Of all the riding skills and techniques out there, I’d say that trailbraking is one of the most misunderstood. People seem drawn to the idea of trailbraking yet they don’t fully understand what exactly “trailbraking” means, when it might be useful, and how it is properly executed.
Trailbraking refers to the process of entering a turn while the front brakes are still applied and gradually and smoothly releasing them as you move through the turn and begin to get back on the gas.
Trailbraking is often considered an advanced riding or racing technique because of the fact that it takes a lot of practice and finesse to successfully pull it off. Anytime you attempt to turn a motorcycle while simultaneously using the front brake you are testing the limits of front tire traction because there is extra weight on the front, which is only designed to handle a portion of the cornering load. Too much weight combined with too much lean angle can easily result in tucking the front and lowsideing.
Grabbing the front brakes once the bike is already into the turn is not trailbraking, it is simply mid corner braking and is a very common reason for single vehicle motorcycle crashes because it suddenly transfers weight onto the front tire and overloads traction availability.
If you must brake while mid corner (to avoid a unexpected obstacle or slow suddenly) then you should do so smoothly and firmly while at the same time standing the bike up, or countersteering it back upright.
The technique of trailbraking is usually used by road racers or track riders to allow them to brake as late as possible for a corner in order to overtake another rider or block a racing line. The rider waits until the last minute to apply the front brakes hard, dive up the inside, pass, tip in and then gradually releases the brakes as they move through the turn. Common advice is that you need to trailbrake right to the apex but I’d prefer to say that you should trailbrake until you have set your desired entry speed (regardless of where that is in the corner). The ideal scenario is always that you are off the brakes and back on the gas as soon as possible and rolling on the throttle throughout the turn. (Keith Code)
Trailbraking can also help the bike turn a little more quickly as the extra weight up front changes the steering geometry.
Generally speaking when riding on the street you can have most of your braking done while the bike is straight up and down before you start to tip into the corner, especially if the surface is wet, cold or slippery as you want as little weight on that front tire as possible. Once you have the bike turned you want to transfer the weight off the front and onto the rear tire through good throttle control, rolling on smoothly, evenly and consistently throughout the remainder of the turn.
However, there are some riding situations where staying on the brakes a little deeper, later and farther into the turn is beneficial. For example, “trailbraking is useful in corners where your slowest speed is somewhere past the point where you turn in,” says California Superbike School Coach Stuart Smith. “Double Apex, decreasing radius, blind turns.”
For blind entry corners, staying on the brakes deeper lets you see more of the corner before you are fully committed to it. For decreasing radius turns, (which often surprise us) trailbraking can help you slow down your entry speed if you have misjudged the corner and the amount of entry speed you thought you could carry.
Whenever you use the skill of trailbraking you should first make sure that conditions are good and dry and that your control imputs are smoothly executed. As Keith Code says in Twist of the Wrist I, “Think of the brakes as a reverse throttle.”
When done correctly trailbraking can help you make final adjustments to your entry speed and see more of the turn, but when relied upon too heavily can alter the ability to accurately judge corner speed consistently.
People that rely too much on trailbraking often “charge” the turn braking too deep, late and hard and waiting too late to get back on the gas.
The purpose of braking is to accurately set your turn entry speed and you can do this by getting all of your braking done before adding any lean angle or by trailing the brakes as you enter into the turn.
The main thing to remember is that as you add more lean angle you must decrease the amount of front brake being used. Trailbraking is just a subset of regular braking and is really just a specialized tool for certain corners and certain situations. Just like you don’t need to use a hacksaw for every household job, you don’t need to trailbrake in every corner.by
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