Trail braking

Forums ChampSchool General Event Discussion Trail braking

  • This topic has 16 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated 8 months ago by Colin Lester.
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    Heather Grasby

    Hi, I’m new to trail braking and have really only tried it a few times, recently I got new reduced reach clutch and brake levers so I could reach them better…. I still find it difficult to simultaneously hold the front brake and the throttle. I will practice in the garage as I saw in the video. Also when trail braking do you this for EVERY corner? Even the long sweeping corners, that you can see right around?
    One day I will go down south and take a course, would love to!!!!! I wish there were schools closer to me… do you supply bikes if a person was to fly down? Sincerely Heather

    Nick Ienatsch

    Hello Heather…so glad you wrote because there is a fundamental mistake in your practice that can be cleared up quickly and will make trail-braking a much simpler job: We never use the front brake and accelerating throttle at the same time! Major deal.

    Throttle is rolled completely shut as we sneak on the front brake, the front brake is eased completely off as we initiate throttle. What a relief, right? Trying to manipulate throttle and front brake at the same time would be enormously difficult. I must note that there is a group out there teaching “front brake and accelerating throttle together”, but extremely poor and wrong advice like that was a big motivator for Champ U.

    The one time we will have front brake and throttle on together is during rev-matching during a downshift. But in that case, the clutch lever is in, so the throttle “blip” (short rev) doesn’t accelerate the bike, it simply bring the rpm up to match the lower gear.

    The overall idea: We mustn’t attempt to drive the rear tire while slowing the front tire. It’s a confusing message and our experience shows that eventually the front tire will tuck because the accelerating forces unload the front tire, locking it into a crash.

    Good? Thanks for your support of Champ U. -NI

    Heather Grasby

    Well I’m glad you cleared that up, we are having an amazing fall here in NW Ontario and went for a ride today and I couldn’t even feel me right hand (went numb)trying to manipulate the front brake lever and the throttle…now that said, doesn’t the rolling off the throttle then braking slow the bike down way too much when entering a corner… I need a real good video to watch …can you recommend one… I’m a visual learner

    I really want/need to come for a class or a weekend


    Nick Ienatsch

    Hi Heather…Great to hear the weather is staying good…it’s good all winter at our home track southeast of Tucson, AZ!!! (See how I worked a sales pitch in there…??)

    -We say “brake when nervous…use your brakes until you’re happy with your speed and direction”. So don’t feel you “must brake” for every corner. Sometimes, and often-times, deceleration is enough “braking” to make you not nervous for the approaching corner.

    -The faster you go…100km per hour approaching a 20km corner, for instance…the more braking you will need. Earlier roll-off to the brakes, more overall brake pressure, longer braking. 100km per hour toward a 95km corner, just a roll-off will do it. 50km per hour toward that same corner might require a roll-off and light braking.

    -Main point: you always roll the throttle shut with your braking fingers extending onto the brake lever “just in case”.

    Not sure of an exact video on this subject, but there’s a lot of fun stuff to watch on our youtube channel and website. It’s a great subject so we’ll put some vids together soon…thanks, Nick

    Heather Grasby

    Thanks Nick, I’m slowly getting it now, best explaination. by the way, I grunted today to relax my throttle hand today….it really worked lol what a concept…Grunt throttling lol

    Colin Lester

    Hi. I just started the Champ U course. Liking it! I’m currently riding an ’18 Road Glide and have done cornering courses on it on a track too. Also have had a number of sportbikes over the years currently rent a Ducati Streetfighter for track days. You’re not supposed to use throttle and light brake but often if I go off the throttle (on my Road Glide) in a number of the corners around here, I really slow down and I find a bit of trail brake and some throttle – took me while to learn that – seems to ‘set’ the bike nicely in the corner. Will pay attention to your statement about not trail braking with throttle, but your thoughts and comments? Thanks, CL

    Heather Grasby

    The part I have trouble with is being able to hold neutral throttle, I get the concept, I have a 14 Streetglide and it’s hard not to “chop” the throttle, and still gently squeeze the brakes into the corner…it almost feels like physically I can’t do it ….frustrating …our weather here has now changed and it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get back on the bike till spring…bummer…Heather

    Colin Lester

    Yes, It does take a bit to get it but is achievable! I don’t know what the school says but I use my index and middle fingers for the brake and my thumb and last 2 fingers still on the handgrip (you of course are probably doing this too). And yes, not getting to the bike till the spring is disappointing! I’m on southern Vancouver Island so as long as it is at least 6° I can get out there. Maybe practice/visualize the process in the garage, make varroom sounds and talk out loud what you are doing as you go through an imaginary corner!

    Heather Grasby

    Lol yes… I actually imagine I’m riding the mc when I’m driving my car

    Colin Lester


    Nick Ienatsch

    Hello Colin…thanks for chiming in.

    To your question of throttle and front brake together: We have a saying at YCRS, “When you’re going slow, nothing much matters”. There are a wide variety of ways to ride when the pace is down and the grip is up.

    If the bike is leaned over at 20 points of lean angle on hot tires and dry, clean pavement, then there are 80 points left for braking or throttle. You could be quite abrupt with the brakes or throttle in that scenario, even squeeze on some brakes as you used the throttle. No problem because you are far from the edge of grip.

    Now take that same lean angle on a gravel road. Suddenly you are at 90 points of lean angle, 90 percent of what the tire can handle, and you go to an old habit and squeeze on some front brake with the throttle open and bam, you’re down. You can blame the gravel or the tires, but in fact the blame goes to a technique that only works in a relatively narrow window.

    I go into this explanation to describe our school to you. We could tell new riders they are doing fine if they’re not trail-braking, not being smooth, using front brake and throttle together…heck, they’re making it around the track, and gosh, isn’t this fun? But that will never happen at YCRS because we know that the student’s next ride could be in sleeting rain on the way home from work…traversing a steel bridge on a rainy day…popping over a hill to find a freshly-graveled road and stopped traffic…pick the problem that requires exact and expert-level technique.

    So, yes, you can use front brake and throttle together when the pace is low and the grip is high. But at the pointy end, when it really counts…whether at the lap record on the track or in the sleet on a fast street bike…we do not want to attempt to slow the front tire and drive the rear tire. Hope that helps, thanks for supporting Champ U. -NI

    Colin Lester

    Hi Nick, thanks for replying. Ahh, “do not want to slow the front and drive the rear” – yes, got it – that point stands out for me. And, that one can develop a habit with that if you do it often and then as it is a habit, you could do it at the wrong time. I’m definitely learning in the course – thanks! – Colin

    Gray Olson

    Hi Colin and Heather,
    As always, Nick did an awesome job with his explanations and why throttle with front brake is not a good idea. I just wanted to add a couple of points for clarification and another little tidbit.

    1. Rolling off and decelerating because of it, i.e. engine braking, *is* braking… and therefore doing so under the right circumstances, i.e. past tip in, can be considered trail braking. If you’re decelerating due to any braking forces (front brake, rear brake, or engine brake) past tip-in in order to control your speed and *direction*, then you’re trail braking. As Nick said, if you’re not pushing the pace at all, it may be the case that all you need to do is to roll off to (trail) brake enough for a particular corner. However, there’s one “fatal flaw” of *relying* on engine braking: it’s not adjustable. I’ll let Nick and Chris explain it better than I could, they have a great video on it that I saw recently:

    What does this mean? Well, the main idea for street riders such as yourselves is that, even if in the majority of corners you only ever end up needing to engine brake, you should still get into the habit of covering the front brake and just *baaarely* squeezing it… *after* you roll off the throttle. No need to try to contort yourself to work both at the same time for this purpose. You don’t have to squeeze the brake enough to make any significant difference in the braking force, but *just* enough to turn your brake light on and barely engage the brake pads with the disc. That way, if you end up needing to use an *adjustable* brake because something out of the ordinary happens (i.e. the corner is sharper than you first thought, you’re going faster than you thought, there’s an obstruction in the road, etc.) you are fully primed and ready to *squeeze* (not grab!!) the front brake smoothly and adjust your speed and direction.

    2. Notice that the YCRS curriculum is always stressing that we trail brake/use our brakes until we are *happy with our speed and direction*. This means that in many corners, especially if you’re going slowly, you might end up going back to neutral throttle fairly quickly after you begin to turn in. If you’re happy with the line that your bike is currently on (the radius of its turn), then you can and should be on neutral throttle. So Colin, when you say “often if I go off the throttle (on my Road Glide) in a number of the corners around here, I really slow down,” you might just be trying to emphasize staying off the throttle too much for *your pace* in those corners. That being said, I might encourage you to try a few times, when you’re out in good conditions, to push your pace a little faster than you usually ride. Not with the objective of going faster, but with the objective of feeling what it’s like to trail brake past tip in without ending up going much slower than you want to mid-corner.

    What they say at champ school for this is, we can use more throttle (go a little faster) safely so long as we *plan to use more brakes*. So, have a little more speed coming into a corner and then don’t panic, just roll off throttle and go to the brakes when you get nervous, squeeze smoothly (it doesn’t have to be hard), and feel what it’s like to continue to load that front tire as you tip the bike in. Then, when you’re happy with your speed and direction, smoooothly release the brake and go to neutral throttle.

    3. Related to the above, and particularly effective on cruisers like both of you have, is to use the *rear* brake mid corner in order to help correct your direction, *after* you’ve gone back to neutral throttle. It’s a technique that I learned day 2 of champ school and I thought was really interesting. This is basically, I think, what you were trying to do with the front brake and throttle, Colin. The idea is that if you are happy with your speed in direction after you tip in, you go to neutral throttle as said above. Well, let’s say that your judgement was a little off, or the corner tightens slightly. If it’s not enough of a difference to warrant rolling all the way off the throttle and squeezing front brake (as, again, we don’t want to drive the throttle and slow the front), you can instead smooothly and slowly apply *rear* brake while continuing to hold neutral throttle. This will safely allow you to control your direction via braking in a very similar way to you do with the front brake, just in smaller and more precise ways mid corner.

    Hopefully some of that made sense and coaches please feel free to chime in and correct if anything I said is not right!


    Heather Grasby

    Wow Gray, sounds like your one of the instructors!
    I’m excited to say that I have signed up for a class with Champ school in February in Vegas! I will have my bike so they can see exactly what is happening when I try to reach my front brake lever and hopefully help me adjust the assembly if needed! I am s thrilled to be going! I want a tshirt lol


    Heather Grasby

    I just wanted to say that your reply was VERY informative! I wasn’t being sarcastic!

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