Skills: Braking Basics with Mike LaRocco

Unfortunately, learning how to go fast on a technical motocross track is much more complicated than simply twisting the throttle back. In fact, one of the most important techniques to keep you in front of the pack has nothing to do with the throttle at all! Proper brake application is a fundamental aspect of cutting quick lap times, so much so that the factory racers replace their brake pads after every race. What are they doing that requires such an abundant amount of asbestos? They’re using their brakes for more than just slowing down, and despite the fact that these guys are riding at a blistering pace, they are on their brakes constantly. Pros use their brakes for a number of things, including staying in ruts, keeping traction and controlling their bikes through flat turns, just to name a few.

[IMAGE 3]If anyone knows the proper techniques to make their pinchers work to their advantage, it’s MX veteran Mike LaRocco. The newest inductee into the Over-30 class has spent the last fourteen years of his life on the pro circuit. Through the years, Mike has perfected his skills enough to earn two National championships and a big number five on his bike, so we thought he’d be the perfect candidate to explain the science of braking perfection. We took four different stopping circumstances and had LaRocco explain when (and when not) to use your brakes in each situation.

DROP-OFFS For Mike, the drop-off situation doesn’t require too much braking unless there is a sharp turn or tight obstacle right at the bottom. The factory suspension on LaRocco’s CR250R allows him to charge off all but the steepest of drop-offs. Instead of slamming on his brakes, he uses only his back brake to stabilize the bike and scrub off a little bit of speed. “When I’m dropping off ledges or downhills, I’m braking, but not too hard. I don’t want to be locking up or skidding at all; instead, I want to be in complete control and ready to land with the gas on. To do this, I approach the drop-off with my back brake dragging slightly, which keeps my bike stable and lets me make the turn at the bottom. Keep in mind that I’m not slamming the brake on at this point, I’m just dragging it.”

SITTING THE BIKE INTO A RUT Many straight-a-ways are so long and fast that the turns following them are often hard to negotiate. The problem is that you want to enter these turns at as fast a pace as possible to keep your speed up, but doing this will often lead to missing the rut or entering the corner in an uncomfortable position. To combat these dilemmas, Mike suggests coming into the rut with the bike as straight as possible.

“If you roll into the rut perfectly, then you’re fine┬┐go ahead and gas it. Many times, however, you’ll come in with a little imperfection, especially if you’re going fast. If I’m entering and I’m still a little too high in the rut or I stop in the rut, I’ll tap the front brake. As long as the front wheel is in, it will make the bike lean to the inside. If you grab it too hard, you will go down, so you have to be careful. With the right touch, you will get a perfect lean so you can carry on with the rut and exit with your back wheel hooking up.”


[IMAGE 2] Of all the tips Mike offered, his favorite and most-used was his technique for standing through sweepers. This approach utilizes both the front and the rear brakes to keep traction and speed around the corner in a more efficient way than the sit-down method.

“Though everyone’s style is different, I like to stand up through long sweepers because I can carry my speed into the corner. When you’re sitting down, you’re going to be hitting more bumps and your suspension won’t be reacting well. I ride the back brake in order to weight the front end and give my bike a little more traction, which allows me to stay unaffected by the big bumps on the approach of the turn. I enter with the front brake on as well, but gradually let off as I am coming through the corner. Thhe back brake is kept on the entire time, through the exit of the turn and until I am ready to accelerate hard again, which keeps my bike grounded and in control through the chop.”


If you watch the riders closely when the Supercross or Nationals hit your town, you’ll notice that they are constantly making up time by braking at the last possible second over jumps and in corners. This is part of going fast, and it’s a simple concept to grasp: braking later will quicken your pace. Thus, in contrast to the slower amateur who is still accelerating on the face of a jump in order to clear it, professionals are actually braking hard off of the lip to scrub speed, lower their trajectory and keep them from over-jumping.

“When you get your skills down enough that you’re starting to charge hard through obstacles, you will need to start braking more often to stay out of trouble and keep your speed up. I brake hard on the face of nearly every jump, especially outdoors. If you do it right, you can approach sections with way more speed, brake hard and actually leave the lip with the same amount of speed needed to clear the jump. By braking on the face instead of gassing it, you will keep your trajectory roughly a whole bike length lower, which will allow you to get back to the ground and on the gas sooner.”

[IMAGE 1] LaRocco cautions riders to be completely at ease with the obstacle before using this technique, waiting until they’ve jumped the section long enough to feel comfortable and in control.