Ben Spies demonstrates the...
Ben Spies demonstrates the power of his Yamaha YZR-M1 brakes as he transfers all of the bike’s weight onto the front wheel. Notice his head position, which indicates he is focused 100 percent on braking and not looking for his turn-in point or apex.
A motorcycle’s front brakes are its most powerful components, with enough power to transfer all of the bike’s weight forward at a moment’s notice. A motorcycle’s front brakes are, coincidentally, the most underutilized components on a motorcycle as well; riders are often too lazy with the brake lever to build ample braking force. On top of that, riders habitually close the throttle too leisurely, which only extends the throttle-to-brake transition and leads to more complacency in corner entry. Being more assertive with the front brake lever and closing the throttle as quickly as possible will shorten the distance it takes you to get slowed down; on the track, it could be the difference between making a few additional passes. On the street, the shorter stopping distance you achieve could be the determining factor in accident avoidance.
Poor use of the brakes is only amplified by the misconception that, to go quicker, one need only brake later — doing so typically results in botched downshifts, additional load on the front tire and overwhelming entry speeds. Instead, a more methodical approach is best, one that starts before you even touch the brake lever.
The throttle-to-brake transition plays a great role in proper corner entry, yet it is a skill that most riders put little emphasis on. Improper reference points or a general lack of reference points is typically the culprit. A reference point for where to grab the brake, for instance, can allow the rider to get lazy. But without a designated mark for where to let off the throttle, you are able to close the throttle leisurely and cruise toward the braking marker — cheating yourself of some time and distance. For better results, find a reference point for where to close the throttle. In doing so, closing the throttle will be incorporated in your braking procedure and, in turn, your throttle-to-brake transition will be quicker.
As a reference, take a look at figure 1, which shows the data for two riders at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV, pulled from our Racepak G2X data acquisition system. The top set of traces shows speed for two riders, while the bottom set shows throttle position. In said figure, it’s easy to distinguish that the less experienced rider (red trace) lacks a reference point for when to let off the throttle as he comes off the track’s back straight. Just before the 9000 feet mark, the rider begins gradually rolling off the throttle. The more experienced rider (blue trace) conversely holds the throttle on longer, but closes it in a more sudden manner. By gradually closing the throttle, it will take longer for the less experienced rider to transition to the brakes. The more experienced rider, in contrast, can go from full throttle to braking in mere milliseconds.
[Figure 1] This data is for...
[Figure 1] This data is for two separate riders at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV, coming off the track’s back straight. Notice the more experienced rider (bottom blue trace) closes the throttle abruptly, while the opposing rider (bottom red trace) gradually shuts the throttle just after the 9000 feet mark. The benefit for the more experienced rider is that he can transition to the brakes exponentially quicker. The top traces show speed for each rider.
When transitioning to the brakes, a precise grab is important too. The goal is for your initial grab to be strong, but avoid stabbing the brakes — an overwhelming initial grab will upset the chassis and compromise front tire grip, plus your suspension needs to be able to absorb the weight transfer. In general, a strong initial grab is best accomplished with two fingers, although some riders are comfortable using just one (this will depend heavily on your bike’s brakes). As an added benefit, using one or two fingers as opposed to all four will give you more steering control under braking and help hasten the throttle-to-brake transition. On the street especially, covering the brake with one or two fingers will decrease your reaction time.
With a strong initial grab, you will also be able to build maximum braking force more rapidly. Most sportbikes are capable of a maximum braking force of about 1G, and experienced riders are able to reach that point in about one second — much quicker will overload the front end and potentially cause a crash. It’s here, then, where the complacent rider will really suffer. Figure 2 shows the data for two riders at Buttonwillow Raceway, pulled from the same Racepak G2X system. Again, the top set of traces represents speed for two riders. The middle set shows braking force; note that there are two braking zones separated by a short straight. The bottom set of traces shows acceleration force on the straight. In both braking zones depicted, notice that the more experienced rider (blue trace) builds braking force swiftly, as indicated by the steep slope of the trace, which climbs smoothly to that desirable 1G mark. In contrast, the less experienced rider (red trace) builds brake pressure in a slower fashion, as indicated by the red trace’s more gradual slope. This shows more complacency with the lever, and as a result, the less experienced rider will have to stay on the brakes longer and will have a longer stopping distance.
Concentration is crucial when on the brakes as well. When getting the majority of your hard braking done, concentrate 100 percent on just that, braking. Avoid overwhelming yourself by thinking about turn-in, the apex or what’s for dinner tonight. Focus on maintaining adequate brake pressure and setting your corner speed. It’s one thing to reach maximum braking force, but if you are unable to concentrate on maintaining that force, your overall corner entry will suffer. Note in Figure 2 that the blue trace remains at an almost constant 1G of braking force in the braking zone, while the red trace peaks and immediately begins tapering off.
[Figure 2] This data for two...
[Figure 2] This data for two riders at Buttonwillow Raceway shows the more experienced rider (blue trace) reaching maximum braking force quicker as indicated by the middle blue line which depicts braking Gs. The red trace shows the less experienced rider was more submissive on the brakes and built braking force in a more gradual manner, as indicated by the less vertical slope. As a result, the rider had to stay on the brakes longer and had to grab more brake even after turn-in had been initiated in order to set his corner speed — as suggested by the second peak.
Once you have slowed to your entry speed, it is time to start thinking about turn-in and releasing the brakes. Here, proper reference points will again play great dividends. A reference point that indicates where to completely let off the brake lever is not as realistic as one that indicates where to begin releasing the lever. In referring back to Figure 2, you will see that the red trace peaks for a second time before finally tapering off, which indicates increased braking pressure even as the rider begins to tip into the corner — a dangerous combination. Instead, the blue trace tapers off gradually as tip-in is initiated, and as a result, the rider is asking less of the bike’s front tire and suspension. A reference point that indicates where to begin letting off the brake will aid in this circumstance. Without one you may find yourself holding the brake on longer, which will not allow the chassis to settle as you enter the corner.
Increasing your confidence on the brakes and increasing your knowledge of when to begin releasing them obviously requires practice. While the skill is advantageous on the street, it is best to get comfortable with your binders on the track, in a controlled environment. It is there where you can experiment with these newly introduced reference points and where you can get a better feel for increasing braking forces. Go at it slowly though, and build your confidence in your binders gradually. Remember also to adjust your levers to a proper position; generally, if the brake lever is too high, your throttle-to-brake transition will suffer as you have to reach up for the lever. Proper-fitting gloves are important as well. While loose gloves can bunch up and limit the feel at the lever, tight gloves can restrict movement and hinder your reach to the lever.
While still not the answer to quicker lap times, being better on the brakes will pay big dividends on both the track and street. Distance is the biggest benefit, with the shorter stopping distances achieved allowing you to avoid obstacles on the street and make additional passes on the track. Forget that “brake later to go faster” saying and instead take a more methodical approach to your braking. Pay attention to your throttle-to-brake transition, braking force and release of the brake lever and you will reap the rewards come corner entry. sr