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Trail Braking and Context

Yes. It’s true. Most large motorcycle safety curriculum teach that “You should not brake in turns”. Often this is interpreted as:

“Braking should never, ever be done in a turn.” Or, “Touch the brakes in a turn and you will lowside.”

When what’s intended is: “Braking in a turn is a delicate business and best handled by more experienced riders.”

In fact, braking in a turn has a formal name: Trail Braking. Trail braking is the ART of holding braking into a turn, leaning and making the smooth transition to positive throttle without using more traction than is available. In all frankness it is a racing technique. It’s how you improve corner speed and exit speed. Trail braking is over by the Apex of the turn. If you’re on the brakes after the Apex you’re either stopping or running off the road. Because of its complexity it’s not something you need to be practicing while turning into the local Piggly Wiggly.

Trail braking is tough to teach because it requires putting a student at what some would consider unacceptable risk. It’s a bit of a loaded gun, in the right hands it’s not an issue, in a child’s grip it’s an entirely different proposition. In fact if you watch a basic rider training session that includes turning and you can watch students brake lights and see them braking well into that turn. Instructors on the other hand are trying to get them to stop trail braking.

Weird, yes?

Trail braking is one of those intersections where experience and inexperience meet. Most riders as they grow in experience will end up trail braking. Often rookies will meet veterans and the rookie will repeat what they feel they were taught–that braking in a turn is just flat wrong. The veteran rider will immediately say, no, it’s a reasonable technique–especially if you come in a little hot.

Both are correct.

Trail braking is a context issue. In the context of a new rider you have to measure what you really want imprinted into their psyche. A new rider should have good habits, be thinking well ahead, and not be asking more of their physical skills than there is offer. Personally I would rather a new rider enter a turn too slowly than ask them to do the calculations to use effective trail braking to slow themselves safely while leaned. That is a solid theory that is played out every day in training.

In the context of the experienced rider who often is experimenting with increased speeds and faster company learning trail braking makes complete sense. Riders do come in hot, riders do want to carry more speed, riders want to have more fun and higher speeds can be really, really exciting (if not just plain fun). A experienced rider who is carefully expanding their envelope will learn to trail brake through simple discovery learning. Once they realize they are a tad over speed on the entry they simply hold their brakes a tad longer and deeper and then naturally progress from their. A couple of magazines and youtubes later and they realize, “Hey, I’ve been trail braking”.

Context is often the lost thing in our culture. What works for newbs will still work for vets but vets can also be in the place where they’ve developed skills that newbs should stay away from for a while…like trail braking; or, in the right context: stoppies, wheelies, drifting or topping that pig out. Context is about who, where, when, what and how.

Be Safe.

About Brent Crash Allen

I Forgot, now you forget

One response to “Trail Braking and Context

  1. I don’t actively break in turns but I know Ive done it. Either way, I wish I could get some formal rider training. One of these days I will make it happen.

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