Confidence colors everything about our experiences on two wheels. At the early stages of our motorcycle careers, we’re mostly concerned with simple tasks like staying upright and not falling over. There are thousands of ways in which a moto ride could turn ugly, and we’re proud when we overcome hazards like gravel and traffic and rain. Your moto mind is sharp because your safety requires it.
As skills improve, so does our confidence, and rightly so. Maneuvers that once required our utmost concentration become second nature, and our focus moves on to other subjects, perhaps a pretty lady riding past, or maybe the pathetic state of your 401k. Or that dickhead in front of you tapping his brake pedal while he checks his email.
But, if you’re not completely focused on what’s going on behind the bars or are distracted by the stuff going on between your ears, you’re potentially compromising your safety.
Several years ago, I was riding on my way to a bike launch a few hours away from my home. I remember being anxious to get out there and try the new bike while I navigated surface streets on the way to a freeway. Traffic ahead was stopped, and I noticed the right lane was shorter, so I casually made a lane change to the shorter queue. What I didn’t notice quick enough was the driver ahead in the left lane also deciding the right lane looked preferable. She side-swiped me and the KTM 950 Adventure I was riding, causing us to hit the deck and prove, once again, that humans don’t bounce well.
Introspection is often a byproduct of intense pain, and so it was on that day as I grimaced to the curb and wondered if what happened was inevitable. The cops and the insurance company said later it wasn’t my fault, but, as I replayed the scenario over in my head, I knew I could’ve done more to reduce the likelihood of the collision.
Had I been more tuned in to my primary mission – navigating traffic safely – I may have noticed a sudden head turn that signalled immediate peril. But I’ll never know for sure, because I was instead not 100% focussed on my surroundings. After all, I had ridden down that same street hundreds of times, and I had come out unscathed every time. Surely I must be quite competent at it, right?
When humans are proficient at something – anything – they don’t require maximum brain capacity to do it. I’ve played with musicians whose hands seem to fall almost mindlessly on the correct notes and chords while the brain controlling my hands of concrete is running on its rev limiter to simply follow along.
And so it is with trained and skilled motorcycle riders. Hundreds of small movements and actions are needed to just ride out of your garage and into traffic, and yet they are barely even considered by highly experienced riders. However, unlike our musician friends, a wrong note played while riding a motorcycle can be far more painful.
You might be the most skillful rider you know, but take my advice and don’t let your confidence go to your head.