Speed and Braking
In this 4 part blog, I will explain all aspects of cornering, for all levels of riding. In this section – part 2, I talk about adjusting speed and braking. However, if you haven’t already, I recommend you read part 1 – Vision and Planning, before you carry on. Part 3, out tomorrow, I will cover counter steering and part 4, I will discuss linking bends together.
Too fast or too slow?
A lot of bikers worry about their speed when going into a bend. Bend assessment is a real skill that requires time and understanding to perfect. However, you’re far less likely to have a problem when you ride the bend at a slower pace. This leaves some riding ability in reserve if things don’t go to plan. It might not feel as smooth as you’d like, but you’re less likely to run wide and be on the other side of the road!
Slow in, fast out
If you go into a bend too quickly, it can lead to big problems. Ever heard of the saying “slow in, fast out”? Always have this in mind when cornering. Most riders have problems with cornering because they are travelling too fast and in the wrong gear.
Have you ever ran wide in a bend? I know I have. So, my advice is to ride the bend, at a speed where you can stop on your side of the road, in the distance you see to be clear in front of you. When put like that, your speed when cornering should be relatively slow, or appropriate for your ability.
Braking before the bend
Braking as you go into the bend, really means your planning wasn’t up to the mark. Your braking should be done before you corner. Why? Any adjustments made in the bend can really upset the handling of the bike and can result in bigger problems.
When we turn the throttle off, the power of the bike drops dramatically. This is known as engine braking. If you are in a low gear and you turn the throttle off you may even feel your body weight being forced forward. We don’t get this kind of engine braking in a car – if you take your foot off the accelerator, the car will take a long time to slow down.
However on a bike, the engine braking is much more effective. So, the first thing to do in order to slow down, is to turn the throttle off. When I speak to bikers about slowing down, they tend to forget or not realise how effective throttling off can be.
We all know that using the front brake in a bend can be disastrous, depending on how the brake is applied and the road surface conditions. So any front brake application should be done prior to the bend and in conjunction with the rear brake. Braking using both brakes allows for more even weight distribution.
When we apply the front brake alone, the weight of the bike moves to the front end. This causes the front tyre to compress into the road surface. It gives the tyre more grip, but of course it can lead to a skid if too much pressure is applied. So when you apply the front brake (before the bend), make sure you are smooth and deliberate, not snatchy or panicky and make sure you are off it before you start to corner.
If you ride into a corner still carrying too much speed for your ability, as a get out clause, you can gently apply the rear brake. It will still upset the bike, but there’s definitely less chance of the tyre losing grip at the front end.
Again, the application needs to be smooth and deliberate, as applying the rear brake at high speed can also cause a skid.
The application of the rear brake will slow the bike down more gradually, but leave the front end unchanged in order for us to use the steering correctly.
When I passed my car test nearly 20 years ago, I was encouraged to move up through the gears and to be in at least 4th gear, even in a 30mph zone. This was to ‘show progress’.
So when I learnt to ride, I did pretty much the same thing, especially when riding a 125cc! However, when on a larger machine and in higher gears, we can have less control over the motorcycle.
Have you ever turned the throttle off and nothing happens? Or tried to put the throttle on (for an overtake for example) and it takes a few seconds to kick in? This is called an unresponsive throttle. The gear you are in is too high for the speed you are travelling.
To be more controlled when cornering, try using a responsive gear. One that gives you either an instant delivery of power, or when turned off, slows the bike down. Motorbikes are designed to be revved, so next time you’re on your bike, have a look at the rev range. If your bike runs up to 10,000 rpm, I would say you could comfortably ride at between 3-7,000 rpm.
For me, on my Suzuki Bandit 650, third gear is a very responsive gear, but on my Kawasaki ZZR1400, second gear is more suitable at the same speed. This means before I go into a bend, I can turn the throttle off early and the bike has enough engine braking to slow down gradually and as a result, I rarely need to use the brakes.
Go slow to start
Build you confidence by riding slower to begin with. I used to feel peer pressure from other riders, so if you can, ride alone. Don’t worry about your speed though, I was told by a very wise man (owner of RMT Motorcycle Training) that the speed will come once you set and perfect the skill.
Please note that these blogs are designed to give you some basic information and it doesn’t replace the need for further practical motorcycle training, which I highly recommend for EVERY rider.