Saturday, November 2, 2013

Keeping Your Head In The Game

Riding a motorcycle is one of the most dangerous leisure activities you can pursue. It is also one of the most rewarding. The first rule of enjoying the activity is to survive the activity. Certainly, you can limit your exposure to injury,or worse, by wearing protective gear, following safe riding guidelines, and riding within your limits. All of this is part of what I refer to as "keeping your head in the game". Having the physical skills to operate a motorcycle cannot overcome a lack of mental focus.

I hear riders say that motorcycling is how they relax or unwind. I have a hard time relating to that. Riding a motorcycle has never been relaxing for me. If I need to relax, I sit in my recliner in front of the TV and watch a mindless sitcom. For me to relax, I have to turn off my brain, something I simply cannot afford to do when riding my motorcycle. Riding is invigorating and stimulating for me, not relaxing. I defy any of you to ride your motorcycle in traffic on I35 in Dallas and be relaxed.

Perhaps too many motorcyclists are involved in accidents because they are relaxed and not keeping their head in the game, so to speak. Even a temporary lapse of attention can result in bad things happening on two wheels. The margin for error is very slim on a motorcycle. A healthy amount of fear can be a good thing to help you say mentally sharp when riding. Never lose sight of how vulnerable you are.

The element of danger is what makes riding such a mentally stimulating and enjoyable experience. I know it sounds crazy, but isn't that the same with skydiving, flying an airplane, or rock-climbing? The element of danger comes with a sense of satisfaction when you survive the activity. Every time I ride my Goldwing, the possibility of encountering a technical riding challenge exists. It could be a car pulling out in front of me at an intersection, or encountering loose gravel in a turn, or having to make a sharp turn up a steep hill from a dead stop. Maneuvering a 900+ pound motorcycle in these conditions is challenging to say the least. But, overcoming these technical challenges can be extremely satisfying and stimulating. My focus when riding is to always try to anticipate the unexpected and plan a way to survive the scenario.

Most of us who have been riding for some time have had at least a few "close calls". And, in retrospect, there is something I could have done to prevent the close call. I recall a few years ago I was riding my bike to my favorite wing joint for dinner. I pulled into the parking lot and was completely unaware that there was a car right behind me. I had to swing left to get around the bumper of a pick-up truck so I could park in a spot to my right. When I swung left to make the wide turn, the car behind me assumed I was making a left turn, imagine my surprise when I swing right and her bumper was about 12 inches from my right knee! I was only going a couple of miles per hour and I instinctively hit the front brake and the bike went down. The driver freaked out, but I was OK and so was the bike. That incident caused me to completely rethink how I operate the bike when negotiating parking lots. While I was eating my wings that night, I thought of at least two mistakes I made that contributed to the near accident. First, I did not check my rear-view mirrors to see if there was a car behind me. Second, I did not use my turn signal to indicate that I would be turning right into a parking spot. Lesson learned.

Keeping my head in the game involves a few little mental strategies that I have developed over the years. Just like how a pilot goes over a checklist before takeoff, I do the same sort of thing before I ride. I even talk to myself out loud just to make sure I am alert. I know it sounds crazy, but it seems to help me focus on the ride. Now, when I am entering or exiting a parking lot, I audibly remind my self of my parking lot checklist. For me, that means 10mph or less, high alert, check rear-view mirrors, and engage headlight modulators. I have another set of rules for approaching an intersection. First, I look to see if there is an oncoming vehicle in the left turn lane (that could potentially turn in front of me), if so, I turn on my headlight modulators and try to position myself and the bike so I can either brake or escape should the blind fool not see me. I probably have a dozen or more scenarios that I try to prepare for in similar fashion.

All of this planning and mental activity is energizing and actually increases my enjoyment of the ride. I know some riders would say "man, that's too much to think about, I just want to ride and not have to think." If that's your style and you are comfortable with it, that's OK with me. But for me, I always try my best to keep my head in the game.



  1. That's a good adviced. I'll do that everytime i'm in my Wing. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for sharing lessons learned