January 14, 2023
The Ultimate Guide To Motorcycle Trail Braking
Trail braking is one of the biggest topics I get asked about when coaching motorcycle riders. On a motorcycle, trail braking, corner entry, and apex speed are three separate components. What trail braking does once mastered, is allow you to fit them together in a seamless fashion; giving a reduction in the time taken from the first application of the brakes for you to arrive at the apex. Lowering your lap time.
It’s an important technique to learn. It allows you to brake later and deeper into the corner, and this helps to carry your speed in towards the apex.
If you finish all your braking with the bike upright, it means you’re going to have to brake earlier to get your corner speed down at your tip in point because then from your tip in point to the apex all you have is engine braking. Whereas trail braking allows you to slow down more efficiently from your tip in, to the apex.
Braking is not just about slowing down. It is a precisely timed combination of individual actions which starts with transitioning from throttle to brakes. This involves weight transfer from the rear to the front smoothly, to not destabilize the bike.
Towards the end of the braking zone, there is the corner entry to be considered. The handover from brakes to corner entry needs to be smooth and progressive. Once again weight transfer is involved; this time from front to rear, balancing the bike out for the corner.
In the video here, I use turn 12 at Mugello, as a typical corner that can help you visualize what’s involved.
A flat approach but from the tip in point, the track drops away making it important that you ease off on the brake as you tip in – that’s trail braking.
Also, you’ll see in the video to help I’ve drawn a couple of charts to help explain the technique. One is an XY chart – ‘brake pressure over time’ and the other is an ‘angle of lean’ chart.
It’s important to note that there are several points on the track where actions need to happen in the correct order and at the correct time.
During the video, I’ve marked these points as red dots. This way you can follow a ‘dot to dot’ line into, and around the corner.
As you reach the first of the points on a straight-line approach, which is the initial braking reference point, here it’s 100% throttle to 100% brakes.
I find it best to use a percentage to describe the application, because one rider’s hard braking may differ from another rider’s.
After all, how hard is hard? It’s your maximum use of throttle to your maximum brake pressure.
The next point detailed is the tip in reference. Now here is where I refer in the video to looking at the angle of lean chart. Generalizing, if the bike is upright or close to it, you can use the maximum brake pressure or 100% of yours.
I’ve detailed a green line that depicts the level ground on the ‘angle of lean chart’ and the pink line is the bike in the upright position. The yellow lines create a V shape, with the upright line in the middle, if the bike is within this V shape you can still brake using 100% brake pressure. The red lines I’ve detailed are the maximum possible angle of lean, usually around the mid part of the corner or apex.
From the tip in point up to the third point or red dot, which is roughly halfway across the track, normally towards the apex, you can still brake 100%.
But from the third dot to the fourth dot, where we finally release the brake, it is a progressive easing of the pressure. This allows the weight to transfer back to the rear, balancing the bike, as you close in on the apex last dot, point five, still on a closed throttle, giving the bike the best chance to turn in to the apex.
Back to the first dot, the braking point, the bike is close to upright, so it’s 100% braking, up to the second dot, which is the tip in point, still 100% braking as the bike is relatively upright.
Closing in on the third dot we are still inside the V shape so it’s still possible to brake 100% but from this point to the fourth dot we are now outside the V so we must ease off the brakes to a point where you eventually have realized them completely.
How hard you squeeze the brake lever, where and when it’s easier to visualize using the pressure over time chart. Approaching the initial braking point we are at the start and the bottom of the chart. Quickly yet smoothly build to 100% brakes. As time and distance go by up to the tip in point it’s still 100% braking.
As you start to tip in into the corner, to the mid-track point, being still in the V it’s 100%. But, from mid track heading towards the apex we need to ease off the brakes.
This shows tapering of the pressure from maximum to minimum, much more progressively than the initial application. This technique allows the use of brakes ultimately later and deeper into corners, however, it’s a confidence issue, something that you need to build up to.
This trail braking technique has to be tailored to suit the varying type of corners you’re going to come across. Remember brakes are not a switch with an on/off action, they are a feel-based thing that needs time and experience.
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