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what is trail braking?

Discussion in 'Motorcycle Talk' started by NoQuarter#121, Dec 24, 2010.

  1. NoQuarter#121

    NoQuarter#121 WMRRA #2 Overall Points Champion

    I was reading the "Rear Brake" thread and realized that many of you (us?) do not understand what "trail braking" is.

    This topic has been discussed many times on the forum, but perhaps a refresher is in order.

    Nick Inatsche probably best describes "threshold braking" (as in, on the threshold of traction) in his fantastic book "Sport Riding Techniques".
    He talks about trail braking in depth.
    His "100 points of traction" is a insightfull way to visualize the dynamics of braking, cornering, acceleration in a turn.
    This book is a must have for any serious sport rider.
    It is primarily aimed at street/sport riders but has a wealth of information for any rider including experienced racers.

    Trail braking is a method of braking for competition.
    It is not a method of braking appropriate for street riding.
    If you are REALLY trail braking you are going way too fast for the street.

    The term "trail braking" describes competition braking action.
    As you apex the turn you "trail off" the brakes.

    For our purposed I will describe trail braking from a straight and into a turn.
    It is possible to trail brake from a fast turn into a reducing radious turn, but to keep it simple we will ignore that.

    Going down a straight you accelerate.
    As you enter the braking zone you are still straight up and down, and accelerating.

    At your braking mark, you roll off the throttle smoothly and quickly and start to apply braking pressure.
    Simultanesoulsy, begin the necessary downshifts.

    Note; adding "throttle blipping" complicates this maneuver.
    I started on 1000cc twins before slipper clutches were prevelant.
    Those big jugs required a good blip to keep the bike under control.
    Its a technique I habitually use and even now when nearly every bike has a slipper, it helps my corner entries.
    I think "blipping" is a useful technique to learn.

    Note; no coasting. Off throttle and on brakes. period.
    Smoothly does NOT mean abruptly.
    It does not mean SLOWLY.
    You can be both very fast and very smooth.

    Smooth is the key to fast lap times.

    You continue to apply braking pressure until you have reached maximum deceleration or "threshold of traction" braking. (Ie you are in a stoppy or very, very near to a stoppy)

    Note: suspension set up effects braking performance.
    Being smooth helps transfer weight to the front tire without losing traction.
    It may look like the front end dives down, hard, as if the rider "slammed on" the brakes out of control, but that is not actually true if everything is set up and manipulated properly.
    Improperly loading the front tire causes a loss of traction and often a lowside crash.

    Continuing into the braking zone, assuming everything is OK your front suspension is now fully loaded.
    The rear suspension is either completly unloaded or very very nearly so.
    Downshifts are complete before the turn is initiated.

    Continue braking hard as you commit to your corner entry speed and begin the turn.

    As you turn the motorcycle and actually enter the turn, lateral forces start to enter the equation.
    The action of the turn itself adds load to the suspension.

    Still slowing and turning, you begin to "trail off" the brakes as you near the apex to reduce the load to the front from the braking action to compensate for the increased lateral load.

    As you "trail off" the brakes, weight starts to equalize, lightening the load on the front tire and transfering weight towards the rear. .

    If done properly you will complete "trailing off" at the apex.

    Now you are completely off the brakes.

    Note: no coasting.
    On the brakes or on the gas.

    Immediatley you begin to apply throttle as you work through the turn.

    If everything is done correctly, including suspension set up, the transition from braking to throttle will not move the suspension.
    The bike will stay stable and flat, with the suspension under load.

    As you add throttle, weight continues to transfer to the rear.

    next up, accelerating from the corner exit, but that is another thread...

    Buy "Sport Rider Techniques", Nick does a better job than I of describing the dynamics of braking and turning.

    Hope this helps,


    DRD2 likes this.
  2. DGA

    DGA Moderator Staff Member

    A good way to wash out your front end when you don't know where the traction limit is.

  3. theJrod

    theJrod Racer Extraordinaire

    Good post Allister. Despite the wealth of information out there, many people still don't understand the concepts involved in advanced riding techniques (but think they do).
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2010
  4. that is where suspension work pays off, big time. having a good or great feeling of feedback from the front give you the ability to trust it more, allowing insane levels of manuevers and trail braking deeeeeep. If your fork is bottomed, you are shit out of luck.
  5. theJrod

    theJrod Racer Extraordinaire

    Which is why this is an advanced riding technique that should only be used on the track.
  6. Case in point.

    I would venture a guess here that over 95% of motorcycle riders out there truly don't know where the traction limit is. So riding like this on the street is very risky, even for the experienced.
  7. So you're saying to use the rear brake for trail braking?
  8. Merry Christmas, Jim. Long time, no see.
  9. DGA

    DGA Moderator Staff Member

    I hear you all on it. The huge part is being comfortable on your bike and knowing what it can do.

    I've had my Speed Triple for about 25,000 miles now and can trail brake pretty deep on it without any trouble, on the street or track. Forks are sprung, revalved and adjusted for me and the rear Ohlin's shock is as well. I've got about 1,000 miles on my '04 ZX10, which is mainly a track bike, with same suspension work, sans the Ohlin's shock, and would not dare trail brake on it as I do on the Triple. Even though the ZX has more front weight on it than the Triumph, which feels vague because of it's weight distribution. One would think it would be a lot easier to trail brake the ZX, but it's not for me. I've low sided the ZX because of tucking the front tire and the only indication I got from it was a small wiggle in the bars and bam, the day is over.

    In the end I understand what trail braking is, how it's done and do it myself on occasion, but a huge part of it is feel and comfort level, which a book cannot describe, or teach you. You get out there and you apply what you read. One day you just apply a little too much of it and you will lose the front. That's what I was talking about...maybe a bit too much tongue-in-cheek though.
  10. DGA

    DGA Moderator Staff Member

    I agree. It's one of those very circumstantial things. Tires you are running, pavement condition, temperature, your own body position on the bike, suspension, etc. That is why you only have so many people that can make a living out of motorcycle racing and even then they eat it on a regular basis.
  11. Merry Christmas to you too Fred. I've been hiding out in Moscow and haven't made a lot of trips to Spokane in the past couple of months.
  12. Or if you're riding off-road, then everything is trail braking. :evil4:
  13. NoQuarter#121

    NoQuarter#121 WMRRA #2 Overall Points Champion

    Merry Christmas brother.

    And yes, for you I would say, yes, use the rear for trailing the front.

  14. NoQuarter#121

    NoQuarter#121 WMRRA #2 Overall Points Champion

    I am a racer, and a student of racing.
    Reading informative books help me understand the dynamics of going fast.
    I agree reading a book by itself won't make you a better rider.
    Understanding the forces involved helps me adapt and improve.

    Your tire didn't tuck by itself.

    Trail braking is an advanced technique serious track riders should try to grasp.
  15. NoQuarter#121

    NoQuarter#121 WMRRA #2 Overall Points Champion

    Trail braking on the street is a recipe for disaster.

    Even at ludicrous speeds street riders should complete their braking and set corner speeds before turn in.
  16. PeteN95

    PeteN95 Moderator Staff Member

    Fixt for you. :mrgreen: Seriously, good post.
  17. mjn

    mjn Forum Admin Staff Member


    Merry Christmas Jim!

    BTW, great discription 121..
  18. Let's see. Now, I've got to remove my fairings, get a wide-ass motocross bar and put them on high-risers, lower my footpegs and move them forward, never hang off my seat, and now stop trail braking, because I'm just a street rider.

    Keep the tips coming, guys. Eventually, I'll reach the point where riding and sitting in my rocking chair will be indistinguishable.
  19. PeteN95

    PeteN95 Moderator Staff Member

    You can ride what and how ever you want. But you might be amused that we do both agree on trail braking on the street?! I do it. I still agree with NQ121 that it is an advanced technique, but it can be used on the street if done with care. I would recommend that it be practiced on the track or very gradually if on the street.
  20. allister is slow, and rides harleys.. don't listent to him.

    Hey fucker.. lets grab a beer here sooner or later.
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