Safe Riding

Braking in a Corner - Is it Safe?

Written by  September 30, 2005

So…is it OK to brake when entering a corner?

The technical term for this is called “trail breaking,” but unless you’re an MSF instructor you’ve probably never heard this term before. Common sense tells us that it’s better to stay off the brakes while leaning, because apply too much front brake can make the front end want to tuck, resulting in a lowside (your bike sliding out from under you) or if you apply too much rear brake, the bike will tend to upright itself and go straight, or depending on your lean angle could result in a highside (you going over your bike). Neither situation is good, so what do you do?

If you’ve ever entered a corner a bit too fast and get the feeling in your gut that no matter how much you lean, it’s not going to be quite enough to keep you from crossing the center line or running off the road, trail braking can save your ass-ets. If this happens to you all the time you should consider working on your cornering skills or stick to roads that don’t have any turns, like those I rode on going across Kansas on my way to Sturgis this year.

If you ride in a perfect world, you should only need your brakes when you want to stop or slow down really fast. Other than that, you can theoretically reduce your speed by downshifting to the appropriate gear before entering a curve, and then accelerate out of the curve until you reach the next one. However, since we don’t live in a perfect world and we often ride on roads that are unfamiliar to us, you sometimes have to use your brakes a bit more than normal when entering a corner.

If you find it difficult to walk and chew gum at the same time, you should probably avoid trying to brake and corner at the same time, however if you find that you need to use your brakes when entering a corner, apply your brakes while your bike is still vertical (or as vertical as possible), let off the brakes and then arc into the turn.

When you apply your brakes in a turn, your front time is trying to figure out if it needs to apply traction to the turn or help you slow down, which are two totally independent actions. This also keeps your brain from having to think about doing too many things at the same time, and if you toss something else in there like being late to work or missing the latest episode of American Chopper, you’re just asking for trouble.

Over the years, I’ve seen several sportbike riders and a few cruisers picking up their bikes from the grassy area next to sharp off ramps and onramps, which intersect most of our major highways. This can happen to anyone on any type of bike, but new riders or owners of new bikes need to be especially careful to slow down to an appropriate speed before entering a sharp turn.

The next nice day you have, find a road you are familiar with and experiment with leaving your brakes lightly applied as you lean into a corner, and gradually release your brakes as you arc in. Start out using only light braking at moderate lean angles and when you have a good feel for how your bike handles, you can increase your lean angle and lighten up on the braking. Again, make sure not to apply too much brake while leaning or you may be the next rider picking up their bike from the side of the road…if you’re lucky!

Good luck, ride safe and happy cornering!

By Mike Schweder