MotoGP riders use the rear brake for three different reasons. Namely, braking before corners, trail braking throughout a corner and braking for managing power during acceleration. The rear brake is least used by MotoGP riders for braking before corners, as most of the motorcycle’s weight is shifted forward and because engine braking slows the rear wheel after downshifting.
In this post, we’ll discuss how and when MotoGP riders use the rear brake on their motorcycles during a race. Before we look into this, it is important to know that each rider has their own little tricks or techniques that could differ a bit. But these are subtle differences and in most cases, you might not even notice a difference. The most notable difference in using the rear brake is probably the use of a thumb brake. To learn more about thumb brakes, check out this article: Why do some MotoGP bikes have thumb brakes?
We’ll discuss the following:
- How MotoGP riders use the rear brake before a corner
- How MotoGP riders use the rear brake through a corner
- How MotoGP riders use the rear brake when accelerating
How MotoGP riders use the rear brake before a corner
MotoGP riders will do four things when approaching a corner on the track:
- Release throttle
- Use the front brake
- Use the rear brake
Using the rear brake is only one out of four things a MotoGP rider will do before entering a corner. But unlike the way we ride street bikes, they only momentarily use the rear brake. This is because the centre of gravity moves to the front of the motorcycle once the front brake is applied and because once they have downshifted, the engine works against the momentum of the turning rear wheel. This is called engine braking.
If a MotoGP rider applies too much rear brake, the rear wheel could start sliding and result in a loss of control over the bike. To make a more technical statement, the rear brake is only applied while downshifting and then released until the rider enters the corner.
You can easily see exactly when a rider stops using the rear brake because they will often dangle their leg. On a right turn, the same leg which dangles is what they need to press down on the rear brake peddle. Sometimes a rider may just keep using the rear brake (depending on the corner), and that is where the thumb brake comes in handy. Although, the thumb brake has its other uses.
How MotoGP riders use the rear brake through a corner
MotoGP riders will almost always use the rear brake in a corner in order to keep their motorcycle steady. They will do this by applying a certain amount of throttle and then manage their speed mostly with the rear brake. This is preferable because making small adjustments to the throttle is very tricky and could easily cause their bike to slide out.
Remember that the hand which controls the throttle is also used to control the front brake, so it gets complicated when trying to do both at the same time. But the reason for using the rear brake instead of the front brake in a corner is actually quite simple: braking and accelerating are two opposing forces and in a corner, it is better to obtain the net force internally rather than externally.
To explain, a bike that is leaning in a corner has the front wheel in the direction of steering while the rear wheel follows slightly off course. The sharper the turn, the more difference there is between the directions of the wheels. In the case where the forces of the wheels are opposing (braking and accelerating), the rear wheel will overtake the front wheel. This is called a slide out.
An internal net force limits this from happening because both forces are applied on the same wheel (braking and accelerating).
How MotoGP riders use the rear brake when accelerating
Upon exiting a corner, a MotoGP rider will apply throttle but steadily release the rear brake in order to keep the bike from lifting the front wheel. Torque on the rear wheel is being limited not by reducing throttle, but by braking. You could call this an “anti-wheelie” if you want to be imaginative, but it is essentially just that.
In this video, you can see how a rider uses their rear brake (using a thumb brake) to control torque output on the rear wheel as they exit corners.
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