One of the questions we get asked by many people who enquire about riding in America is something like “I’ve never ridden two weeks in a row for so many miles each day, will I be able to do this trip?” We always answer the question the same way:
“Are you a confident motorcyclist?”
We all like to be reassured by others that we’re capable of doing something well, or at least competently. Sometimes a word of two of encouragement can relieve that inner twinge of self-doubt and enable us to do great things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. But when it comes to riding a motorcycle, it is critically important that you possess an honest assessment of your riding abilities, and your limitations. The stakes are too big to yourself, and those you’re riding with, to fool yourself about what you can and cannot do.
Being a confident motorcyclist can mean many things. On a basic level, it means knowing where the controls are located and what they do, even with your eyes closed. It means that you have a understanding of what will happen when you use the controls, clutching, changing gears, braking forces, acceleration, cornering, available traction and ground clearance. To simplify, do you truly understand how to operate the motorcycle you’re on?
On a more advanced level, being a confident motorcyclist means being able to understand what’s happening in the environment around you, perceive your ever changing relationship to what is happening, and be able to respond correctly to those changes (or better yet, to predict those changes before they happen.) If you’re a confident motorcyclist, you don’t just hope that everything will be ok on your ride; you understand that you have an active, ongoing role in ensuring this.
For example, if you’re on a group tour, riding amongst a large pack of bikes, enjoying the scenery, you need tremendous awareness of what’s happening around you. How close are you to the bike in front, how fast are you going – if he jumps on his brakes, will you be able to stop in time? What about what’s behind you, is the rider giving you enough space? If you want to move to a different place in the pack, or stop for a picture, are you signaling properly so those around you are aware of what your intentions are?
To an experienced, confident motorcyclist, the behaviors mentioned above have become ingrained. Smoothness is the hallmark of a confident rider, you don’t typically see them dragging their trainers on the pavement as they come to a stop. Usually confidence comes via a lot of miles in the saddle, often aided by professional rider training. But it takes practice to keep your skills up – recently I went for a canyon ride after a year off bikes, as my wife and I had our first child. The first hour on the motorcycle, I was anything but confident, riding slowly, turning in too early into corners, having to remind myself to keep my head up and look where I wanted to go – things I thought were programmed into my brain. I’d gotten soft! Eventually it came back to me, but I wished I hadn’t left it so long to get back to riding.
Many of the people who wish to hire bikes or come on tours with us have been away from bikes as well, some have just retired and are planning a dream trip. To those who’ve been away from bikes for a bit, and want to come to America on holiday and ride, we say “take a refresher course before you come”. Get some rider training, and brush the dust off those old skills. We tell new riders to get training too, to be taught good riding habits that will help you for years to come. Deep down inside, we know when we’re rusty or lacking in certain skills. Be honest with yourself and address those issues before you put down a wedge and travel halfway around the world.
So again, ask yourself: “Am I A Confident Motorcyclist?” The most important answer will come from within.