Braking Deceleration of Motorcycle Riders,” International Motorcycle Safety Conference, Orlando, 2001.

[4] Vavryn, K., Winkelbauer, M., “Braking Performance of Experienced and Novice Motorcycle Riders – Results of a Field Study,” International Conference on Traffic & Transport Psychology, 2004.

[5] Bartlett, W., Greear C., “Braking Rates for Students in a Motorcycle Training Program,” Accident Reconstruction Journal, Vol. 20(6), pp. 19-20, 2010.

[6] Muttart, J., Fisher, D., Kauderer, C., et al, “Influence of Riding Experience on Glance Behavior, Brake Response Time and Deceleration Rates by Drivers and Motorcyclists,” Proceedings of the Sixth International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design, Lake Tahoe, CA, 2011.

[7] Dunn, A., Dorohoff, M., Bayan, F., et al, “Analysis of Motorcycle Braking Performance and Associated Braking Marks,” SAE Technical Paper 2012-01-0610, 2012.

[8] Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Bulletin, “Evaluation of Motorcycle Anitlock Braking Systems, Alone and in Conjunction with Combined Control Braking Systems,” Vol. 30, No. 10, April 2013.

[9] Teoh, E., “Effects of Antilock Braking Systems on Motorcycle Fatal Crash Rates: An Update,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2013.


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Knee dragging 101: What You Need to Know

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Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner.

Every motorcycle track day event photographer knows that the money shot that every  rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess.

Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.

Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool. Read this Article about the Real Value of Knee Dragging.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?

So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.

To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.


Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com
MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  • How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  • As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  • Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  • How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  • As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  • As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.

Note that this article discusses the specific topic of dragging knee. It is assumed that you already know the purpose of hanging off the inside of the motorcycle.

Read this article on body positioning

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).

The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.

The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.

Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.


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9 Tips for Being a Perfect Passenger

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Being on the back of a motorcycle can be relaxing and fun, but make no mistake that being a passenger carries with it some significant risk and responsibility. Follow these tips to make the experience safer and more fun.

Insist on Safety

Before you decide to place your derriere on someone’s pillion you must make absolutely sure the person holding onto the handlebars is smart and skilled enough to keep both of you safe. I’d think twice about getting on a bike with someone who brags about riding fast, complains about close calls with “idiot cagers”, or seems to drop their motorcycle a lot. Tell him or her that you won’t play until their survival smarts, control skills and attitude toward safety improves.

ATGATT

You simply must dress for the crash. Even the best riders have mishaps. Always wear full protective gear no matter the temperature (even if your rider chooses not to). To keep comfortable, wear layers against wind chill and changes in temperature. More about riding gear here.

Mount with care

Before you get on the bike, make sure the passenger footpegs are in the down position and then wait until the rider says it’s okay for you to proceed. He should have both feet firmly on the ground with the front brake applied. If you’re tall enough you may be able to swing your leg over the seat with the other foot still on the ground. However, if you have short legs or the bike is tall, then you may have to use the footpeg to step up. This will throw the bike off balance, so make sure you step carefully and that the rider is ready.
Another method is for you to mount the bike first and then scoot from the rider’s seat backward onto the passenger perch. Make sure the bike is stable on its stand with the transmission in gear to prevent the bike from rolling. Try various methods until you find one that suits both of you. When it’s time to dismount, do so carefully so as not to unbalance the machine. Again, experiment to find the best method.

Be still

Once mounted, your job is to be as unobtrusive as possible so the rider doesn’t even know you’re on the bike. Try to relax to let the bike move fluidly beneath you. When riding at slow speeds be aware that even small shifts in body weight can cause balance problems. Also, keeping your feet on the pegs even when stopped makes it easier for the rider to maintain balance.

Hang on

Some riders ask their passengers to hold onto their waist, while others prefer them to use grab rails or a seat strap. Sporty riders may prefer one hand on the back of the fuel tank to brace for hard braking while the other hand grips a handrail. If your partner has a narrow enough waist you may want to look into tank-mounted passenger handle grips.

Anticipate and brace yourself

No matter your method for hanging on, you need to be attentive to what’s going on. Accelerating can cause you to fall backward and braking forces can slam you into the rider, so pay attention and brace yourself.

Lean with the Motorcycle

Motorcycles must lean to turn. Unfortunately, nervous passengers tend to sit upright, causing the rider to work harder when cornering. Instead, lean with the motorcycle. One helpful tip is to look over the rider’s inside shoulder.

Practice

Riding a motorcycle is challenging, which means that it takes practice to get it right. It’s smart to start your rides with a short warm-up session at a local parking lot. Practice braking and cornering to ensure you and your partner become unified teammates.

Say What?

Bluetooth communicators are great for sharing your excitement and alerting him or her of hazards that may not be obvious. Don’t be a backseat rider, but having two pairs of eyes on the job can be a good thing. Check out Sena Bluetooth and Mesh Communicators.

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8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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Lane position is one of the top strategies a motorcycle rider must utilize to avoid the most common multiple vehicle crashes. Here is a common scenario that illustrates the need to be hyper-aware of blind spots.

Scenario

You and your wife gather your things and pack your bike for a ride to visit family. As expected traffic is heavy, but people are calmly rolling along at about 25 mph. You position yourself in the left portion of your lane to see past a truck in front of you, leaving ample following distance in case the truck stopped quickly.

Suddenly, an SUV just ahead and to your left moves right, into your lane. You have little time to react, but it’s too late. Your front tire makes contact with the right rear bumper and you are both thrown to the pavement.

As innocuous as the situation seemed, you still needed to be aware of the risks around you. The driver who crossed into your lane did so because she thought the lane was clear. She claimed to have looked in her side mirror and even glanced over her shoulder before turning, but saw nothing.

Yes, the driver is responsible for making sure the lane was clear, but you were riding in her blind spot. Not smart.

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

  • Avoid lingering in blind spots. Drive through blind spots when possible (and safe) by traveling a bit faster than surrounding traffic. Filter or lane-split if you can (and if legal).
  • Ride in the driver’s peripheral vision, slightly ahead of the passenger or driver side door.
  • If that’s not possible, then drop back so the driver can see you in their mirrors and to place your bike out of harm’s way if the driver changed lanes suddenly.
  • Never “hide” behind other vehicles where it is nearly impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Position yourself at least 2 seconds behind vehicles you are following. More when following large vehicles.
  • Develop a sixth sense about your environment so you can respond before things unfold. Ask “what’s wrong with this picture”?
  • Predict what actions drivers are likely to make. Look for arm and head movements that can indicate an imminent lane change or turn.
  • Pay close attention to unexplained slowing, drifting or erratic behavior. I call this “vehicle body language”.

Environmental awareness and proper lane positioning are two of the most important strategies for being seen.

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Tips for Deciding Which Brake to Use

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A lot of riders ask about which brake is appropriate for what situations. The short answer is that it depends on speed, desired maneuver and available traction. Here, I’ll discuss proper brake use as it pertains to various situations. Let’s start by defining the characteristics of each brake.

Front Brake

Your front brake is your “power” brake. The front brake is designed to take the burden of getting the bike and you stopped ASAP.  The front brakes include components that provide maximum brake force…two large multi-piston calipers, large vented brake rotors, and brake pads designed to handle and dissipate lots of heat. Even the front brake components on smaller bikes and cruisers with a single front brake are more robust than the rear brake.

Rear Brake

In contrast, the rear brake is the “control” brake. It provides additional braking power at road  speed, but it is the tool you want to use to refine your speed and direction.

Which Brake and Why?

Now that we have an understanding of the basic characteristics of each brake, we can discuss the benefits or disadvantages of each brake in specific scenarios.

Normal braking (street)

When slowing or stopping normally, use both brakes. This shares the braking load between both tires and helps stabilize the chassis.

Emergency Braking

This rider has not practiced her emergency braking.

Use both brakes to get the most braking power for the shortest stop. The caveat here is that emergency braking causes the load to transfer to the front tire, reducing weight on rear of the machine. This means that it’s much more likely to skid the rear tire and is why you’ll engage the ABS on the rear tire first.

Control the Rear

So, how to get the maximum brake force without skidding? Reduce rear brake pressure as you increase front brake pressure. This isn’t easy to get perfect, but is worth practicing. If all you can manage in an emergency is to use one brake, use the FRONT BRAKE! That’s where the majority of your brake power comes from. Do it firmly and progressively for maximum effect.

Consider that short wheelbase sportbikes will pitch onto their nose earlier and easier than a long and low cruiser or a heavyweight tourer. This means that the rear brake is more effective on these machines in an emergency.

Passengers

The rear brake is much more important with a passenger on board.

The rear brake is much more useful and effective when carrying a passenger or heavy luggage, because of the extra weight on the rear wheel. This is true no matter what type of bike you ride.

Normal Stops at Intersections, etc.

For the smoothest, controlled “normal” stops, like at an intersection, taper off the front brake and finish with the rear brake. Reduce brake pressure and speed progressively. Avoiding abrupt stops is especially appreciated by passengers who hate having to brace themselves to avoid the unwelcome “helmet bonk”.

You can execute a smooth stop by using the front brake, but it takes more finesse and effort. Keep the right foot on the rear brake until completely stopped. This avoids rolling past your desired stopping point. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of riders surprised when the bike keeps rolling.

Poor Traction Surfaces

Favor the rear brake on sketchy surfaces.

When riding on gravel, sand, wet leaves or slick construction plates, use the rear brake. This is because the powerful front brake is much more likely to skid when traction is sketchy and a skidding front wheel means a crash is imminent.Whereas a skidding rear tire is less likely to cause a crash unless it fishtails violently.

The MSF says to ride out a rear tire skid to avoid the rear tire hooking up when sideways and causing a highside. But, chances are that you’ll be okay if you release the rear brake before the rear kicks out too far. ABS reduces this risk significantly, but keep in mind that some less sophisticated ABS systems aren’t very effective at slow speeds, so you may end up with a skid that lasts a foot or two.

Slow Speeds

Use the rear brake only in slow speed turns

Favor the rear brake when creeping along in traffic, stopping smoothly from a slow speed and making tight u-turns. Be very gentle with the front brake, or avoid it altogether when speeds are below, say 8-10 mph; the front brake is too powerful for slow speeds and you risk stopping the bike abruptly which will cause imbalance. I like to lightly “dab” the rear brake as I make very tight u-turns. It gives me more speed control and feel.

Trailbraking

Trailbraking is when you carry some brake force past the turn entry to allow more time to refine your entry speed. Light trailbraking (and/or deceleration) also helps the bike lean into the curve. Read all about trailbraking here.

There is a belief that trailbraking is using the rear brake only. But, you can use front only, rear only, both brakes, or even strong engine braking (what I call “trail-deceleration”) to get the desired speed reduction and easy turn-in.

Tight, Slow Corners

I just described a simple use of trailbraking. However, a skilled rider can fine tune their speed and direction control with a finely orchestrated use of the brakes. Start by using both brakes to slow into the curve, but about halfway around (this varies depending on the radius of the curve) smoothly release the front brake but keep a bit of rear brake applied.

This helps “hook” the bike around the last section of the curve and helps refine speed. Ideally, at this point you don’t want to slow anymore, so brake lightly. For uphill tight turns where momentum is important, I often overlap acceleration against that last bit of rear brake force to execute the smoothest transition I can. A bit of late rear brake also helps manage the effects of gravity in downhill curves.

Linked Brakes

Some larger bikes, particularly tourers link the front and rear brakes. While this limits the proportioning the rider has control of, many manufacturers design their brakes to give more or less power to the front or rear depending on the input of the rider. In this case, thee techniques still apply, but the effect is lessened.

Racetrack

On the racetrack and when riding fast and hard, it makes sense to concentrate on using the front brake only. Yes, you’re giving up the advantages of the rear brake, but brake forces are considerably higher where the rear wheel is barely in contact with the surface.

Track days are excellent for skill development.

Professional-level racers develop their rear brake technique to help with direction control, but track day riders and amateur racers are usually better off keeping it simple.

Practice

Like most skills, braking skill is perishable and needs regular practice just to maintain proficiency. You don’t need anything more than a large parking lot or a straight piece of remote roadway. Brake hard from speed to practice emergency stopping and work on trailbraking when in appropriate corners. However, the best place to improve all of your skills is at a track day.

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10 Ways to Tell if You are a Good Rider

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What exactly is a “good” rider?

The majority of motorcycle riders do a decent enough job of keeping their bike on two wheels. This simple fact can give the self-perception of proficiency. Perhaps their skills are decent, but it’s hard to know, becasue we as humans suck at measuring our own abilities.

This is so common that two researchers named Dunning and Kruger created the Dunning–Kruger effect that describes how average people suffer from the illusion that their ability is much higher than it really is.

Science also uses the term “Illusory Superiority“. In a research study, a group of Swedes and Americans were surveyed, asking them to compare their driving skills with others. 69% of the Swedes said they were above average and a whopping 93% of Americans believed they were above average! Yeah, right!

Knowing this, is it possible to measure your level of proficiency with any real accuracy? Inaccurate perception of ability is a problem when judging risk tolerance and acceptance. It also leads to complacency in attention and skill development.

What is a “Good” Rider?

Skillful cornering requires knowledge and practice.

The first place to start is to ask what makes a rider “good”? Is it someone who displays impressive control skills on the racetrack or canyons, someone who can do a lengthy standup wheelie, or is it someone who can maneuver an 800-pound motorcycle within tight confines? Certainly, these riders deserve to be recognized for their abilities. But, when it comes to describing a “good” motorcyclist, we must place the ability to make it home every day at the top of the list.

Measuring Competence

Here’s a quick list that may indicate whether you’re a good rider or if it’s time for some immediate change.

You may be a good rider if:

  • You rarely experience close calls. Good riders are able to predict threats before they materialize and take appropriate action to “not let it happen to them”.
  • You have good visual habits. Most new (and many veteran) riders do not look far enough ahead to see and then prepare for what’s next. You must be able to scan a scene and determine the likelihood of a problem developing. Related article
  • You rarely have pucker moments when cornering. Cornering mistakes account for about half of all fatalities. Anxiety when cornering is the first sign of trouble. Related video.
  • You are an expert a reading the road. It’s not enough just to look well ahead. This is especially important when riding on twisty roads with blind curves. Good riders consciously look for specific visual clues to create a snapshot of the radius, camber of a corner even before they can see around the bend.
  • You have had professional training. Like most endeavors that require some semblance of strong coordination, timing, visual acuity and foresight, high level of skill development comes from learning from professional instructors. Sure, your Uncle Joe might be an accomplished rider, but few people know how to teach motorcycling. Training options.
  • You ride smart. Good riders train for the threat, but ride smart enough to rarely need their superior training. Even the most skilled riders will get into situations they can’t handle if they ride stupid.
  • You understand the risks. Many riders jump on their bikes without thinking much about the true risk they are taking. Most people ride for fun and would rather not think about the possibility of injury. Good riders understand that if they get seriously hurt, it’s their family and friends that will also pay. Related article.
  • You accept the risks. Even with an accurate perception of risk you still choose to ride. Cool. We don’t ride to be safe, after all. But, don’t let the thrill of adrenaline get the better of you. Good riders know when and where to wick it up. I highly recommend the racetrack for sporty riders.
  • You wear protection. This alone does not mean you’re a good rider, but it does indicate that you respect the risks and strive to minimize serious skin abrasions, broken bones or head injuries. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you can ride riskier becasue you’re better protected. Related article.
  • You have fun while also being safe. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, getting training and wearing protective gear is inconvenient and expensive, but it’s time and money well spent. The satisfaction of riding well and with high confidence increases enjoyment.

Getting Better

Advanced training pays big dividends.

No matter how “good” a rider you think you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits, risky attitudes and dangerous perceptions that develop over time without you knowing it. A lot of riders think that seat time is the answer to being a better rider. But, it takes knowledge and purposeful practice to become as good as you think you are.

Change starts with awareness. Take some time to evaluate your current habits and assess whether you harbor unhelpful beliefs and unconscious attitudes. A bit of reflection and purposeful training increases satisfaction, reduces risk and increases enjoyment. It’s true.

Start by opening to the idea that you don’t know all you need to know and evaluate your personal strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to brush off incidents as an insignificant misstep that is quickly forgotten. Even small mistakes can be a sign that you need a bit more work.


WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON PERCEPTION

WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON BREAKING HABITS


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10 Truths That All Motorcycle Riders Need to Know

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Here is a list of the top 10 things riders need to know (but often don’t):

1. Traction management and direction control are directly affected by load transferring to the tires.

2. Timing of deceleration, braking, countersteering and acceleration directly affects traction, direction control (line) and where the bike is pointed at the turn exit.

3. Intensity of brake and throttle application and handlebar inputs directly affects traction, chassis stability and direction control.

4. Specific Visual targets help to accurately read the road and minimize overspeed corner entry.

5. Dynamic Lane positioning is a critical tool for maximizing angle of view and conspicuity.

6. Trailbraking done correctly, maximizes stability, manages traction and refines corner entry speed and direction control at mid-corner and exit.

7. Even the best riders get into trouble if they don’t respect environmental limitations.

8. Electronic rider aids help manage traction; they do not create more traction.

9. Proper riding gear minimizes the risk of injury, but does not make you “safer”.

10. Reading lists like this can make you smarter about riding, but only application of knowledge can make you a better rider.

 
What would you add? Share your comments below
 
See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

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10 things you need to know about Trailbraking

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Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.
Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.

Trailbraking is often misunderstood, causing many riders to avoid learning the techique. I often hear people say that they think trailbraking is a technique used only by performance riders and road racers. Not true.

This braking technique is actually quite important for safe and skillful cornering. The first rule for safe cornering is to enter a turn at a safe speed.

What exactly is a “safe” speed? It is a speed that allows you to negotiate the turn comfortably while applying gradual acceleration without the need for deceleration or mid-to-late corner braking. Steady acceleration keeps the bike stable and makes the bike corner predictably, so entry speed should allow for this steady drive through the curve.

The amount of brake pressure needed to slow the motorcycle is directly dependent on the approach speed and the point where you begin braking. Braking earlier means you can use less brake force and braking later requires more brake force.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Trail Braking Defined

Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean. Trail braking is most useful for tighter turns with a relatively high approach speed and for downhill hairpins.

On the racetrack, trail braking is typically done using the front brake only, although trail braking can be done with either the front only, rear only or both brakes. It can be argued that engine braking is also trailbraking. I’ve actually coined the phrase “trail-deceleration” to describe the timing of when to initiate engine braking and when to begin accelerating again.

As I mentioned earlier, trail braking is a technique associated with racing as a means to keep the competition at bay. But, it is also useful for street riders. Let’s see how.

*Contrary to what I say in this 2008 video, I have come to believe that trailbraking is very useful on the street to manage corner entry speeds. It is one of the skills we work on during on-street training.


1. Helps Refine Entry Speed

Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.
Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.

One advantage of trail braking is that it allows the rider to extend the time and distance used to establish entry speed. This can be a real advantage if a bit more braking is needed for a tightening turn or to avoid a mid-corner obstacle. By entering a turn with light brake pressure, you are less likely to upset the chassis if you need to slow a bit more. For minor speed adjustments, simply remain on the brakes a bit longer.

Staying on the brakes past turn-in allows more time and space to get your entry speed just right. On the other hand, if you release the brakes completely before leaning, you have committed to that entry speed. If you need to slow more, you’ll have to begin braking again, which can easily upset the chassis and stress the tires. To prevent front tire traction loss, you must avoid increasing brake force and lean angle at the same time.

For those of you who use the quick-turn method of initiating lean (an excellent thing to learn and use) understand that it isn’t often conducive to trail braking. Most times you will ease into the corner more when trail braking. To turn quickly, you will release the brakes quicker, immediately after turn-in.

Dragging the rear brake a little longer after releasing the front brake is useful for further refining entry and mid-corner speed. Being a weaker brake makes the rear brake easier to introduce smoother braking forces.

2.It Helps the Bike Turn

Trailbraking puts more load onto the front tire for increased traction to handle countersteering inputs. It also steepens chassis geometry as the forks compress to help the bike change direction. It’s important to know that as you begin to release the brakes, you must also relax your arms to let the front wheel track freely through the turn. Follow with a smooth transition to the throttle for a predictable line toward your exit (see #8 below).

Dragging the rear brake is also useful for helping the bike to “pivot” around the center of gravity by “pulling” the rear contact patch rearward.

3. It Enhances Stability (when done right)

Trail braking is also used as a way to enhance stability and control. Trail braking helps minimize forward and rearward chassis pitch that occurs when applying and then releasing the brakes. When the front brake is applied the forks compress, and when the brakes are released they rebound and extend. The forks compress once again when the bike is leaned into the curve. When trail braking, the forks remain compressed as the bike is leaned and the “off-brake” rebound action is eliminated. This also steepens the front end geometry for easier turning. The suspension stays compressed as the bike leans and then rebounds gradually as the brakes are released and the throttle is rolled on.

Trailbraking with both brakes helps slow, but also increases stability even more. The rear brake also increases stability by “pulling” the rear contact patch in line with the front contact patch, controlling any side-to-side fishtailing effect.

4. It Can be Risky (when done wrong)

Trail braking is a technique that combines both cornering and braking forces, which means that you must use light brake pressure otherwise you can lose traction. This is why it is best to get most, if not all, of your braking done before the turn. Because trail braking can be risky it should be used judiciously and should be avoided when traction is limited. However, trail braking is an advanced technique that can be useful for all riders.

Learning how to trail brake starts with overcoming the anxiety that the tires will slide. To prevent “tucking” the front tire and lowsiding, you must use light front brake pressure and understand that increased lean angle requires decreased brake pressure. Once this fundamental level of trail braking is learned, then you can use the technique.

5. Help Salvage a Blown Corner… I Suppose

Remember that trailbraking is a planned technique to refine cornering control and should NOT be confused with salvaging a blown corner entry (that’s called screwing up a corner becasue you didn’t judge entry speed correctly). That said, we all make mistakes and knowing how to trailbrake can be used to fix a mistake. One of the most common reasons for crashes in corners is when a rider enters a turn too fast and lowsides or goes off the road. Most untrained riders panic and either stand the bike up and leave their lane or grab the brakes and lowside. If you are adept at trailbraking, then you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). To reiterate…trailbraking is not technically “braking to save a blown corner”.

6. You Must Get a Feel for it

To brake effectively you must develop a feel for how much brake power is possible without losing control. Brake feel is a learned skill that includes understanding the dynamics of load transfer on traction as well as developing a feel for how your motorcycle’s brakes respond to subtle inputs. This knowledge is necessary if you are to learn to use brake force to maximum advantage.

One way to help refine the trail braking technique is to use two fingers on the front brake. This allows the use of both the brake and the throttle, which is useful for transitioning smoothly between braking and acceleration. The advantage of two-finger braking is that it allows the two remaining digits to remain on the throttle grip (usually the ring and pinkie). This is useful when implementing advanced throttle/brake techniques such as brake and throttle overlapping or throttle blipping (to be covered in a future post).

7. Trailing off is as important as Trailing on

Getting the right brake pressure applied is critical when trail braking. Progressively squeezing the brake transfers weight gradually and avoids spikes in tire load. But, it’s also important to release the brakes progressively to prevent abrupt rebound of the suspension, which can cause the tires to lose traction, especially when at full lean. Even if you don’t lose traction, the extended forks can push the bike into a wider line than desired.

8. Use the Thrake/Brottle Overlap Technique

The throttle/brake overlap technique (Thrake or Brottle, get it?) is how you smoothly transition from brakes to acceleration while leaned fully in a corner. Begin throttle roll-on just before completely releasing the brakes to smooth the transition from braking force to driving force. See me use this technique through turn 1 at Loudon in the video

The brake/throttle overlap technique takes some practice. One technique that is helpful is if you curl your fingers over the front brake lever as you squeeze, then simply straighten your fingers to release brake pressure as you roll on the throttle. You can practice this technique using Brake Drill #4 in Riding in the Zone.

9.Timing is Critical

How long you remain on the brakes is determined by the curve. Imagine yourself barreling dwn a tight downhill hairpin and need to scrub of, say 15-20mph. You trailbrake into the turn, but then release the brakes well before the middle part of the turn. What then happens is gravity “accelerates the bike at a time when you haven’t gotten the bike turned enough. The result is a too wide line that needs another turning inpt to stay in your lane.  By hanging onto the brakes a bit longer, the front wheel is pointed more toward the corner exit and not toward the outside of the turn.

10. Brake Pressure is Critical

The right amount of brake pressure (force) will preserve traction (see #4) but also help the bike turn more easily (see #2). At some point in the trailbraking process, perhaps 1/3 around the curve, you are no longer trailbraking to slow down, rather you are using the brakes as a tool to help get the bike completely turned and pointed safely toward the exit (where you can then transition to the throttle (see #8). Brake too hard and the bike will likely stand up instead of lean in…not what you want at that point.

Trail braking Takes Practice

Trailbraking requires expert-level brake and corner control, which means that most people should be careful with this technique until they become proficient through practice. Once a rider is reasonably proficient at both braking and cornering, then he or she should start to explore the benefits of trailbraking, because one day, they’ll need this skill.

How to Practice Trail Braking

The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.
The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.

By mastering trail braking, you can train your mind and muscles so that you believe it is possible to slow the bike down even when leaned and stay upright. This mastery tells you not only that it’s possible to salvage the corner, but also tells you just how much braking force can be used without sliding the tires. If you think this skill will magically appear when you need it, you are dead wrong! You must practice to make this important tool available to you. How do you practice trail braking? Start in a clean and clear parking lot (see the video above) And then practice on the street where no surface hazards are present. Then refine and solidify the technique by going to a track day and asking an instructor to help you work on this technique.

Braking is one of the most important skills to learn. Regularly practice emergency braking and refine your corner braking technique so these skills remain sharp.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.


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