Off-Road Braking Basics

With a modern off-road or motocross bike, going fast is part of the fun. However, combining speed and control in a safe manner takes some skill. Reaching a skill level that blends consistent speed with a minimum of coasting is hardest of all to attain, but nevertheless, that is the goal of serious riders and racers. In competition, riders focus on accelerating, negotiating obstacles and actively braking, but are rarely coasting. Most riders work on their speed, negotiating obstacles such as jumps and turns, and using the proper riding position. Fewer work on braking, but it is a vital skill for both speed and safety—even if you don’t plan on ever doing any racing.

As you might expect, National Pro riders have much mastered the art of braking, and we can all learn something from observing what they do and how they do it. Check out some photos that allow you to steal their techniques without them knowing.

 

Most riders never bother to change the position of the rear brake pedal. There is no single set rule, but you want the pedal to rest high enough that you can easily reach it while standing. You don’t want your toe to point too far down since it will be vulnerable and feel awkward. Conversely, you don’t want to position the pedal so high that you must lift your foot off the peg to use the rear brake while sitting; the it’s too easy to use it like a second footpeg and abuse the brake.

Most riders never bother to change the position of the rear brake pedal. There is no single set rule, but you want the pedal to rest high enough that you can easily reach it while standing. You don’t want your toe to point too far down since it will be vulnerable and feel awkward. Conversely, you don’t want to position the pedal so high that you must lift your foot off the peg to use the rear brake while sitting; it’s too easy to use it like a second footpeg and abuse the brake.

The position of the front brake lever can also vary a bit according to personal preferences. You will need to develop your own feel for how much brake you want as well as the lever location that suits you best.

The position of the front brake lever can also vary a bit according to personal preferences. You will need to develop your own feel for how much brake you want as well as the lever location that suits you best.

This is super-aggressive braking at a national level, but everything that is happening here is textbook style, no matter your level of speed or skill. Boots and knees gripping the bike, some bend left in the elbows, bent at the waist and head right over the triple clamp.

This is super-aggressive braking at a national level, but everything that is happening here is textbook style, no matter your level of speed or skill. Boots and knees gripping the bike, some bend left in the elbows, bent at the waist and head right over the triple clamp.

Here, the rider uses an advanced technique to deal with braking in exceptionally rough conditions, slowing before the biggest braking bumps.

Here, the rider uses an advanced technique to deal with braking in exceptionally rough conditions, slowing before the biggest braking bumps.

After the rear wheel hits and the suspension absorbs the sharpest part of the impact, the rider chops the throttle. The bump would tend to slap the front end down, so he just lets that happen to get the wheels back on the ground quickly and with good control to regain traction and drive.

After the rear wheel hits and the suspension absorbs the sharpest part of the impact, the rider chops the throttle. The bump would tend to slap the front end down, so he just lets that happen to get the wheels back on the ground quickly and with good control to regain traction and drive.

Once the worst of the bumps are behind him, he brakes again, but in the meantime, he has gotten through the bad bumps without abusing his hands or allowing impacts to unsettled the bike.

Once the worst of the bumps are behind him, he brakes again, but in the meantime, he has gotten through the bad bumps without abusing his hands or allowing impacts to unsettled the bike.

When you’re learning to ride you will be warned away from using the front brake while turning. That is good advice for new riders, but as you advance in skill and develop the ability to smoothly modulate the controls, you will find you can actually use the brakes quite a bit while the bike is leaning.

When you’re learning to ride you will be warned away from using the front brake while turning. That is good advice for new riders, but as you advance in skill and develop the ability to smoothly modulate the controls, you will find you can actually use the brakes quite a bit while the bike is leaning.

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