Braking in Motocross and Dirt Bike Riding

A lot of times, riding a dirt bike successfully isn’t about how fast you can go… it’s about how fast you can brake. Good dirt bike braking gives you more control when you need it (and hey, that means you can go faster between the times you need it). And in motocross, being able to brake later but faster means you can gain ground on less capable riders.

About 70% of your stopping power comes from your front brake – assuming you use it. A lot of dirt bike riders are nervous about the front wheel washing out or doing an endo if they lock it up. Why can’t the rear brake stop you as efficiently? When you start slowing down, your weight, and the dirt bike’s weight get transferred forward – giving you more weight on the front wheel and less on the back. Less weight translates to less traction. Quick stops require the front brake.

While most of the following tips apply to motocross situations, braking skills also give you a performance edge and added confidence on the trail.

Don’t brake too early. Slower speeds mean less ground covered. A second or two may not seem like much, but multiply that by the number of turns on the track and multiply it again by the number of laps – adds up don’t it?

Threshold brake. Once you’ve decided to use your brake, use it as fully as possible. Take it right to the point before it locks up and washes out. How do you determine that point? Practice, practice, and practice.

If you’re braking hard, you may want to pull the clutch in. You’ll lose some of the benefits of engine braking, but you’ll also avoid stalling.

When braking FOR a turn or obstacle, brake BEFORE the turn or obstacle. This will let you get most or all of your braking done while you're upright, which gives you better control and more traction.

Anticipate the conditions. Uphill grades require less braking to stop, downhill requires more. Soft sand, deep dirt, and muck are already trying to slow your dirt bike down, so less braking is needed. Loose material on top of a hard-packed surface can increase your braking distance and may require you to apply the brakes earlier.

Adjust your stance to maintain control. Get in the attack position. Grip the bike with your knees.

Adjust your levers. There should only be a small amount of play in the front brake lever.

On tight turns you can gain a lot of time (and have a lot of fun) with a brake slide. Instead of keeping the bike in a line parallel to your direction of braking, you want the rear wheel to lock up and slide to the side and forward. At the same time, your front brake is locked and acting as a pivot point. Once you’re pointed in the right direction, crack the throttle and go.

We already mentioned practicing. Here’s one thing you can do – especially if you’re a beginner on dirt bikes. Find a flat area with consistent ground cover. While riding slowly in first gear, gently apply the front brake until it starts to lock, increasing the throttle as needed to prevent stalling. Once you reach the locking point, release and repeat. This is a great experience and confidence builder.