1. In last issue's RSS, we showed how smooth downshifting helps foster improved bike control. In fact, smoothness in all aspects of riding, whether it's braking, accelerating, or even body movements/weight shifts, can play a huge role in whether you're able to tackle your favorite road or track with confidence--or apprehension. You'd be amazed how much easier it is to go faster when your riding is relaxed, yet alert--not rushed and frantic. Pro racers refer to this as "trying too hard," and they often find that their lap times are slower because of it. When your physical actions on the controls are too "tight" and somewhat impulsive, you end up concentrating too much on those riding tasks, and trying to fix the mistakes that often occur because of that rough riding style.
2. Using the brakes properly is probably one of the most difficult riding skills to learn, and it requires much more skill than twisting the throttle. Many riders only use the brake like a light switch: all on or all off. What they don't realize is that not only are they unnecessarily upsetting the chassis by simply grabbing a handful of front brake lever, but they also aren't utilizing the numerous advantages that applying the brakes smoothly offers. One of the biggest benefits of smooth braking is weight transfer. By squeezing--not grabbing--the front brake smoothly (and quickly--remember, you're still trying to slow in a minimum distance), you're allowing the bike's weight to move to the front end, where it helps the tire gain more traction. If you go for maximum braking too quickly, you will easily overpower the tire's available traction because there is hardly any weight on it (and hence, a smaller contact patch) at that time.
3. Another advantage related to smooth brake application is the weight transfer's effect on the front suspension. Abruptly applying too much front brake suddenly slams all the bike's weight forward, usually overpowering the fork springs and damping to the point of fully bottoming the fork. With no available fork travel to absorb any bumps, the chassis often becomes very unstable, as the rear of the bike tends to pivot around the steering head. This results in the "tail wagging" you often see from racebikes at the limit of braking (Ben Bostrom's braking style is a perfect example), and this usually causes bike control problems for most riders entering a corner.By smoothly applying the front brake, you're allowing the chassis weight to "set" on the front end and assist the front tire's traction level before you suddenly demand maximum performance from both the tire and front fork.
4. Another benefit of learning to smoothly apply the front brake is that the technique helps teach brake modulation. A brake is just like the throttle; it is a speed control. And just as you learn to use the throttle judiciously on corner exits as you balance power with available traction, the same can be said for the brakes on the entrance to the corner. Learning how to gauge and control your speed as you approach the end of the braking zone can help add mph to your corner entrance and midcorner speed, which will usually pay dividends off the corner and down the next straight. More importantly, however, learning brake modulation will also help save your bacon on the street. Gaining maximum braking by balancing on the fine line of tire traction as you slow to avoid that errant four-wheeler is much easier with this acquired and very valuable skill, and with continual practice, the act of using the brakes properly will become natural to you.