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September 21, 2022 6 min read

Trail braking is an advanced technique for taking corners that every rider should consider adding to their arsenal.

Motorcyclists are bold, risk-taking individuals who are always looking to challenge themselves. No matter your skill level, taking on a new technique is a great way to up your game and truly master the roads.

Simply put, trail braking is the act of gradually releasing brake pressure until the peak of a corner instead of slowing down before you enter the turn. This technique was born on the racetrack because it allowed riders to take sharp corners with greater speed and control.

There's a common belief that trail braking is strictly for racers and advanced riders. While it has a learning curve, trail braking can be learned by anyone and it's an important skill for safe and effective cornering.

When you first learned to ride you were probably told to get most of your braking done while still riding in a straight line, so this technique might seem strange at first. But with some perseverance you'll come out of it with a new skill to add to your riding style.

SHOULD YOU TRAIL BRAKE?

Trail braking isn't just for sports bikes and racetracks. Street riders find it useful on unfamiliar roads because they can continue braking if a turn is wider than expected. Personal preference will decide if you adopt this method. Some riders love how the weight transfers to the front tire and find the bike easier to control, others prefer the traditional way.

It's important to know that you can't trail brake all the time. Sunny days are the perfect time to bust it out, while wet conditions or a greasy road are far from ideal. Keep in mind that certain corners are more suited to trail braking than others.

Trail braking can be tricky at the start, especially for newer riders, so ease into it when you practice. It can be learned on the street or better yet at a track-based riding school. Have a go in a controlled environment to see whether trail braking is for you.

UNDERSTANDING TRAIL BRAKING

To get good at anything it's important to gain a proper understanding. Trail braking is a method of corner entry that's meant to be as smooth and controlled as possible.

So why trail brake on a motorcycle? Riders mainly adopt this method to take corners smoothly and efficiently, but it also increases tire grip and balance. It's considered the safest way to brake because it allows the rider to react quickly to unexpected hazards.

Understanding the finer points will make you a better rider and help you achieve smoother cornering. You'll have to learn how to judge a corner and estimate when to begin braking, when to release brake pressure entirely and when to pick up speed again.

motorcyclist in black gear leaning on turn

HOW TO TRAIL BRAKE ON A MOTORCYCLE

Let's break it down. To start, begin braking at the moment you normally would for a given turn, but very slowly. As you're about to lean into the turn, start releasing some braking pressure gradually.

The idea is to gradually release or 'trail off' the brakes until you reach the apex of the corner. If done correctly, there should be no brake pressure once you're at the peak of your lean angle.

Once you've past that highest point of leaning it's time to smoothly begin accelerating. You can go straight from brake to throttle with no gap in between. Start accelerating but keep it nice and controlled.

Try not to brake too hard, especially when riding in the streets. You'll need to give yourself a bit of leeway to be able to make any last-second adjustments. As a guide, use 60% of your traction on braking, about 20-25% on the lean angle, and there will be 15-20% of traction left in reserve.

Don't expect things to go smoothly on your first try. It takes a few cracks, but you might be surprised just how quickly the whole process becomes second nature.

HOW TRAIL BRAKING MAKES YOU FASTER

Trail braking was first adopted by racers so they could brake late into corners, keeping ahead of their opponents. It also makes for smoother transitioning out of a turn with as little speed lost as possible.

But trail braking isn't limited to the tracks. Street riders can zip around tight turns with minimal loss of acceleration and adjust their braking power on the fly. Just remember to practice safe driving and don't take on more than you can handle.

WHAT MAKES TRAIL BRAKING SAFE?

Trail braking reduces your tires traction and optimizes grip. When a bike is leaning it has a reduced contact patch with the ground, so controlling your turn is much safer than hard braking.

Another benefit is you can react quickly to unexpected hazards. You're primed to deal with a sudden obstacle or a turn that's way wider than it first looked because you're already applying the brakes and ready to make that simple adjustment.

RISKS OF TRAIL BRAKING

Trail braking can be difficult to learn, especially for new riders. Since instructors teach beginner riders to brake well before a turn it can be challenging to overcome that muscle memory.

Riders should be aware that trail braking loads the front tire heavily with braking force, which can overload the tire if done incorrectly. Front tire slippage can be especially difficult to overcome during a turn.

Anyone looking to master this technique should practice trail braking in a controlled environment and ease their way into the process.

8 TRAIL BRAKE TIPS & TRICKS

  1. Practice on a corner you know well.
  2. Ease into trail braking and don't push yourself too fast.
  3. Keep it controlled - aim for smooth movement on the brakes and throttle.
  4. Don't use the exact same movement for every corner. Judge each turn separately and adapt accordingly.
  5. Watch out for bad riding conditions. If you're not sure whether to proceed, don't risk it.
  6. Aim for a smooth transition between brake and throttle.
  7. Get some proper training if you think you need it.
  8. Practice and keep practicing.

SUMMARY

Once you've spent a comfortable amount of time practicing, it's time to decide whether trail braking becomes a permanent part of your riding style or not. Every rider is different so don't feel compelled to go one way or the other. Ride your own ride.

Just remember to keep things safe and controlled by following our tips.

motorbike rider skidding on dirt road

FAQs

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF TRAIL BRAKING?

The purpose of trail braking was initially to give drivers an edge on the racetrack. It makes cornering smoother without needing to drop as much speed and allows for greater control of the bike. Any rider can benefit from trail braking whether they're on a track or navigating city streets.

DO YOU USE THE REAR BRAKE FOR TRAIL BRAKING?

You can use the rear brake for trail braking, but the front brake must be used as well. Riders can use either the front brake by itself, or both front and back together, but never the back brake pedal on its own. Using both brakes will slow you down more but increases stability.

DO YOU PULL IN CLUTCH WHEN TRAIL BRAKING?

Since you're still getting a hang of things you won't need to pull in the clutch when trail braking. However, advanced riders can engage the clutch in a method known as engine braking. This is using the engine to slow down by selecting a lower gear and releasing the clutch slowly prior to the corner.

This is only for advanced riders and should be saved for someone who has mastered trail braking and wants to step things up.

IS TRAIL BRAKING NECESSARY?

While useful, trail braking isn't necessary. Plenty of seasoned riders brake using the conventional way. It's a matter of personal preference - some people like chocolate while others like vanilla. Go with what works for you.

WHEN SHOULD I TRAIL BRAKE?

You should trail brake when encountering a turn with a decent severity of angle. It's not a method for taking every little corner, but rather for taking those wide turns while keeping speed and maintaining control.

Conversely, you should avoid trail braking when the road is wet or greasy. If you're just starting to learn trail braking, it's best to practice on turns you're already familiar with and avoid difficult corners.

WHAT IS THE SAFEST BRAKING METHOD ON A MOTORCYCLE?

Trail braking is considered the safest braking method on a motorcycle, but onlyonce you've mastered it. It's a fantastic technique for controlling a turn, but if a rider doesn't know when to trail off braking points while they add lean angle points, it can spell disaster.

The safest braking method is whichever the rider feels most comfortable with. If you prefer releasing the brakes before reaching the turn in point, go for it. A rider needs to feel comfortable and at ease to drive safely.

HOW DOES TRAIL AFFECT MOTORCYCLE HANDLING?

Riders can use trail braking to affect the motorcycle's handling and increase stability. Applying the front brake lever compresses the forks, which in turn reduces trail. This makes the bike easier to turn so you can make a smoother corner exit.

Trail braking also increases grip and balance. A skilled rider can find good middle ground in terms of traction between braking and cornering by slowly decreasing front brake pressure. The tires are given more traction which can be put towards leaning.

As the lean angle increases, tires have less grip on the road. Combining this with a hard brake means you'll probably low-side which trail braking is designed to prevent.