Braking while leaned over in a corner is usually something you want to avoid. That’s because there is a limited amount of available traction that needs to be shared between cornering and braking forces. This means you might not have enough traction to brake and to corner at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t brake in corners; you just have to do it with care.
Just how much traction you have to work with depends on several factors, including your speed, lean angle, tire condition, and the quality of the pavement. In other words, you won’t be able to brake aggressively if you’re cornering hard or if the surface is dodgy.
One common scenario where corner braking might be necessary is when you round a blind corner and spot debris in the road. You quickly determine that it’s not possible to maneuver around the hazard, so you decide to slow down, reduce lean angle, and ride over it. You apply the brakes deftly and maintain control by managing available traction. With speed and lean angle reduced, you safely ride over the debris.
At some point you’ll encounter an emergency that requires you to come to an immediate stop while in a curve. If you panic and abruptly grab the brakes, you’ll likely lock the brake(s) and fall. But panic can be avoided if you have practiced your corner-braking options. The first option for stopping quickly in a curve is to brake moderately at first and gradually increase brake force as lean angle is reduced. You can apply the brakes fully once the bike is nearly upright. This option is used when you have a reasonable amount of time and space to stop.
If the situation is urgent, you’ll need to use option two. To get the motorcycle stopped ASAP, immediately reduce lean angle (by pushing on the upper handlebar) to make traction available so you can apply the brakes hard. The problem with this option is that straightening the bike will cause you to shoot to the outside of your lane. This is especially bad if the road is narrow or if your tires are already near the centerline or edge of the road. In this case, you’ll have to either use option one or straighten the bike as much as practical and then apply the brakes as much as the tires will tolerate.
The same techniques can be used if you enter a turn too fast. Many times, it’s best simply to concentrate and lean more to match your corner speed. If you simply can’t muster the courage to lean more, are already dragging hard parts, or are sure you can’t make the turn even with increased lean angle, then you’re probably better off trying to scrub off some speed with the brakes. If your speed is only a little too fast, you might be able to get away with smoothly decelerating and applying light brake pressure. If your entry speed is way too fast and you’re dragging all sorts of hard parts, your best bet is to quickly straighten the motorcycle enough so you can brake. Once speed is reduced, lean the bike in and complete the corner. Hopefully you have enough room to stay in your lane.
If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. Even if your timing and execution is perfect, there is no guarantee you won’t crash or go off the road. Extreme lean angles, sketchy pavement, and marginal tires all play a role in whether you have enough traction to introduce even the slightest amount of brake power. The real solution is to avoid this situation in the first place by choosing conservative corner entry speeds. Remember that there is no safety penalty if you enter a turn slowly. But there sure is if you enter too fast!
Don’t be like so many others who crash their machines because they aren’t familiar with these corner-braking maneuvers. A little effort practicing in a parking lot or at a trackday will reap big benefits. Do it!