By: James R. Davis
I was reflecting on an experience I had during my first MSF class (nearly 20 years ago) and remembered something that made a real difference for me – a time when I was not at all convinced that my (unfamiliar bike) would safely make an abrupt 90 degree turn at slow speed without dumping me to the ground.
As a long term rider I didn’t REALLY believe that the bike couldn’t make it, it was something far more subtle than that. I was convinced that *I* couldn’t make it. I mean, with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of miles of riding behind me before I got to the class, those miles were virtually all at highway speeds. Certainly at counter-steering speeds. I had been guilty of duck-walking my bike at very slow speeds as I turned the bike into a parking space, for example, and hadn’t given it a moments thought as it seemed like a perfectly rational way to handle the bike at very slow speeds.
Then I attended this class (of beginners) and I thought, “this is going to be boring!”, yet I wanted to learn whatever there was to learn by being there. So one of the earliest exercises they had us do was to make a sharp left or right turn through a set of right angled lines with our feet to remain on the pegs.
And, to my surprise, all of the newbies seemed to manage the exercise without any trouble (I figured they simply didn’t know that they couldn’t easily do that!)
Then it was my turn. I approached the first turn at the right speed and began to turn the handlebars. But, of course, the bike seemed sluggish and possibly ‘fighting me’. I was going to go wide on my first effort! And that was when the Eureka! moment occurred.
I figured I could handle a slow speed drop if it came to that, but I’d be damned if I was going to demonstrate that I couldn’t make a simple slow speed turn like the rest of them. So at that point I merely said to myself, “JUST DO IT!” (I confess, I actually used a two word expletive) and I turned the handlebars aggressively IN THE DIRECTION I WANTED TO GO (and prepared for the fall) – and damn if the bike didn’t do exactly what I’d told it to do and make that turn just like everybody else.
It was then that I realized that the bike wasn’t fighting me, I had been fighting myself. I had let personal doubt get in the way of controlling the bike. And that was when I decided that I needed to get control of MYSELF as well as the bike in order to ride it safely.
And for 20 years that has remained my mantra – get control, and keep it!
But there was that other lesson, wasn’t there? If there comes a time when you KNOW the bike can do something but you are not at all sure that you can, then it may well be time to simply say “Just do it!” to yourself and prepare for the worst. And be surprised far more often than not, that the worst was purely in your head. Soon thereafter you will have gained a new skill or at least gotten over a mental block.
Don’t be surprised if you get in the habit of continuing to say that to yourself every time the same situation presents itself. There was a mental block for some reason and all you are doing is overcoming it.
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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)