Earth can feel like concrete when the front tucks under hard braking, even at a sandy track like Mangakino as Andre found out. It all happened so quickly, but hopefully his pain was not in vain. Lets look at the ways to improve late braking without much risk of ending up with the same fate.
Deep inside, our minds are very logical. There is a reason why we back of the throttle when we do. So rather than simply trying to block out that part of your brain, it is much smarter to give yourself options.
Andre and I started our work on a wide turn that followed a medium length straight. Importantly it also had a clear run off onto smooth grass if he was to overshoot the corner. No obstacles or banks to hit. After helping him practice the body position that would keep him low enough to get his bum well back with arms bent and knees gripping the seat, my instructions were to progressively keep powering a bit longer down the straight than he was used to, knowing that the moment he did brake too late, he could simply overshoot the turn rather than panic by braking too hard.
Next I had him follow me into the turn a few times, making sure to sweep wide enough before the braking point that we would not need to turn much at all while slowing down. This way, even if the front wheel did lock up for a moment, he should have enough time to let off the brake before the wheel slid sideways and threw him on to the ground.
I use this skill all the time, and it is especially important when the ground is slippery. The natural reaction of most people is to simply not use the front brake in slippery conditions, but they are missing out. Plan your braking lines before you get there and you will surprise yourself.
There is just one other thing, and this is where we went wrong. Bumps and small depressions can be a good place to brake hard and the suspension is compressed, but when the suspension unloads after those sweet spots, you must let off on how hard you brake. To make it worse in this case, the main dip had been cut up enough that there was plenty of grip for the front tyre, but after the dip the ground was hard packed and smooth.
Really beginning to get into his stride, Andre gathered up the guts and powered well past his previous braking point. This meant he either had to brake harder or overshoot the turn. He chose to brake harder, which was fine during the dip, but when the suspension unloaded he suddenly had the front wheel lock for a split second.
To make matters worse, his line was not as straight as it needed to be, which meant the front wheel skipped about one foot sideways when it locked up. It then proceeded to bite into traction again which promptly stood him up and flicked him off the high side of the bike.
It is not something that any of us like to see. I have seen this kind of thing put people off motorbikes altogether. Yet the fact is that everyone knows there are risks involved, even something as controlled as a coaching day. We can give the best possible chance of safely learning skills that can help a rider for the rest of their time in the sport, so when we get a set back like this, it is just a time to re-evaluate and improve for next time.
I caught up with Andre at the MX Fest at Taupo, with a green cast on his wrist. The Kawasaki rider is obviously far from having been put off the sport. He will be back, and we will have another go at working on his braking. This time with all the pieces to the puzzle.