These days my riding is split pretty equally between main roads, off road and circuits. Although these disciplines require different advanced riding skills, when it comes to stopping, all three use similar techniques. With that in mind, this month I'd like to talk you through what keeps my riding fast and safe when it comes to advanced braking from speed and give you some tips and advice to improve yourself.
When the best racers in the world go from 200mph to 40mph before that next hairpin, it's hard to comprehend just how much skill is involved in those few seconds of deceleration. There may only be a handful of souls on the planet capable of doing it, but I'm sure anyone who has ever ridden a bike can appreciate the talent necessary to be part of Rossi and Co's incredible balancing act.
While stopping for the traffic lights after you leave the M6 at junction 15 may not need Casey Stoner's expertise, the braking principle is pretty much the same, its just the whole procedure happens at a more sensible pace. The following may all occur in a split second but this is basically how my thought process works when braking hard from high speed, be it on the road or racetrack.
Effective, safe braking is all about transferring weight onto the front tyre and suspension so closing the throttle is my first action to get this underway. As I'm rolling back the twist grip my fingers are already covering the brake lever ready to apply a tiny amount of pressure just to get the brake pads in contact with the discs. Further gentle pressure safely transfers most of the weight to the front of the bike so at this point I can then squeeze hard on the lever with virtually no risk of locking up the front wheel. Providing the braking force is kept constant the worst that can happen at this point is the rear lifts off the tarmac or comes slightly out of line. If this happens then I simply gently release some pressure bringing things back into line. I understand you might not be doing this every day on your daily commute but I still think it is worth practising this as it can come in handy should you ever need to stop quickly and safety.
Once I have reached my requiredspeed for the corner I will generally begin turning in while still quite hard on the brakes. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, with the weight bias pressing forward, the front tyre contact patch is bigger and secondly, as the forks are compressed the bike will want to steer quicker into the turn. My rule for the releasing the brake on the way into any corner is, as I turn in I let the brake off in direct proportion to my increasing angle of lean. I find mid corner trail braking (applying front brake while leaned over) useful but I'll only ever use one finger.
So how many fingers should you use on the brake lever? Personally I think it depends on how good your brakes are. On any modern bike fitted with radial mounted calipers I find two fingers provide more than enough purchase, however I also suggest whatever feels right is probably your best option. If you do use two fingers be careful of the lever working its way too close to the handle bars as like me you could end up with trapped digits and very little brakes. Interestingly, Rossi, who has super powerful carbon brakes uses all four fingers, baja atv parts, so maybe he had a bad experience early in his career? Whatever works for you. And how about Shinja Nakano? His thumb and index finger are continually wrapped round the throttle while he brakes with the other three, weird.
Like my whisky and women I like my road riding to be smooth, so I like using a fair amount of engine braking whenever possible. Using engine braking is particularly efficient in the wet and can be a real life saver should you ever have to pull up quickly. It is very unlikely that you will lock up the rear wheel doing this, but even if you a do a gentle squeeze on the clutch lever will bring things back into line.