Life preservation, being a wimp or plain old fear, there are a lot of inherent tendencies in the human brain to avoid pain and accidents. There are also habits, good and bad, that can form over time.
Grabbing, or worse yet dragging, the brakes while riding is one of those bad habits. Ironically, dragging the brakes and halting your progress might seem safe, but the reality can be quite different as I've experienced.
Here are six things that happened when I let go of the brakes.
1. Bumps and buzz disappeared
It might seem counter intuitive, but when it comes to washboard sections on dirt roads the faster I went, the smoother they became.
Instead of the wheels dropping into each bump or depression and jerking the frame and fork all over, the bike skimmed right over the top making the ride much smoother feeling.
2. It was easier to look forward
Looking up and where you want to go seems like the easiest thing to do when you’re not actually riding. But in the saddle, it’s an entirely different challenge.
Human nature is to focus on the danger or obstacle, and that inevitably means running into the thing you don’t want to. It's a skill that takes practice and determination to get right consistently.
By letting go of the brakes and letting my speed continue, I found myself looking past what was directly in front of me and focusing farther out and at what was coming up, and being prepared for it.
3. It was way more fun
Of course it was. Being on the binders is a little bit of fear taking control. Letting the bike run free and arcing a perfect turn is why I ride. Cresting a hill without shifting is also a very good feeling.
4. The momentum was good
A big part of riding is being smooth, keeping the ‘mo’ as some like to say. Getting on and off the brakes with drastic decelerations and accelerations is pretty much the opposite.
By not touching the brakes, the steep, little rise after the corner only takes a couple of pedal strokes and the once formidable climb is half over before I’m in my lowest gear.
Another obvious benefit to keeping the speed up was that it made the climbs shorter, so the uphill suffering ended sooner and I was quickly descending again.
5. I realized the bike was more capable than me
Going along with number one above, fighting momentum and being hard on the brakes often made the bike feel nervous, twitchy and like it wanted to twist itself apart.
But by letting go of the brakes, it’s quickly apparent that the bike knows how to do this and that I’m a fool for trying to stop it.
It’s clear that the really smart engineering person actually knew what they were doing and the bike can easily handle this and probably a lot more.
6. I didn’t crash or die
Avoiding crashing is important. With that really obvious statement said, I’ve found that almost all my crashes come from being inattentive or not in the moment.
Letting go of the brakes forces me to give my full attention to the task at hand and when I’m focused I (typically) am safer and less likely to crash.
On your next ride, give it a go. Be safe, smart and courteous of course, but don't let fear or habit slow you down.