After talking to Nick Lenatsch at the World Superbike races 2 years ago I decided to explore his website fastersafer.com. A great site with many riding tips but one overall theme, the virtues of trail braking. Nick claims lives are being lost because we have all been taught to not brake in corners. After reading a number of his essays and videos I decided to explore the concept.
I read his book Sport Riding Techniques back in 2003. I also bought into his theory of 100 points of traction. That is about all I came away with from the read, with the exception of maintenance throttle, but it has served me well. Consciously thinking about traction allocation while riding is at the very least a good mental exercise.
At it’s very best you can increase your safety factor. You should preconceive the amount of traction you allocate to lean angle and then it creeps into your actions and somehow starts to work with practice. I make a mental effort to use 60 to 80 percent of my traction to stay well within the safety zone. Maybe I will make the conscious effort to take more risk some time in the future, but that is about all I am comfortable with at my age and my teetering amount of health care.
Maintenance throttle is the other biggie reinforced in Nick’s book. Using positive or negative maintenance throttle during a turn will decrease your points of traction available for lean angle. Keeping it neutral is the standard mode, rolling on more throttles exiting a turn as the lean angle decreases, makes to much sense, doesn’t it.
Trail braking started to make as much sense to me as accelerating out of turn did. It is just on the other side of the corner.
Nick describes it as loading the front tire going into a turn with the front brake. Decreasing the amount of front brake as lean angle increases. Nick claims loading the tire makes it work and grip better in a corner by design. I think it also heats the tire up creating even more available traction and thirdly he claims a properly set up suspension will work better when it is slightly compressed. I have to say, it seems to work.
Scot Harden tried to work with me back in 2006 when I was riding with him one day. Grabbing a little brake before a turn to load the suspension was one of the tips I received. I grasped the rest of what he was talking about, but my brain was just not quite up the task of making the trail braking thing happen. This is the crux of my riding limitations. I have been told, very instructively, that is what I need to go a lot faster but making my brain learn these lessons is another issue. I did pick up the rest of his tips about using the rear brake to set the bike up mid turn and the right acceleration exiting a turn on hard-pack. I also learned to stand when off road for extended times. This is an exercise I used for training before many of the rallies I rode in. I am getting off track, pun intended.
With two track days set aside to working primarily on trail braking; I started reprogramming my brain. My bike is very well set up at the moment after a 3500 dollar suspension rebuild and a 60-pound diet this winter that included race plastics and some good clip-on's. I forgot to mention two brand spanking new race tires, they are confidence inspiring, to say the least.
First day I enrolled in the beginner class mainly because I hadn’t ridden on that track in 8 years. This was a mistake for me. Not to build my abilities up but the bike was so much more advanced than the rest of the bikes out there, I literally wasn’t pushing it enough in the turns to even feel like I could practice. I ended up passing 10 to 12 riders on the straight away and then realized I was getting some “not so good” attention from the instructors. I was told to amp it down, I simply rode the rest of the day like I was on the street and found myself sitting upright in turns and hardly leaning the bike at all. It is truly harder to look good at a slower speed than with some speed.
Day two I requested a bump into level 2 and was greeting with a smile of good.
This was a great group of riders, most of them faster than me and I was delighted with the challenge.
Firstly I tried to recover a somewhat correct riding position. Something I found myself mimicking on day one. Bad habits are easy to create and hard to forget. After a few sessions, I started to try the trail braking for real.
I did take the first step on day one trying to trail brake when traffic wasn’t an issue. You can see my first reaction was a 4 finger grab on the front brake. I quickly found it impossible to use maintenance throttle and when I did it was jerky at the very best, not a good thing when smooth is the name of the game. Notice the complete lack of form as my walnut size brain was just trying to squeeze the brake lever.
On into the next day, I started to master the three and two finger application that allowed me the correct throttle control. Eventually, I ended up with a solo index finger on the lever but I am going to try using 2 in the future with some lever adjustment.
Towards the end of the day, I started to find myself breaking further into the corner when starting my lean. From my observation, Nick is absolutely right. I found new confidence in my cornering along with a smoother entrance. If I overcooked the entry a tad I just braked further into the corner and went a little wider if needed. Not nearly as wide if I had tried to take the corner too fast then drifted out from the speed.
Nick evangelizes about how many lives can be saved with this technique on the street and I have to say I am starting to jump on this bandwagon. If you read his articles, he has had many a discussion with other instructors and riding schools that disagree. Many of us have had safety courses where they tell you to never use the front brake in a turn, Nick will call this one of the biggest crimes in motorcycle safety training. I think he is right.