My work takes me far from civilization and roads and motorcycles – consequently in the spring and summer months there are periods when I can only dream about riding; so I read about riding instead. And like a child with a favorite blanket, I return again and again to David Hough’s books Proficient Motorcycling and More Proficient Motorcycling.
If the titles sound dry, the reading certainly isn’t. Yes, there is a comprehensive discussion about accident statistics and motorcycle dynamics… but mostly it is down to earth, common sense stuff. The kind of information that I read and then say to myself “I knew that” – but I needed to be reminded that I knew it!
I have probably thumbed through his books a half dozen times each, and every time there is some tid-bit of advice that registers and the light goes on. If you haven’t taken a recent serious look at your riding skills, or even if you have, these books make good sense. We owe it to ourselves and our families to ride in as safe a manner possible. And that means paying attention to the details. And no, I don’t mean detailing the chrome on the bike!
We need to constantly maintain our awareness of the machine and its condition. Tire pressures, cables, lights, controls, brakes – these things matter and shouldn’t be left to chance. Are the mirrors adjusted to best advantage? How quickly will the bike stop from 30mph? 50mph? Do you know??
We need to be awake and aware of our own condition. Are we alert and calm and focused and fit? Do we have the right gear for the conditions and for possible changes in the weather? Is our favourite helmet a good one, and in good condition – or just the most comfortable in spite of the dents and scratches? Will the allergy medication that we took at breakfast affect our ability to maintain focus?
We need to know our route and be prepared for those seasonal annoyances that we will encounter. This might mean anything from the never-ending summer ritual of highway re-surfacing; the ebb and flow of cottage traffic on the weekends; to the combination of bug smeared windshields and sudden summer rainstorms – and he list goes on. It is up to the rider to be mentally and physically prepared for the variables and plan ahead. Simply re-routing or re-scheduling can often make a big difference to the smooth flow and ultimate enjoyment of a ride.
Are our riding skills – both mental and physical – up to the task? Is counter-steering just some vague idea or is the technique consciously practiced? How far down the road do you normally scan when riding along? Does late apex cornering actually mean anything? Do you find yourself drifting wide on sweepers and occasionally straying over the centreline? Do you know what happens to the bike if you snap off the throttle or touch the brakes when leaned over hard in a corner? How consistently do you use the front brake to its maximum advantage?
It is never too late to learn – and if we stop learning, then guaranteed we will cease to be safe riders. The next time you grab your helmet and start hunting for your gloves, ask yourself the question – “Am I prepared to ride safely and defensively, or am I just going along for the ride?” Don’t be too proud to be safe. An empty parking lot and just twenty minutes of riding time can go a long way towards reminding yourself of half-forgotten skills and rusty techniques.
Not only can we be safer and smarter riders, the fun factor goes up exponentially as our skills increase.
Keep learning, and the ride goes on and on and the smiles just get bigger…
Don’t forget to wave! —Alison Green