Technique: Turning on a closed throttle.

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There's a consistent difference between slower and faster riders: turning on a closed throttle. Watch any racer, fast guy or even a decent intermediate rider. They all do it - and so should you.

n.b. This is the 5th article in a comprehensive start to finish guide on how to get your knee down by riding faster, smoother and safer.

If you haven't read it already, the previous article was: 'Controls: Countersteering & turning.'

Imagine you're racing your equal - same bike, same braking distances and same bravery. How do you get around a corner quicker than them?

'Brake harder' is the usual go-to answer - and where I think a lot of people's progression halts.

Forgetting for a moment that I just said you and your equal have the same braking distances: braking really hard requires tonnes of feel and confidence in the front, and there's a hard limit to how hard you can brake - the rear will eventually lift.

A later turn in will mean you can also start braking later - even though the overall braking distance is the same. However, to achieve a later turn in you'll have to get the bike leant over faster.

Turning on a closed throttle will help you do both these things: lean the bike over faster and turn in later - and, as a bonus, with it comes a load of feel and confidence.

Geometry 101

The easiest way to understand why turning on a closed throttle works so well is with a brief lesson in bike geometry.

Cruiser vs sportbike geometry

Have you ever wondered why bikes even look the way they do?

Cruisers don't need to get around corners quickly, so they have a more relaxed geometry for improved stability and slower steering.

Sportsbikes have more aggressive geometry - a steep head angle for quick steering, but with that comes less stability.

The universal measurement for quickly describing the steering characteristics of a bike is trail. Less trail equals quicker steering - and for context, you can feel the difference in a few millimetres of trail.

Deceleration reduces trail

When you decelerate, your forks compress and the shock extends. This pitches the bike forward, causing the nose to dive - steepening the head angle, reducing trail and thus, quickening the steering at the expense of stability.

Conversely, when you crack the throttle, the forks extend - relaxing the head angle, increasing trail and thus, increasing stability at the expense of optimal turning.

This is why a closed throttle works.

Technique

There are a couple of techniques we use to make turning on a closed throttle the most effective: engine braking and trail braking.

Engine braking

High RPM engine braking offers the most deceleration - and therefore turning - for the least amount of risk, as well as setting you up for optimal acceleration on corner exit, by keeping you within the power band. Win win.

While braking on approach to the corner, change down into a gear that will see you tip in at high RPM, close to redline (A) - but not so high you'll be bouncing off the limiter on exit (C). Find the best compromise.

Tip in off the throttle and get to full lean angle quickly - countersteering is the technique we use to do this, as explained in my previous article.

This is your bike turning at its best, and it's amazing (A to B).

Be patient. Only open the throttle when you can exit without having to roll off again. Let the bike turn before you pick up the throttle - you lose optimal turning as soon as you do (B).

As a rule of thumb, if you have to open the throttle to get to an apex, you've probably gone in too slow.

Trail braking

Trail braking is the technique where brakes are used beyond the tip in point, and are gradually released up to the apex.

Trail braking has a couple of distinct advantages:

Entry speed: Trailing the brake off leading up to the corner buys you time and allows you to fine tune your entry speed.

Confidence & Feel: I know a lot of people say that they don't trail brake because they don't have the confidence or the feel to do so - I would say exactly the opposite: it gives you confidence and feel.

If you don't trail the brakes and just let go of them just before you tip in - as many novice/intermediate riders do - your forks extend quickly and the front goes light, making steering feel slow and vague. Poorly set up suspension may even pogo, which certainly doesn't help.

With trail braking, you maintain the load on both the forks and tyre - steering stays responsive, but more importantly, you can actually feel whats going on.

Ideally, you ease off the brakes as you increase lean angle - that way as centripetal forces take over from braking to keep the forks compressed.

In reality, take your time. Start by releasing the brakes a little slower to stop the pogo, then gradually trail it more and more - closer and closer to the apex - as you gain confidence and feel. Remember, braking is relative to lean angle.

Example

Here's a video of Sylvain Guintoli, who's currently riding in WSBK.

Watch this video with turning on a closed throttle, high rpm engine braking and trail braking in mind. He's very patient with cracking the throttle, and closes/rolls off the throttle every time he changes direction.

Conclusion

I think a lot of people have an irrational and dangerously placed mistrust in grip. No confidence in the front tyre results in an extremely tentative corner entry, and almost an over confidence in the rear tyre means an increasingly aggressive exit.

Truth is, you're far more likely to crash by opening the throttle than you are by closing it.

Trust the front.