I hope here to share some of the bits that I have learned/gleaned/heard/stolen/borrowed and acquired about how to Ride it Right.
Chapter 1…It’s all in the mind.
Like anything that we do in this life, it all boils down to how we use our mind as part of the process, and nowhere is this more noticeable than when we are riding. And it starts, or at least it SHOULD start, before we even get on the bike. Have you ever had one of those days where it just didn’t feel “right” from the moment you started riding? We all have. Perhaps a few moment’s preparation before we sling the leg over might avoid that queasy feeling and the angst that goes along with it once we actually get mobile.
MOST IMPORTANT: NEVER ride when you’re angry. If you’ve had a barny with ‘er indoors, don’t go out to the garage, strap on the helmet and go for a ride. Your brain is somewhere else and it’s an invitation to disaster. Yes, you’ll probably get away with it most of the time, but there WILL be that one time when it jumps up and bites you. You need a clear head to ride properly at ANY time, and right after your emotions have been running high, it’s not. Adrenaline is coursing through your veins at 200km/h and you’re “high”. NOT the time to be “in control” of something that will exceed the posted open road speed limit in first gear! If your emotions are in control, you’re not. It’s as simple as that.
In a similar vein, don’t go ON riding if you’ve had a “run in” with someone on the road. For the same reasons as above, your judgement will be clouded and you’re much more likely to do something daft. Pull over to the side of the road, take off your helmet and gloves, take out your ear plugs and sit down. Look at the countryside around you, focus on something that is going to take your thoughts away from what has just happened and monitor your heart beat. It will be RACING. When, and ONLY when, you feel calm and your heartbeat is back to normal, get your gear back on and start riding again.
So you’re running late; the fool who cut you off at the last intersection is getting away…who cares? Is it worth your LIFE just to meet a deadline or prove a point?
So, let me repeat. DON’T ride when you’re angry.
Second point about it all being in the mind, then.
Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Anyone with a quarter of an ounce of intelligence knows that, deep down, it CAN. AND, if you ride with the attitude that it CAN’T, it’s more likely that it WILL. There’s an excellent chance that you will never see the inside of an ambulance or the bustle of the local A&E, but don’t ride like it couldn’t happen. Your brain should be constantly reminding you to monitor the risks, the scenario and be looking for the escape hatch. And it won’t do it automatically, you have to train it to do so. Your brain is more sophisticated and able than the world’s most powerful computer. Use the processing power to your advantage.
Stay focussed. As a singer, I have had the embarrassing situation occur on a number of occasions where I have been singing “automatically”. I know the song so well that I can sing it without thinking about it and, especially in the classroom, I have caught myself thinking about what I am going to do next rather than about the song. Apart from the fact that I am not doing justice to the song I am running the risk (and it’s happened) of forgetting where I am in the song and making a total botch of it. The same can happen when you’re riding. If your body’s on the bike and your mind is elsewhere, then disaster is just around the corner. Stay “on the job”, even if you’re just going to the corner shop for some chippies. Remember that one of the greatest riders of all time, the famous Mike Hailwood, was killed in a car accident when a truck did a “U” turn in front of him when he was on his way to the corner shops, and, sadly, his 9 year old daughter was killed as well.
Be realistic. Motorcycling IS a dangerous pastime, for a whole host of reasons, so acknowledge that and expect something to go wrong at some stage and have a contingency plan. I can’t stress this enough. You should ALWAYS be scoping for the escape hatch. You’re going to be sharing the road with all sorts of people, many of whom you’d rather not even know about, so ride with the expectation that some are going to be unreasonable, unfocussed and uncaring. Acknowledge that, as far as the traffic food chain is concerned, you’re somewhat near the bottom and ride accordingly. Treat fellow road-users with a healthy degree of suspicion.
Be honest about your own ability. Chances are you are NOT blessed with the same riding skill level and talent as Casey Stoner, so don’t kid yourself that you ARE. Know where you’re “at” in riding skill level and ride accordingly. And don’t let your mates suck you in to trying to ride above that level, no matter how they egg you on. Understand that it doesn’t matter if you have been riding for 30 years, or 30 minutes, we are all learning, all the time. As my wise old dad used to say, “If you think you’ve arrived; you’re at the wrong station.”
Know the lie of the land. 99% of the riding you do is going to be on a familiar bike and on familiar roads, so there’s no excuse for not being fully prepared for the. Know you bike; know your route. Know what your bike responds like in all sorts of differing conditions. Know what the road is going to be like at that time of the day/month/year and prepare fro it when you hit the road. It goes without saying, of course, that, in the situations where you are NOT familiar, then you take even more care. But the rule is simple: Know the horse and know the course.
Check the weather. You are never more exposed to the elements than you are when you are riding. Know what the weather is going to be like before you set out and dress/ride accordingly.
Motorcycling is a thinking man’s game, so use the bonce and stay alive.