Braking in corners is a frustrating topic for me. It is frustrating because I had a pretty good low-side crash on New Year's eve that still haunts me. I still don't know exactly what I should have done, other than the obvious "slow the fuck down before the corner and pay more attention."
Here is what happened:
I was on a rental bike on a motorcycle tour in Chile, riding down the side of a volcano. On the way up, I knew the ride down would be a challenge. The road was in very good condition with no potholes or gravel, but it was very steep up near the top. The switchbacks had very steep elevation changes right at the apex which made everything extremely off-camber.
Coming down, I took it very cautious in the switchbacks. I kept my speeds low and wasn't pushing limits. As things leveled out a bit the corners were more sweeping and lacked the steep elevation changes. I relaxed. I was in 3rd gear, again not pushing limits and not worried that a few riders were getting farther out in front of me.
At that point, I came into another corner which I thought was just another sweeper. WRONG! It was the last switchback and it had a very nasty elevation drop at the beginning of the corner.
I was probably going 35 or 40 and was completely off the throttle, esentially coasting in 3rd gear. On the plus side, I had been riding with my toes on the pegs and had been swinging my butt off the seat prior to the corners so my body was at least in a good position. I made a distinct decision to lean harder and not grab the brake. I figured it was my only chance. I was in the wrong gear and by the time I saw the corner, the amount of speed I would have needed to scrub was pretty dramatic.
I looked through the corner and hung my butt out, weighted the inside peg and pushed the bike as far as possible into the corner.
I heard and felt my peg scrape almost instantly. I remember distinctly thinking that was OK. I have dragged pegs before and it didn't upset me. I then heard a second hard part scrapping. That would be the skid plate on my F650GS. As soon as that happened, the bike slid out from under me and I low-sided. Touching the skid plate down levered up my front wheel.
At first, niether myself nor anybody in the tour thought it possible for the skid plate to hit before low-siding. I was questioning myself and the order in which I thought I heard and felt things happen, but I remain certain that I heard the second scrape before losing traction. My only explanation is that the extreme off-camber and elevation drop is what made this possible.
This was totally my fault. I was just going too fast for conditions. I was relying on engine compression to control my decent and because the road had leveled out, there wasn't much of this anyway. I had relaxed and wasn't ready.
So, would brakes have helped or hurt by the time I realized I was screwed? My hunch is that anything I did would have still resulted in a crash and that braking could have made things worse, but should I have tried it? I still don't know.