My daughter had Monday off from school, and she spent a good portion of the day learning how to draw hair curls. Periodically, she’d express frustration, as only an eleven-year-old can, with her inability to make her ringlets as good as those in the instructional video, and I’d have to remind her that the artist had probably performed this task many, many times, and these were only her first few attempts.
As she whiled the hours away trying to craft perfect ringlets, I was reminded of my early days riding and the enthusiasm with which I attacked learning new skills on my first motorcycle. Being a product of an MSF course, I entered the riding world armed with a basic set of techniques. However, over time, I began to feel the need to expand upon them. The first was my desire to shorten my reaction time by always riding with two fingers covering the front brake lever instead of waiting until I needed to brake and using all four fingers.
It took me quite a while before I felt completely comfortable snapping the throttle closed for upshifts, but I still remember the day and where I was riding when everything finally clicked into seamless perfection. As my sport riding progressed, I naturally began to tighten up the space between braking and downshifting. Eventually, I advanced to the point where I could maintain constant pressure on the brake lever while rolling the throttle off and on to match the engine speed to that of the road as I worked my way down through the gears. All these years later, I still find myself refining my technique with this skill. It’s what keeps me coming back to riding. There is always something to learn.
When I think back to those heady times 30 years ago, as I spent my first summer on a motorcycle, I think of all the firsts I experienced, but none stand out as much as my first trip to the Sunday morning gathering at Marcus Dairy in Connecticut. (Sadly, the Dairy has long since succumbed to the developer’s bulldozer, but in its heyday, it was an impressive weekly event.) I was so new to riding that I only had one friend who owned a bike. His advice to me for the first Sunday I was going to meet him at the Dairy was simple: “Don’t do anything stupid. Look like you know what you’re doing.” For someone whose first motorcycle’s odometer was still in the low hundreds, this was sage advice that served me well in that first wobbly navigation of a sea of parked motorcycles and has continued to pay off through many firsts – from my first international motorcycle introduction as a journalist to my first race where I shared the track with nationally-ranked competitors to the endless task of raising children.
Much of how I approach life is influenced by my decades on two wheels. First, riding keeps me young, providing frequent reminders that life is supposed to be fun. Yes, we all have things that, because we’re grownups, we have to do, but life would be bleak without an activity you love – be it motorcycling, gardening, or drawing perfect lilting curls of hair. Motorcycling also makes me aware of the importance of being capable of learning new things.
Some skills, however, are easier to learn than others, and sometimes we are required to learn them – even though we may wish we didn’t need to. In those difficult times, I lean even more on the lessons motorcycling has taught me, because they help guide me down a path that I might not otherwise be able to see my way through.
Whenever I’m faced with this kind of learning experience, I try to keep the following ideas in mind: First, worthwhile skills are rarely easy to learn, but if they are, they are often difficult to master. Pay attention. Ask questions of people who have more experience. Be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Most importantly, keep plugging away until you’ve reached your goal. It’s worth the effort.