Faster and safer.



By Nick Ienatsch, January 12, 2021


2021 is the year of the brake light here at Ienatsch Tuesday. More speed, more brakes, more safety. – Aidan O’Dowd

Last week’s examination of changing your bike’s direction in less time and distance by using your brakes defines Champ School’s slogan of “faster, safer.” We discussed that every curve has a maximum safe speed at the lean angle you can use, so if we plan to increase our approach speed, we must use more brakes. More speed, more brakes…because the corner will not change for you.

I skirted around the edges of speed on the street, but I ain’t your mommy. Do what you want, but know that “faster” without “safer” is not sustainable or even survivable. What is “safer”? It looks exactly like a lit brake light.



This week is about riding more safely at the speed you choose in situations you don’t choose. In other words, we don’t crash on perfect days riding roads we know with zero surprises. We crash when something unknown and/or unexpected jumps into your riding life. Sometimes literally.


Increased speeds uncover riding-technique flaws and so do surprises, whether it’s a tightening radius, a sharp curve just over a hill, a car exiting a hidden driveway, or a truck pulling a U-turn from the shoulder. You can probably think of a thousand more examples, many of which you’ve seen, and I’m betting those experiences prompt Cycle World readers to continue to improve riding knowledge and skill.


Unfortunately, our industry loses some riders after a few surprise experiences. My belief is that improved braking knowledge and performance are the key to reducing painful and scary surprises.






The best riders in the world know that the brakes control speed, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch. They illustrate this knowledge during the MotoGP coverage when the producers put brake and throttle graphs on the screen. Rarely will the green (throttle) graph disappear without the red (brakes) appearing. Straight-line braking shows a full bar of red, but watch during combination corners and you’ll see the tiniest of flashes of red when the green disappears because the riders need a little more load on the front tire, they need a little tighter steering geometry than simply closing the throttle will give them.

Could they make the corner without brakes? Probably. But maybe not with a full fuel load. Maybe not with a worn front tire. Maybe not on an inside passing line. We riders don’t do well with “maybe” in the same way a skydiver would stay in the plane if her parachute “might” open. Braking, even light braking, guarantees the front-tire load and steering geometry changes in a repeatable and adjustable way. With this braking approach, GP riders are safer and more consistent.

A GP rider’s goal is to win the world championship. Our goal is to reach our destination safely with a smile on our face and joy in our heart. These goals are not achieved when lying next to wrecked motorcycles, and the main place we American riders are dying is by running wide in corners.

Roll off the gas and onto the brakes; coasting means less control—especially on unknown roads and blind corners. – Jeff Allen

In Control

I don’t know if the majority of riding deaths are on roads unknown to the deceased, but many of us ride on unknown roads a great deal of the time. This morning I rode with Champ School’s Keith Culver in San Diego County and the roads we enjoyed were new or barely known to me.


The amount of time Keith and I were out of the controls during the backroad ride could be measured in seconds over the entire three-hour jaunt. That means there wasn’t much closed-throttle, no-brakes coasting. This in-the-controls approach is what brings safety to the speeds you choose in situations you don’t know or expect.



To add safety to your curvy-road riding, squeeze on your brakes when you close your throttle and leave that brake light on past the turn-in, the point at which you add lean angle. You’ve closed the throttle because you want to slow, so put an adjustable slowing component in place, rather than hope the engine slows you.




Feel This


Know that you must refine your braking feel so that you can sneak on 1 percent of your available brake pressure if needed. Half a percent, building to 6 percent, trailing and holding at 3 percent—that is the touch you see in the flicker of the red braking graph during GP, and you need it. This ability to sneak on these small brake pressures is what allows us to be in control at corner entries, to have our brake pads against our rotors, and to be gently scrubbing speed. To be ready for anything.


It’s easy to get in this sport and think, “Leave the brakes alone as much as possible, and when you need them, use them quickly and hard…then leave them alone.” One hundred percent wrong. It’s the light touches that allow you to survive a cold, rainy day or an overzealous corner entry into a curve that tightens…or a GP career. See our 100 Points of Grip video for more on the mandatory mastering of the brakes, especially the front.


Brake Light On


I led a lot this morning and practiced this approach of turning into unknown corners with my brakes on. I over-slowed a few times when the blind corner opened up more than expected, but that over-slowing does not hurt a motorcycle rider. We are not running wide due to over-slowing. Using my brakes to control my speed and steering geometry into corners made this morning’s ride with Keith a true joy.


My friend and I weren’t relying on luck, lean angle, or road knowledge to enjoy the corners, we were using our brakes to help our bikes steer into the corner and match our speed (at our chosen lean angle) to each corner’s radius. Our eyes searched into the corner, we closed the throttle to the brake lever when we got nervous, and we steered in while adjusting our speed with the brakes.


If this is new and intriguing to you, find a clean parking lot and run in a circle in second gear. Study what happens to your radius when you hold the throttle steady. What happens when you close the throttle? What about accelerating? What about closing the throttle and gently braking? You can probably guess what will happen, but you need to do this experiment because we are running wide in corners and dying. You don’t need theory, you don’t need Mr. Know-it-all Nick telling you. You need to realize how important slowing your motorcycle for corners is, and how much better your motorcycle slows when you close the throttle and gently apply brakes.


We will close the Year of the Brake Light, Part 2 with a long caption.

We don’t crash on perfect days, we crash when our skills can’t meet an immediate challenge, in this case gravel (deer, boulder) around a downhill, tightening-radius corner with oncoming traffic. This might be a corner these riders know, but this Sunday morning there’s something significant in the lane.

Rider B is out of control, literally. He has closed his throttle, his braking fingers are still wrapped around the throttle drum, and he’s using engine-braking to slow his bike for the corner. He’s been through here 100 times and this has always worked. Until today. Because he can’t slow his bike any more—engine-braking is not adjustable, you can’t close the throttle more—he can’t tighten his radius to go to the right of the gravel. He either hits the gravel or stands the bike up into the truck.

Why doesn’t he lean over more? Because lean angle is not infinite. Perhaps he’s already at the bike’s limit (undercarriage dragging or tires slipping), it’s cold and raining, and there’s no more grip; he’s scared to lean over further.

But wait, there’s additional possible drama with Rider B. When he realizes his only option is to slow his machine and go to the right of the gravel, he unwraps his fingers from the throttle drum and reaches them out to the brake lever, or moves his boot off the right footrest to the brake pedal. That takes about half a second, meanwhile his bike is hurtling toward the gravel and F-350. By this time he’s beyond panicked and grabs the front brake lever or stabs the rear brake pedal. Drama ensues. The lesson I hope you’re hearing: Close the throttle with your fingers already outstretched so they land on the brake lever, even in corners/intersections you don’t plan to brake for. An additional half-second of braking is a lifesaver.

Rider A enters the corner with light braking, just enough to fire her brake light and put the brake pads against the rotors. The throttle is shut, the brakes are on, and she is in control and ready for anything unexpected.

Both riders see the gravel at the same point in the corner and Rider A’s heart rate stays steady because she’s got her speed and geometry control in place. Like Rider B, she doesn’t have unlimited lean angle available, but as her speed reduces in an efficient and adjustable manner, her radius tightens at the lean angle she chooses. (You discover this on your own, in the parking lot.)

As she accelerates off the corner she thinks, “I’d be silly to close my throttle and not sneak on some brakes. Sure is a beautiful day. I just love riding motorcycles.”