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Gary Bailey Trackside - Those are the Brakes

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey


Going faster is what we all want to do, but that can backfire. Sometimes you try too hard and in doing so you can go slower. You need to learn to use your brakes better.

Why is it so important to learn to use your brakes more efficiently? Because your brakes well let you slow down, but not lose a lot of momentum if you do it right. Whether on two wheels or four, you can over brake.

So let’s start with the rear brake. In most situations you do not want to pull in the clutch lever entering the corner. Why? If you pull in the clutch, the bike will free wheel, just like going into neutral. The reason you don’t want that to happen is the engine is part of your braking when slowing and you need the engine to help you slow and if the engine is essentially in neutral then it is not helping you to slow.  You should let your engine help you slow down.

Also with the clutch lever in, it is more difficult to tell how hard you are pushing on the brake until the brake locks up. You should learn more feel and control of the rear brake. Think about this, if you were on a steep downhill and pulled in the clutch, you would pick up speed. Then, if you hit the brake and locked up the rear wheel, you would not only still go fast, you would not have control.

Foot placement when braking is important as well. When you are sitting under braking, you can use most any part of your boot to brake because your foot will not be on the peg most of the time while sitting and braking. As far as standing while braking, it is a little easier to control the rear brake when your foot is on the foot peg.

The front brake can accomplish much more than just slowing you down if you use the front brake properly. For instance, proper front braking can help you to steer the bike while cornering by changing the angle of the front fork rake to bring it in tighter so that you can steer better (just like adjusting sliding the forks up and down in the triple clamps). So many riders either (1) don’t use the front brake or (2) they use it too quickly.

Let’s look at not using the front brake. Two brakes stop or slow faster than one, so not using both the front brake and the rear brake means it will take you longer to slow down or to stop.

Next, let’s look at what happens if you use the front brake too quickly. If you use the front brake too soon, then let go before you get to the corner, you change how the bike sets for the corner.

If you have ever adjusted your forks by sliding them up in the clamps to change how the bike corners, then you will understand. Most of the time we slide the forks up in the clamps about 3 to 7 mm to get the bike to turn better. Well, if you can detect that little bit of adjustment, then imagine how much difference you could tell with a change of 10 to 50 mm.  By continuing to use the front brake entering the corner and all the way through the corner, you can cause this much change in the forks by holding them in a compressed position.

But, if you brake hard on entrance to the corner and then let go of the front brake before you get to the turn, the forks are in rebound and not compressed. At this point, the front end is not going to stick or turn.

Here is what you need to do, and why.

When standing while using braking, look where you want to go. Then use the front brake to help you place the front wheel where you want to go. Be sure you don’t release the front brake too soon. This is your most important brake and will let help you hold your line and maintain better control which helps you make the turn.
Using the front and rear brake together to control, slow and keep good forward momentum is very important. Don’t pull in the clutch on the entrance, but be ready to, so as soon as you are ready to go its there.
When it is muddy or deep sand you may not use as much front brake. Where you have your foot on the rear brake is not important, it may change depending on where you are sitting and how well your legs bend when sitting forward.

Control the rear at all times. The better the traction or the better wall of the berm you are on, the more you can use the front brake. The more the forks are compressed, the better the bike will turn.  Using the front brake will also let the bike lay down more in the turn.

Kevin Windham just finishing with the front brake and ready to get on the gas.

All the best riders, do the same thing and do it well. If you want to be the best, you need to look like them and do what they do.

Don’t rush the release of the front brake. Everything you do needs to be smooth and with control.

No matter what your level of riding, you need to do the right things from start to finish.

Looking good is important. If you want to be a pro, start with this look.

In the center of the turn start looking where you want to go. The more you look at the point you want to hit the easier it is to go there.

When you are ready to exit the turn you can now release the front brake and it will help if you are on the ball of your foot for more control and traction.

Good luck and ride safe. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Thank you for checking out this article. Other similar articles can be found in the archive section. I hope all of my articles help you become a better, safer rider no matter what your skill level. Because I am in semi retirement after 43-years teaching full-time, I only do private one-on-one coaching or with a small group of riders. Most of my time is spent in Virginia, however, if you are on the west coast I do spend some of the winter months in California visiting my kids and grandkids. If you are interested in scheduling a coaching session shoot me an email or go to my website. You can come to the mountain or the mountain will come to you!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    gazzadownunder December 03, 2010 at 12:10 am

    This is a great tip that I cant wait to try. Cornering for me is a real mystery as I always get the front wheel to wash out even when I feel I am cornering slower than most people on the track. I will try to use a little front brake. These articles are so much better than the riding tips from pros who realy know how its done but cant realy explain it.

  2. Gravatar
    101 December 03, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Great article , great explaination.. Thanks for the help!

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