Next Ride Drill, Part 2 by Nick Ienatsch, July 14, 2020

When closing the throttle you should be moving to the brake lever—even if you don’t plan to apply the brakes.

Started last week, this new series gives you a specific drill for your next ride. At ChampSchool we do this in real time, giving our students an exact technique or approach to focus on that lap. The positive feedback we get from these one-thought laps made me think a written version would help your riding too.

These single-lap drills happen late in the school and augment what we have been working on for a day and a half. They are intended to add refinement to earlier lessons, place another tool in riders’ toolboxes, further the general understanding of bike dynamics, and increase subtlety behind the handlebars.

Many of my articles are focused on new or beginner riders, but these drills are more for riders who are starting to really get into the groove of riding.

Next Ride Drill, Part 2: The Habit Of Efficiency

This week’s Next Ride Drill is arguably the single-most important habit riders can develop: Close the throttle to the brake lever.

That means your outstretched fingers come to rest on your brake lever when the throttle goes closed (and should be resting on the brake lever when you’re cruising, right riders? But let’s take this a step further on your next ride.

The next time you’re out on two wheels and traffic allows, sneak on some brake pressure every time you close the throttle. Yes, even when you close the throttle and don’t need the brakes. If the throttle goes shut, you pull on the brakes—mostly front but some rear too, especially if you are on a long-wheelbase bike.

2019 kawasaki ninja zx6r 5
Even here, notice the position of the rider’s index finger.

By focusing your next ride specifically on this vital move, closing the throttle to the brakes, you will create a habit that brings multiple benefits that all add safety to your riding. Speed too, if you care about that.

This is no longer a drill for me—this is how I ride every mile. ☺

Multiple Benefits

  1. You might brake too hard the first few times. In our ChampSchool parlance, you have a 20-point (20 percent out of a tire’s total 100 percent of traction) braking hand—see our 100 Points of Grip video. As your brake-pressure awareness increases, you will refine your touch closer to the championship-winning riders who can pick up 1/8 of a point of brakes because they’re often leaned over at 99 and 7/8ths of lean angle points! This fine touch should be the beginning and ending of every braking event because this is what loads and unloads the fork and then the front tire. This initial touch is the secret to braking at lean angle, braking on a cold tire, or braking on gravel roads.
  2. As your touch refines, you will be able to brake hard enough to light up your brake light yet hardly retard your speed. This is key in traffic because riders who simply close the throttle to slow, especially at high rpm, are giving no communication to following texters—I mean drivers. This drill gets you in the habit of lighting that brake light when slowing.
  3. As stated above, these Next Ride Drills can be done by any rider but are aimed at veteran riders who have things pretty well dialed in. Those are the riders who lead rides, and if you follow this habit of lighting your brake light when decelerating, any riders following you will know exactly what their leader is doing. Slowing. Braking. This helps prevent rear-ends in city riding and rushing corner entries on the back roads. Leaders: Light that brake light when slowing for safer group rides.
  4. You will go faster while being safer. This pace increase has nothing to do with increasing your literal over-the-road mph, but instead, you will learn to hold your speed longer toward the corner because you now efficiently slow the bike, instead of just rolling the throttle shut and hoping the deceleration matches the upcoming curves’ radius. When we say faster/safer at ChampSchool, this is what we mean. This is the definition of efficiency as we go from one control to the other, reducing the time we’re coasting out of control.
  5. You will put your brake pads against your rotors when you close the throttle, and now you’re ready to add pressure if necessary. Riders who are late to the brakes are significantly more abrupt because they are that much closer to whatever encouraged them to brake. As you refine this brake-pressure touch, your trail-braking skills will continue to grow, and your riding confidence will soar.

Make This Effort

In my opinion, there is a revolving set of priorities that each rise to the top depending upon the situation, but this habit of closing the throttle to the brake lever is near the top no matter where or what you ride. Note that we do not want to use the front brake and the throttle together, even though that is being taught. We don’t want to drive the rear tire and slow the front tire at the same time, so make sure you are shutting the throttle completely before braking, and releasing the front brake completely before accelerating.

Remember—this is a drill to try on your next ride, not to read about and ponder off the bike. You may not be able to put this drill into play every time you close the throttle, like slowing a bit on the freeway, but try. The efficiency of going from the throttle to the brakes, even light braking, is at the root of speed with safety.

Even while cruising along a straight road your outstretched finger should be resting on the brake lever.Jeff Allen

This habit eliminates many possible emergencies because you no longer just close the throttle when it looks like the approaching car might turn left, now you close the throttle and put your pads against your rotors so when the car does turn, adding pressure is all that is necessary to brake. It’s these best-practices processes that make the difference in everyday riding.

If you find that you are closing the throttle with your fingers still wrapped around the throttle grip, you are headed down a tough path. Why do you close the throttle? That’s right, because your brain says, “Slow down, beware, have caution.” So to close the throttle and not have your fingers outstretched to (and in this drill, pulling on) the front brake lever is going to put you at least a half second behind getting to the brakes when it matters, and at 60 mph that’s 44 feet.

Healthy Habit Of Expert Riding

What is the common theme in these photos?

Brian Smith
ChampSchool instructor and AHRMA winner Brian Smith pre-race visualization.
Nick Ienatsch
Keith Culver
ChampSchool’s Keith Culver pauses his bike loading to grab a picture with AMT’s Glenn Picklesimer.
Nick Ienatsch
Chris Peris
Chris Peris discusses body position while instructor Brian Smith models.
Nick Ienatsch
Dale Quarterley
AMA Superbike and AHRMA winner Dale Quarterley on bike, talking to Hypercycle’s Carry Andrew.
Nick Ienatsch
Mark Schellinger
ChampSchool instructor Mark Schellinger getting ready to straight-leg Ryan Burke’s Superbike to life.
Nick Ienatsch
Rusty Bigley
Rusty Bigley gives me a push on the Speedwerks’ Honda 250 stroker.
Nick Ienatsch
Dennis Hanna snapped this picture of me on my “new” Beemer.
Dennis Hanna
Michael Henau
ChampSchool and ChampMini instructor (and Pikes Peak record holder) Michael Henau waiting to roll on track with a student.

Did you spot the common theme? In each picture, the bike is not running or rolling, the throttle is shut, and the riders’ fingers are resting on the brake lever. Not because they were told to cover the brake, but because the muscle memory is ingrained: Throttle shut? Fingers on the brake lever!

Next ride, initiate braking every time you close the throttle. This habit is confidence building, life saving, industry growing, and championship winning.

More next Tuesday!