Keith Code

The Fine Art Of Braking

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The Fine Art of Braking

By Keith Code

 

By survey 100% of over 10,000 riders agree on this point: they know that if they possessed the ability and skill to get their turn entry speeds consistently right, their confidence would soar; they would feel more in control; they would be faster and they would be smoother. Here is some information on why you might want to master that ability.

 

 

Coasting Races

 

In the mid '70's I was introduced to an amazing form of "racing". Four or five of us would get together at the top of one of our favorite southern California canyon descents; turn off the engines; line up across the road; heckle each other; count to three; pick up our feet without pushing off any more than was necessary to get moving and laugh and yell out insults to one another all the way down to the bottom. Most of the runs were a couple of miles long with lots of turns. That's a coasting race.

 

The rider who coasted the farthest and fastest (they were usually the same rider) "won". There weren't any tricks, equipment mattered little, it was all you. Well, I did have one little trick -- pushing the pads back into my front caliper to eliminate the pad drag.

 

The camaraderie was elevated enormously by the fact that, unlike our usual canyon rides we could, for the most part, communicate throughout the descent. It was such a delight. Even when it went wrong and someone crashed (like me) I still have fond memories and get a warm sensation when recalling it.

 

 

Strategy of Coasting Races

 

On the technical side of things: I was immediately impressed with several aspects of this form of entertainment and a couple of those points were indelibly printed in my memory and became a part of the California Superbike School over 20 years ago.

 

The simple trick to winning a coasting race is the obvious, the rider who could maintain his momentum by using his brakes the least generally would prevail. Doing an entire run down some of the steeper roads with little or no braking took as much or more mental grip than doing it with them, this becoming immediately apparent in the first semi-tight corner you came to. Unwilling to give up the momentum yet afraid of the speed which had accumulated, your focus and interest became laser sharp.

 

Sure your hand would be poised over the lever and sure it took some supreme acts of willpower to keep from using brakes and sure you would make errors and have to use the brakes but you also paid closer attention to the speeds than you normally would. The reduction of distractions like engine noise and gear changes and throttle and charging the corners with hard braking were all eliminated and it allowed you to make much finer estimates of your corner entry speeds and maintain that precious momentum.

 

 

Low Noise, High Speeds

 

After my first coasting race I realized I never would have gone through those turns with the power on as fast as I had done with no engine running, no charging and, for the most part, no brakes. It made me realize just how distracting those things really were and just how much of my attention they absorbed.

 

One of the things I have noticed when I watch students is how erratic their turn entry speeds often are. That comes from the idea they have to charge the corners and brake hard but they can tend to over-brake and foul up their entry and corner speed momentum.

 

 

Low Speeds, Quick Times

 

One day, as I was driving up to the Laguna Seca track in northern California to do a school, I realized that if anyone was going to overcome this self generated confusion from over-braking, the quickest route to that was riding no brakes.

 

Once I got to the track I tried it out and rediscovered what I'd already figured out before from the coasting races. I went faster into the turns, my speed sense and judgement became sharper, I worried less about my entry speed and found that getting back to the throttle earlier was significantly easier. I thought it would be worthwhile to have the students try it out.

 

While it is true that some tracks lend themselves to this form of sharpening your riding skills better than others, I did begin to notice a trend at different tracks. The riders who stuck with the no brakes, even after we officially switched back to using them, made more improvement in their speed and confidence than those who were "testing" our brake pad material by charging the turns.

 

 

Ignore the Instincts

 

It's almost as if riders feel obligated to charge turns. It's the idea that you will go faster because of it and seems such a simple and direct route to that end but rarely works. The instinct to brake late and hard is like clubbing a female to then take her for a wife. That plan isn't going to work.

 

I have observed many truly diligent riders who ignored the instinct and stayed with the No Brakes format knocking off seconds from their lap times. To top it off they were achieving their quicker times with only one or two gears instead of the usual thrashing through the gear box. They might be going 20 mph slower on the straights but one should pay attention to the results (improved lap times and corner speed) not the impulse to go fast on the straights.

 

As I have said a thousand times, the brakes become more of a crutch than a tool for most riders. Someone always whines about the no-brakes riding format at school. Well, crutches are notoriously hard to put down, aren't they? Riders claim it is difficult (of course it is), that they could go faster with them (faster down the straight away, yes); that they "had" to use them (the crutch again) and on and on.

 

What these riders don't realize is how satisfying it is to persevere at the exercise until you really get it, so you really can judge your entry speeds and really know you can do it. Very, very satisfying. Very, very big contribution to your riding confidence. Very!

 

 

The Basic Idea

 

The logic is flawless. Using or not using the brakes is irrelevant to the intended result of getting into the corner at the exact right speed. One either knows what that right speed is and can achieve it or they are guessing. If they are guessing they are paying more attention to it than they should have to. Guessing brings about inaccurate braking and inaccurate braking brings about rough and uncertain turn entries.

 

 

Trail Braking

 

(Definition: Action of trailing off or tapering off brake lever pressure and braking force as the rider enters the corner.) Trail braking is a valid and useful tool for any rider at any level of riding. The warning is this: when used too often, or as a crutch to calm the fear brought on by the inability to sense speeds accurately, it not only doesn't solve the source of the problem it makes it worse.

 

As the pilot you must make the decision on when to let off of the brake(s). It is a complicated little piece of work with all of the other usual distractions you encounter at the turn's entry, e.g., setting the lean, getting the line and feeling the traction. Bottom line - if you are trailing the brakes towards a well known, accurately understood speed it is a tool. Otherwise it tends to become a crutch and invites riders to "charge" the turns, low line them, leave the throttle till late and make tricky and sometimes dangerous mid-corner steering corrections all of which could be avoided with accurate turn entry speed sensing and setting.

 

 

Panic Crutch

 

In contrast to the aforementioned, I see many riders who feel compelled to stab at their brakes in the last moments before entering a corner. While watching them do it, the only conclusion one would come to is that the speed was a big surprise; all of a sudden they become aware of it and it seemed too fast. This is an obvious error. They aren?t using the brake to adjust anything except their fear. In either of the above cases, an accurate sense of speed opens the door to confidence.

 

 

Results Then and Now

 

The essence and final result of any brake release for cornering remains what I said in 1980 in my first Superbike School lecture and on page 64 of the first ?A Twist of the Wrist? book in 1982: To set the speed of the bike correctly for that place on the track (or road) so that no further changes are necessary. In other words, you get it right. Not too fast, not too slow.

 

Braking itself is an art within the art of cornering. Your sense-of-speed is the underlying resource you have to get it right. As an exercise, no brakes riding will help improve your sense-of-speed. Do no-brakes whenever you have the opportunity and see what happens to your sense of speed and see what happens to your riding. The best part is that once you have combined a good sense of speed with the other twelve basic skills of cornering it all begins to come together.

 

It is truly one of the skills that allows you to discover the ART OF CORNERING.

 

All the best,

Keith

 

-----

ⓒ Copyright Keith Code, 2004, all rights reserved

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When practicing the 'no brakes' during cornering, is the rider still using the gears to adjust/ set up the speed for the corners or do you stay in top gear all the time around the track?

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When practicing the 'no brakes' during cornering, is the rider still using the gears to adjust/ set up the speed for the corners or do you stay in top gear all the time around the track?

Normally we do 3rd gear only or 3rd and 4th gear once happy with no gear changing.

 

When first confronted with this exercise which I did at Sepang in Malaysia I think many of the class including myself almost rebelled- "What no brakes??". It's a scary exercise especially at a track like Sepang 'cause we spent so much time going down the straights too slow and all of a sudden the corners rushed at us too fast.

 

The temptation to touch the brakes to calm the nerves was overwhelming (I hadn't noticed this phenomenon until this exercise) but as I persevered with it (it's better to do it in small groups) I suddenly realised how much speed is lost just by banking the bike over without brakes so that what seems like too fast on initiating the entry often turns out just nice at the apex once banked over.

 

This allowed me to consistently enter the corner at a higher speed without having to stress the engine and rear tyre as much to get the same exit speed. Needless to say the lap times dropped considerably.

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I totally agree Keith. I have practiced and used both methods, no brakes and charging the corner. Without a doubt for me corner speeds are much higher without brakes. I just seem to be more aware of my speed where as charging up to the corner and then braking hard I always seem to brake to hard and then need to make corrections.

 

I'm sure with practice I could over come this but why? As a weekend sport tourer smoothness makes the days riding fun and relaxing. On my Bandit I'm usually using just 2 gears in the twisties. Sure I may get passed in the straights but I don't have to work as hard through the corners.

 

To me motorcycles are about fun and stress relief.

 

Thanks Keith for helping me enjoy these two benefits of our sport. Unless your on the track don't worry about speed work at having fun. If your relaxed the speed will come with time and practice along with the fun.

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Awesome article, after taking Level I of the school at Laguna Seca, the no brake exercise was a godsend. I used to do what Keith is describing in the panic crutch portion of his article, that little squeeze just before entering a corner to calm myself down, the school helped me overcome that. Once I realised how much it helped, I used the brakes very little throughout the rest of the school, even when brakes were allowed.

 

Definitely the way to go!

 

-Tawheed

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Marc,

 

What gears you use isn't that important if you can get your turn entry speed right. It might be a 3rd gear corner that you are doing in 6 th gear, who cares what the drive off the turn is like--if you got the right entry speed you won--know what I mean?

 

The question is: is it harder to twist the throttle on the exit or judge your turn entry speed accurately? If it is the latter then you take the time to bring it under your control and forget about the dirve off the turn until you are confident in yourself on the speeds going in.

 

Keith

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Very interesting article. Never have done this type of drill short or taking it easy on the track for the sole porpuse of getting a few easy laps in. Trying to digest not using brakes before the turn is a hard one to swallow. How can one make better lap times loose speed early for making a corner? I try to look at my track days the way I ride and having the same type bike and equal rider. No way most turns can be taken at 150+ and to have an equal ride chop the throttle early gives me quite the advantage on the lead. I will brake hard enough to give me the max entry and exit speed that I feel I can safely manage without a lowside.

 

Watching the AMA and Moto GP racing on TV, I notce severe braking after the straights to the point of raising the rear wheel almost off the ground. Surely they would have better times not using brakes??? Help me understand this one.

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Watching the AMA and Moto GP racing on TV, I notce severe braking after the straights to the point of raising the rear wheel almost off the ground. Surely they would have better times not using brakes??? Help me understand this one.

I know exactly what you mean there EA6BMECH but that's not something that you see too often when they are in qualifying mode i.e. going for the absolute fastest that they can get around a track.

 

I think that a lot of that type of rear wheel in the air braking has as much to do with keeping the guy behind you (or frightening them into letting you go ahead) than it has to do with "better times".

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riders wills always argue braking over no brakes.....the idea of running no brakes is a bit odd at a first and may sound counterproductive due to not running flat out in the straights and 'coasting into a corner.'.. However on a a piece of road (or track) with lots of turns, it quickly becomes apparent that the more skilled riders are the one's who 'feel' their way around the asphalt...they are NOT 'coasting' as they are always on the gas until the last second..Keith's idea of having a 'coasting race' is a great way to try it to get the idea..However when the gas is intoduced, those riding 'no brakes' are much 'smoother' and therefore more consistent...I find myslef always having this 'conversatation' with other riders...the ones with more saddle time, (which most automatically equate to more experience!) than me often argue the loudest against this idea...however on track days, the argument is ALWAYS settled in favor of no brakes and / or light braking at corner entry...the idea that knowing my speed at entry is 'right' cannot be underestimated in allowing the for me to have the confidence to just: look in, lay it over, and then get back on the gas real hard to 'stand it up for the exit' and get moving on to the next corner'....and so on and so forth.... .... (when riding in a group or track day u can always tell the ones who are afraid of the 'no brakes' idea as they always engine brake using the gear box...u can hear it!) anyway, great article on a tricky and often contraversial subject.......pat.......

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Sounds like a PACE ride with a touch of hard throttle added to it. I/we do them allot around here on some of the mountian roads. We'll ease off the trottle but not back off. Makes for a nice ride.

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Keith -- I've been to your school and agree 100% re: the benefits of "no brake" training. As I've gotten a couple years into racing, I see the need to trail brake. Any drills to help perfect this and end up with the right cornerspeed? It seems to be to really be a razer's edge to get this right, brake late, continue braking into the turn, off the brakes and onto the gas with a pick up. Typically, I brake too early b/c erring in the other direction will take me off the track (or so I think, I'm sure the tires would hold if I had the courage).

 

Any drills to work on trail braking in conjunction with getting cornerspeed right?

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EA6BMECH- "Watching the AMA and Moto GP racing on TV, I notce severe braking after the straights to the point of raising the rear wheel almost off the ground. Surely they would have better times not using brakes??? Help me understand this one." Keith isnt saying dont ever use the brakes, especially with moto-gp straight line speeds exceeding 200mph. He is saying know the right corner entry speed to get you smoothly through the corner. I belive these select few riders, being the best in the world know at what speeds they can take the corners and although they brake extremely hard, they are by no means going too slow or most times making corections in the corner. For us amatuers no brakes is a very good concept to help get you over the "crutch" that is hitting the brakes. I found it very helpful in improving lap times.

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You have to use the brakes to get fast lap times and not get passed at every turn where there is brkaing. We are talking about improving our sense of speed without the brakes, that is all we are doing.

 

Having said that I'll tell you a story about John Kocinski when I worked with him at Brands Hatch the last year he rode Ducati. He was having a bad time getting Paddock Bend sorted out and he was slow there and knew it. He was actually almost 3/10ths slow in that one short section of the track.

 

I had him do no brakes into it which he did for three laps and then went back to the brakes and immediately was the fastest man in that section of the track.

 

So, if the question is "who or what skill level rider can improve with this approach to improving their sense of speed, that list would have to include guys who have already won world championships. Who knows, maybe the rest of us can improve also...!

 

Keith

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Hey Keith, happy New Year.

 

Great topic, i remember my first school and my reaction to "no brakes"...i was like what the ? but i did it and learned a lot. I also remember other riders making remarks and they just didn't get it.

 

I'll tell you what, that drill really helped me on the 125...understanding the "right entry speed" and for me a great deal of it was removing other distractions...i think ego may be the biggest one.

 

imad

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greetings earthlings -

 

I find that when I ride, I tend to not use the brakes to set cornering speed. Rather use my sense of speed to be smooth, both accelerating and slowing. Way too many surprises await the motorcycle rider everyday in the real world, on real roads, with real hazards and cages. Having been through Level 3, processing the incoming information fast enough and doing it well make for a much more enjoyable ride for myself and others who may be riding with me. Thanks, Keith, for the opportunity to improve my riding skill set.

 

Fred

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I went back are reread what Mr. Keith was talking about. I understand. Just get the feel, so when you get to that point of entry into the turn it should be totally brake free. You should already know your max speed and roll into it smoothly like you did with the no brake drills. If I did understand that correctly, I pactice that everytime I'm out. With my bike, it is a big avantage to know your max entry speed with no brakes. Helps me do a better line and come on the gas earlier. Do I do some ugly corners at times.......YIP!! :P but it's a start. Sounds funny, but even with my big bike, that's my advantage on the track. It surprises me on the track how I can go deeper than allot of the 600 bikes.

 

Good post.. :D

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I tell all new riders and riders who are serious about improving their riding skills (that should be all of us but realistically it's not) about your course Keith. I've been through Level 3 and have signed up to take Level 4 on April 2nd. The no brakes drill works. Nothing helped hone my sense of speed better. Once you realize how lfast you really can go into a corner you begin to realize how little you have to brake for it

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Exactly and most rider don't see how fundamental their Sense Of Speed is to GREAT cornering, fast or slow.

 

Keith

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:ph34r:

 

Hey Keith;

 

Great little article... I can't believe after all these years, it still seems like a new excercise. It just goes to show how the sport is growing. Anyway, when I got re-licensed through the MRA they had their school and did the no-brake drill. They didn't really enforce it and the instructor went way faster than I could imagine being comfortable going so I "felt" like I had to overaccelerate the straights to keep him in my grasp -- then brake to make the corner.

 

I corner-worked one of your schools a couple years after that and made up my mind to participate fully. What an eye-opener! In just one turn, I was entering the corner 18MPH faster on my R1 Streetbike with out brakes than with brakes and gear changes. During the No-brakes drill, I was able to firmly plant the knee down and truly concentrate on the tires and suspension. As soon as we went to regular track day riding, I again sensed my corner speed and checked the speedo.... the no-brake drill let me confidently increase my speeds during normal track day riding.

 

Kurt

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Gravity racing:

Back when the Chimney Rock Hill Climb was still an event her in the mountains of North Carolina, one of the highlights was the Chimney Rock Hill Fall. There were two classes; show and go. Lots of the same racers who powered up the mountain would also race in the gravity event. The great lesson of the race was the same one Keith was speaking of, conservation of energy (speed). With no engine, any un-called for touch of the brakes or carving a sloppy line would cost you a moment you could not get back.

Have you guys considered putting your students on 50cc or 125cc bikes? The rider that has learned your lesson will have a huge advantage here.

Thanks for the great article Keith.

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Wally,

 

That is an interesting point you brought up. We used to do a 125cc GP bike school with a companyin Texas who used to import them.

 

It seems when you roll of the gas on a two stroke you have no back pressure slowing you down and it is spooky. What I noticed was the 125cc GP bikes slowed down about the same rate as a bigger, heavier four stroke machine. The 125 bikes weigh about 130 lb and a 600 four stroke about 400 lb. The momentum of the larger heavier bikes was balanced by the back pressuer you feel on a four stroke so it was a false perception to think that the lighter two stroke didn't slow down as well, it did.

 

Keith

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I can't wait to get started on this technique!! I feel like I'm on the edge of control sometimes but, I know it can be done faster. A faster entrance leaves only one line. It could be five or ten feet wide but, still you know when you're in it and when you're not. It's hard to kill the SR's! It must be done!

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Well, ya'll remember my post about the lowside? I can't remember if I stated my plan but, it was to slow down and concentrate more on my techniqe getting through the corner correctly. It is working!! I feel very much more in control and my main riding buddy will tell you ... I'm smokin'!! This site is also due many thanks for the excellent advice and plethora of skilled information ;) Thank you all very much. I still don't know what "two-steppin'" a corner is. Anyone.....Anyone?

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