braking drill

Practicing braking without riding? This pre-ride drill will help you to be precise with your braking. – Judy Ienatsch

These pre-ride drills aim to jump-start your mind and body before you fire the bike. How big of a deal is that? Perhaps fairly minor in the grand scheme of rider safety, but as we all know, minor details become major issues when we add speed or reduce traction.


Accident studies show that crashes happen near our homes, in familiar surroundings where we could be a bit complacent due to intimate knowledge of our neighborhood and a history of “nothin’ bad happened here before.” These pre-ride drills might help that issue because if you’ve tried the first two (eye movements and body warm-up), you undoubtedly found yourself thinking about the ride. “My tires are cold and the intersection before the freeway on-ramp is always a little crazy. Last week that Subaru backed out of that driveway hidden by the overgrown oleander bush.”


Some trackday riders struggle in the mornings getting up to speed, getting comfortable. A struggling rider isn’t having fun, and usually doesn’t feel too safe. Whether these slow starters are having mental or physical challenges, they will find that these pre-ride drills bring mental focus through physical movements.


And for all of us racing, we remember a saying, “You can’t win the race on the first lap, but you can definitely lose it.” That certainly means we should control our aggression on the crowded first lap, but it also means that slow starters take themselves out of the hunt on the first lap. When we see Valentino Rossi crouch by his footpeg and hear Freddie Spencer say he squeezes his grips three times before he rides, we realize the best riders in the world recognize what a pre-ride routine does for their speed, safety, and comfort. And as we say at ChampSchool: “If the champions are doing it, we’re doing it.”


Practicing Feel

This week’s pre-ride drill is to push your motorcycle forward or backward with the brake light lit. If you have seen or read about 100 Points of Grip, then you will understand this language: You are pushing your bike with one point of brakes. This is a very light touch on the front brake lever, just enough to light your brake light and push your brake pads against the rotors.


Initially you might pull the brake lever with six points of brakes and the bike won’t roll. You might try to reduce to one point of brakes and let go of the brake lever entirely. In other words, you are grabbing initial brake pressure and snapping off brake pressure far too quickly.


As you roll forward with one point on, increase it slightly to two, three, and then four, five. Your bike will come to a stop, so now reduce to four, three, and hold two or one as your bike begins to gently roll again. You will hear your pads against the rotors the whole time; this is the touch of the champions.

Pushing your bike

Push your bike and practice getting your brake light to come on without stopping. – Judy Ienatsch

Why Do You Care?

Mastering the front brake is the secret to motorcycle safety, riding joy and trophy collecting. Check out ChampSchool’s Radius = MPH video and some of my columns discussing how reducing your bike’s speed affects its cornering radius—the radius tightens as the bike slows at the same lean angle. By practicing your one-point touch on the front brake, you will be able to efficiently slow your motorcycle even at steep lean angles. In our parlance, you will be able to use your brakes even when leaned over at 99 percent of the tires’ grip limits.


A note here: You can use the rear brake too because a slowing motorcycle tightens its radius; many riders prefer the front brake because it better controls the steering geometry and we usually have a finer touch with our gloved fingers than booted toes.


This scale of 100 points slides depending upon road surface, tire temperature, tire pressure, and tire compound. You pop over the hill on an unknown dirt road and suddenly need to stop your bike due to the rancher pushing cows across the road between pastures. Because you practice this fine touch on the brake lever, you are able to use your brakes to come to a safe stop in the dirt prior to hitting the south end of a northbound cow. That’s a win.


Let’s say you meet that special person and decide to go for a ride. Because you’ve practiced this smooth initial squeeze of one point of brakes, your initial braking in every circumstance will be smoother; that means your fork springs and tire will load smoothly and your newfound friend won’t be freaked out by the sudden, frightening, uncomfortable weight transfer of the rider who mistakenly believes the brakes should be grabbed when needed. Your relationship blossoms and your special person believes you are the smoothest person they have ever met. Win-win.


But as important as missing cows and happy relationships are, the primary benefit of this pre-ride drill is setting the muscle memory of adding single points of brakes. That’s the feel of a champion because it brings the ability to carve off fractions of mph deep into the corner while trail-braking. For racers and track riders, that means consistently bringing your bike down to the maximum allowable speed for your lean angle. For street riders, this pre-ride drill means owning the ability to retain control of your speed and radius in every situation. This is riding joy, and it comes through the mastery of the front brake lever. We can, and should, increase our mastery before and during every ride.

pre-ride braking drill

You can also do this pre-ride braking drill with your rear brake. – Cycle World Archives

Texter Alert

Steve Ritchey is a YCRS instructor and just retired from 20 years as a Las Vegas Metro motor officer and chief riding instructor. A few years ago Steve began to see more motorcycles hit from behind in Las Vegas crashes, due to drivers texting and/or ogling the Las Vegas neon sights.


The rider who can pick up one point of brake sparks their brake light, alerting those behind that they are slowing. Rather than just decelerate to slow and hope the following texter notices, we can decelerate and just squeeze on one point of brake so the following driver’s attention is caught over the lip of the latte cup and around their windshield-mounted phone. We can flash that brake light with our one-point touch every time we decelerate, yet not kill our speed.


Now And Again

As with everything you have mastered in your life, this pre-ride drill can’t be done once and then forgotten. As you prepare to rejoin the ride after breakfast in the mountains, roll your bike back and forth with a point of brake on. As you roll into the gas station to meet your friends, see how long you can use one point of brake approaching the pumps. Know that this touch is what separates the best from the rest, and you are capable of achieving it with purposeful practice.


Training your right-hand fingers should be an ongoing pursuit because the riders we admire at the pointy end of the world, national, and club championships can add and subtract fractions of braking points. We call that: Faster, safer—with the emphasis on safer—all done before your bike fires.