It’s one thing to follow step-by-step instructions for bolting a new fairing onto your street bike. However, it’s a much more complicated deal to follow step-by-step instructions on how to brake later, lean your bike further, and get on the gas quicker while cornering. The primary difference between the two is that the second involves the “fear factor”.
From Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques, Second Edition by Lee Parks is a look at some of the ways motorcyclists overcome fear as they advance their skills.
Fear makes progress impossible. —FDR
Fear is the single biggest hindrance that we motorcyclists face when trying to improve our skills, yet few riders ever seriously inquire into it. To make matters worse, it is seldom written about in motorcycle magazines or books, and rarely dealt with in the popular riding schools. If there is one thing that I’ve learned in the 15 years I’ve been conducting my Total Control Advanced Riding Clinics, it’s “Remove the fear and the barriers to learning disappear.” After all, anyone can follow step-by-step directions. It’s fear that keeps riders from following through on their desires to make a change in their riding.
Dr. Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, points out that the one fundamental fear underlying all others is a belief that “I can’t handle it.” If you’re afraid that you can’t handle the consequences of a crash, like scratching up your expensive motorcycle or getting hurt, your body’s survival mechanisms will make you incapable of pushing through the barrier. Although your conscious mind may want to turn the throttle a little more, your unconscious mind will not allow your wrist to comply. This is a frustrating situation for anyone serious about improving their skills, but unaware what is stopping them from making progress.
Acknowledging your fears by putting them into positive, verbal language can eliminate the negative influence they have on your riding. In other words, once you speak—not just think—the words, “I can handle it if my bike goes down,” or whatever it is that you are afraid of, the fear no longer has control over your behavior. At this point you can concentrate on the task at hand without having your subconscious cause you to hesitate or wallow in your actions.
It should be noted that fear is actually a good thing, but we must learn to work with it, rather than struggle against it, to make it a positive influence on our riding. Obviously, fear is necessary for survival. If we weren’t afraid of anything (like falling down) we would soon die by doing stupidly dangerous stuff. For instance, if I tried to run the same lap times as Valentino Rossi, I would eventually crash, as I do not possess the necessary riding ability nor the physical strength or reflexes.
Additionally fear can increase your adrenaline flow, which provides added strength in emergencies. We’ve all heard the story of the old lady who lifted a car off her trapped son even though she technically didn’t have the strength to do it. But fear can also be your worst enemy if you don’t learn to control it. Too much of it can have a crippling effect on even the most experienced riders.
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “He who is not afraid will always be safe.”
There are many interpretations of this. However, when it comes to motorcycling, I have found one to be of profound significance. It can be explained by inquiring into what happens when your bike begins to slide.
Most motorcyclists have at one time or another slid one or both wheels in a corner— usually under power while exiting a turn, often in the rain. When this happens, what’s your reaction? A superior rider will simply let the slide occur as if it was supposed to happen. If you are able to retain your composure, the bike will usually correct itself as if nothing ever happened. That’s the purpose of trail in a chassis. It makes the bike want to straighten up whenever it’s crooked.
The problem most of us face, however, is that whenever we think that what is happening should not be happening, we perceive this as a problem and get scared. Once you get scared, your body gets tense and your mind goes on overload. In this situation you are like a beginning rider and unable to process all the inputs. You have lost your connection with the outer environment and become focused on your inner fear. At this point your chances of crashing have increased significantly. To avoid this scenario requires some special practice.
Only by practicing sliding will you become comfortable enough with it that you will not be pushed beyond your fear threshold when it occurs. Because sliding on the street (especially on a large touring bike) can be very dangerous, your best bet is to practice it on an off-road or dual-sport bike. The lighter weight of the bike and the slicker surface of the dirt will teach you the dynamics of sliding in a much safer environment.
While riding in the dirt, you begin to learn that it’s OK when your bike slides and you can just let it happen without fighting it. After all, once you’re sliding, there’s nothing else for you to do except let it happen since the more you fight the slide, the worse it will become. Then when a slide occurs on the street, you will be able to deal with it without overdosing on fear.
Another name for overdosing on fear is panicking. In a panic situation you are not able to properly reason, which was probably best illustrated by Homer Simpson from the animated TV show The Simpsons. In one particular episode, Homer, the father, admittedly not the sharpest tool in the shed, comes home one day and he is in a real conundrum. His daughter Lisa, the good kid, has very uncharacteristically gotten into trouble in school. Well, Lisa never gets into trouble at school so he doesn’t have a pattern of behavior to fall back on to know how to deal with the situation. After thinking about it for a moment he comes up with the solution and orders Bart to vacuum the floor. When Bart understandably protests, he quips back, “Boy, in times of trouble, you go with what you know!”
Similarly, in times of trouble on the motorcycle, we go with what we know. And what we know is what we’ve made habit. And what we’ve made habit is what we’ve practiced over and over. So, if you want to make the skills you learn here into habits, you will have to practice them over and over again until you’ve trained them into your muscle memory. That way, you’ll be able to execute them even in a panic situation when you can’t think about them first.
Today’s super high-performance bikes are the most potent vehicles ever sold to the public and they demand advanced riding skills. This is the perfect book for riders who want to take their street riding skills to a higher level. Total Control explains the ins and outs of high-performance street riding. Lee Parks, one of the most accomplished riders, racers, authors and instructors in the world, helps riders master the awe-inspiring performance potential of modern motorcycles.This book gives riders everything they need to develop the techniques and survival skills necessary to become a proficient, accomplished, and safer street rider. High quality photos, detailed instructions, and professional diagrams highlight the intricacies and proper techniques of street riding. Readers will come away with a better understanding of everything from braking and cornering to proper throttle control, resulting in a more exciting yet safer ride.