Just a Touch.

By Nick Ienatsch, January 19, 2021

Sneaking just enough pressure on the brake lever to illuminate the brake light without slowing the motorcycle has benefits.Cycle World Archives

In Part 1 of this “The Year of the Motorcycle Brakelight” series we discussed speed, but perhaps in a surprising way. It’s easy to believe that running a faster lap time necessitates riding faster everywhere, and that might be initially true for the novice track rider, but the secret to speed lies in the ability to slow and turn.

Our bikes will roll through the middle of a corner at a certain maximum speed—at our chosen lean angle; the rider who gets to and from that midcorner speed more efficiently is faster. The rider who does it consistently is the champion. Getting the bike consistently slowed and turned near its maximum cornering velocity (at our chosen lean angle) requires mastering the brakes. It’s impossible to do consistently well with simple engine-braking.

In Part 2 we looked at the safety of brake mastery, especially the front brake, because it controls speed, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch. We looked at GP riders sneaking on minor percentages of brake pressure to guarantee the load on the tire during transitions, and to tighten the steering geometry so the bike turns quicker. That’s not a speed thing, that’s a geometry thing that reduces crashes and gains points.

We had a diagram in Part 2 that illustrates a rider’s ability to adjust to midcorner drama by tightening cornering radius via trail-braking and midcorner braking. In both articles we noted that riders running wide in curves was the leading killer of motorcyclists; that statistic is directly tied to a common belief that braking should be avoided, and only done in a straight line if done at all. This series aims to disprove that notion 100 percent. We need more brake light on our rides to be safer. We’ll be faster too, but speed without safety is unsustainable.


Street Leaders

Have you heard stories about newer riders crashing behind veteran riders? Me too. The first section of Part 3 is to encourage anyone who leads riders to learn to sneak on just enough brake pressure to light the brake light when they would normally just roll off the throttle for the corner, or when approaching something concerning, like a crowded intersection.

This light braking shows the newer rider that the leader is slowing. The brake light flashes and the slowing message is significantly clearer than simple deceleration can provide. Leaders need to develop that light feel with the front and/or rear brake, even if it’s just a flash or two. If I owned a motorcycle touring company, this habit would be part of group leadership.

YCRS’s Brian Smith installed a Smart-Brake inertia module (safer-turn.com) on his Ducati Multistrada to alert following traffic that he is decelerating. The big twin has significant engine-braking and the Smart-Brake senses deceleration and lights the stock brake light. This helps when leading other riders as well as alerting drivers to the Ducati’s reduction in speed.Brian Smith

Let’s Stay Friends

Have you heard stories about riders crashing their friend’s bike? Me too. I’ve heard horrendous stories from the track world and have developed a strategy that allows me to ride offered bikes with a safety valve in place: slightly early braking.


At YCRS we teach that “Rushing Corner Entry” is a leading cause of crashes, so this idea of sneaking on the brakes slightly earlier than you think is perfect goes a long way toward keeping your friend’s bike shiny and your relationship growing positively.

As you perfect your light braking by pushing your bike around the garage with a little bit of brake on, you’ll find that this slightly early braking calms your brain at corner entry and doesn’t hurt your lap time much because the corner’s slowest point is never at the corner’s turn-in. You pull on your speed, geometry, and contact-patch control slightly early and then adjust pressure all the way to the corner’s slow point. You are fast and safe on the borrowed bike. Your friends like you. Your money stays in your wallet.

Career Growth

In 1986 I rode Eddie Lawson’s Yamaha 500 Grand Prix bike for Motorcyclist magazine at Riverside International Raceway and didn’t crash it. I was 25 years old, one year on the job, and my roadracing experience was practically zero. But Lawson’s pragmatic approach to the sport had rubbed off on me through our Lawson’s Lines column and burgeoning friendship. Eddie had repeatedly stressed getting the corner entry right, and it got me through Riverside’s thrill ride.


Later, I rode Mick Doohan’s NSR500 at Suzuka, Wayne Rainey’s YZR at Willow Springs, and the highlight: Kenny Roberts Jr.’s RGV at Phillip Island. In addition to those 500s, I rode Mat Mladin’s GSX-R750 Superbike, Miguel DuHammel’s RC45 Superbike, Carl Fogarty’s No. 1 Ducati, and a pair of factory 990cc MotoGP bikes—one from Yamaha and one from Ducati. For a few years at Sport Rider magazine I rode all the AMA championship-winning bikes.

There were more, but here’s the point: This string of dream rides would have instantly halted with a crash. “Don’t put Ienatsch on it, he crashed XXXX’s bike.” It would have also been halted if I wobbled around slowly, nowhere near the bike’s limits. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing, waste of time.”


It’s insane for me to tell you motorcycles are crash-proof, but I like the term and hope it sticks in your mind in this way: It refers to initiating braking 1 percent earlier than you believe would be perfect. For instance, rather than run Alex Barros’ R1M to the “2” board in Valencia’s turn 1 as I’d seen him do, I went to the brakes just past the “3” board. Did that make me slower than Alex? Yes. Did anyone care that I was slower than Alex? No. Did anyone care that I brought his factory Yamaha back to the pits in one piece? Yes.


This idea of sneaking on the brakes a hair early does some really good things:

  1. It calms your mind…a mind that could be quite frazzled when accelerating on a modern motorcycle, or a 500 GP bike at Phillip Island in the year 2000 with world champion Kenny Roberts Jr. watching.
  2. Puts you in direct control of your entrance speed, not “rolling off and hoping.”
  3. Puts you in direct control of your fork travel, and thus your steering geometry.
  4. Puts a linear load into the front tire, allowing it to squish out on the pavement prior to big brake pressure. This is the “load the tire before you work the tire” we teach at Champ School. An accelerating motorcycle has a very small front-tire contact patch and it’s easy to “grab a handful of brake” and immediately lose the front because you’ve haven’t loaded the tire; your grab beat the weight transfer.

How You Know Trouble Is Coming

Rushing the entry of a corner is a sign of impending drama, a crash is coming. You are perhaps braking too late, not braking at all, not braking long enough, or not building enough brake pressure after initiation.

You will know you are rushing because your corner exit suffers: You run wide, miss apexes, have to hold the throttle steady on exit because you are still holding lean angle, almost cross the centerline, and almost run off the road in left-hand corners. Riders, these are the signs that you must work on your corner entry braking.

Use your corner exits as a report card for your corner entries. As YCRS’s fleet-footed Chris Peris says, “Rushing corner entry is how every crash I’ve had begins.” Peris is working on his braking to set an entry speed that creates great bike direction prior to exiting the corner, at his chosen lean angle.

Brake Light

I didn’t call this series “The Year of More Motorcycle Braking” because your brake use must be more subtle than that. What is missing in many riders’ toolbox is the ability to close the throttle and pull on just enough brake pressure to fire the brake light. This touch is the beginning and ending of every braking episode an expert rider has.

Here the focus is on slightly early braking to retain friendships, lead riders better, and extend riding careers—and in my case, realize lifetime dreams. If you read, “Grab the brakes earlier,” then you will wonder why I recommend over-slowing the bike well before the corner. If you read what I’m intending to communicate, “Sneak on the brakes earlier, just enough to fire your brake light,” you will feel the calming effects this brings, and the controlled speed it allows at corner entry.

More next Tuesday!