The bike setup is absolutely pivotal. It all starts with the tyre; you need a grippy tyre with the correct pressure so it doesn’t deform easily; although a tyre is designed to flatten for a larger contact patch, it can only take so much before the energy wants to resist like a spring, giving you a walking feeling exacerbated by a heavy set-up and heavy braking. There’s so much detail setup-wise that can make a difference from the rebound on the back to the geometry of the bike (if the thing’s sitting on its nose the rear will be loose) but essentially when the setup is softer, the energy transfers through the suspension more, working it how it should. The trick is to not be too hard!
It’s always best to position yourself before getting into the braking zone if possible; it stabilizes the bike and keeps the process smooth as there’s already so much pressure on the bike. Get your ass over early to suit whichever direction is needed for the upcoming corner. Lock yourself in and brace your arms in advance, as this will help you to apply more pressure and keep the process smoother.
If you’re riding on track it’s vital to have braking markers (and they’re a good idea on the road if it’s one you ride often), so you can be accurate with your braking application every single lap, and so that you have a gauge to work with – to avoid braking too early or overshooting corners. This makes the whole process easier and smoother and will help out no end when pushing boundaries. No matter where you are there should always be a braking marker: a patch of tarmac, bit of grass, signage… just don’t use a shadow.
This is vital, especially in the wet. Breaking the action down into milliseconds, it’s always best to apply pressure in order to load the front end before really grabbing on the anchors, which keeps the rear settled, as you transfer the bike’s weight almost entirely onto the front end. This technique applies to road and track riders the same, from the likes of Marc Marquez to your everyday commuter, it’s crucial to get that initial purchase in place as it’ll form the foundations of your braking performance. It’s not an easy thing to gauge, but it’s worth working on and developing the technique. The easiest way to learn is to start off braking further out and work your way in, while all the time developing this technique. Your goal is to avoid locking the front or doing a big endo, as they mean you’ve either grabbed to hard at the brakes, or gone too hard too soon. No one’s perfect, so don’t be too tough on yourself if it doesn’t work out the first few times.
When you’ve got the weight transfer nailed and that initial purchase is in the bag, it’s time to give it everything you’ve got. You’ve got to squeeze hard on the brake lever, as if you’re trying to bury the bike’s nose into the ground. Naturally, this puts a lot of stress on you and the bike, but you’ll note how much quicker your bike is stopping, because you’ll probably find you have scrubbed a bit too much speed off. If so, work on moving your braking marker. You might find your bike’s shaking it’s head a little because of such hard, late braking, but it’s normally – nothing worry about.
A lot of force will be on your body, but no matter what, you have to be concentrating on exactly where you want to go. Whether you’re aiming for a late apex or an early one, keep focused at all times as you’ll be adjusting your brake pressure subconsciously to meet that target. If you lose focus you could risk a crash or running on.
This is a whole article in itself, but contrary to popular belief trail braking should be encouraged for the perfect corner entry. Think of it this way: if you jump off the brakes as you tip into a corner the weight will offload from the front end, ultimately unloading the front tyre and increasing the risk of tucking the front. This means it’s good to carry a touch of brake into the corner, but if you were to look at my data you’d see that the amount of brake carried is almost directly proportional to lean angle – so as you tip, ease off of the brake accordingly. It’s a fine line to know exactly how much brake to take into a bend, and a lot of it comes down to what bike you’ve got, how decent the brakes are and how sticky your rubber is.
Funnily enough, I don’t actually use my rear brake on corner entry any more as I’ve ditched it in favour of a thumb brake to help it stop wheelies. The rear is great to use to settle the bike though, especially as you’re banging it down the gearbox and keeping the rear wheel from hopping. It’s especially necessary in the wet. By adding rear brake, you can cause the weight to transfer rearwards and settle the bike down. That’s more important than using it at a device to slow you, necessarily.
You’ll want to vary the gear changes for each corner. While heading into a tight hairpin, you need to time your gear changes to the engine deceleration; so I’d bang it down two gears and then leave the last until the last moment. This means there isn’t too much hopping on the back, and if you don’t have an auto-blipper or even a slipper clutch, I’d definitely recommend a little blip on the way down.
Congratulations, you’ve made the corner! The transition between getting off the brakes and on the power is just as important though. With a thumb brake it’s actually possible to get the weight on the rear before you’re riding all the way out the corner, but otherwise as soon as you get off the brakes you need to be on the power, distributing the weight to the rear and giving you grip to drive off the corner. Don’t delay!