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It’s easier than it seems but is harder than it looks

Riding a motorcycle has a mystique that is both alluring and intimidating at the same time. They can be powerful and fast and potentially deadly. They can be exciting and scary and even relaxing. They can be beautiful and sleek or utilitarian and downright ugly. They are as diverse as the people that ride them.

Many people fear motorcycles and assume that riding one is beyond their abilities or level of accepted risk. As with a great many things, however, the preemptive bark we anticipate in our minds turns out to be far worse than the actual bite.

Riding a motorcycle is far easier than it seems, but doing it well is much harder than it looks.

Once the basics of working a manual clutch and brakes have been mastered, just about anyone can ride a motorcycle. The Basic Riders Course provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a fantastic way to get up to speed (so to speak) quickly and efficiently. “Congratulations, you are now qualified to ride around a parking lot in first gear!”

As with a lot of things, the more you learn about riding a motorcycle and the more miles you get under your tires, the more you realize you still have to learn.

As I noted in a previous post, I recently attended the Lee Parks Total Control riders clinic up in Olympia, Washington. It involves a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on training in a big parking lot. I already know how to ride a motorcycle. I’ve racked up over 37,000 miles in the last four years. I took the class because I want to learn how to have more control and smoothness in my cornering. Refine my technique, basically.

When I watched our instructor, Jeff, take his Honda VFR in tight loops around the range during our class, I was amazed at how effortless and smooth he was. Experts make the more difficult task look easy and Jeff definitely qualifies as an expert. He loudly proclaimed, “This is what riding success looks like!” without saying a word. I want to be like him.

It’s not about speed or being able to drag my knee on every corner. Anyone can go around a corner on anything with two wheels. I want to do so masterfully.

Yesterday after work I rode up Marmot Road and Barlow Trail Road all the way to Zigzag and back to get some cornering practice under my belt. It was a frustrating experience. What I learned during my class seemed to have abandoned me. None of my corners felt right, nothing was smooth or easy. I was mentally going through the ten steps Lee Parks teaches for smooth cornering but somehow it wasn’t translating into actual results.

On the way back, something happened. I gave up. I stopped fretting over the details of what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to do it and just took the corners naturally. I basically said, “Screw the practice, just get home,” and something magical happened. My cornering became effortless and smooth. The same thing happened during my class on Saturday. When I stopped thinking and started feeling, everything fell into place and my technique improved.

Considering this, I’ve drawn a few conclusions from the process. Practice the techniques without worrying about the outcome. Let it be practice and nothing more. Don’t worry about winning races or impressing anyone. Go through the motions in the correct order and with the correct technique. Do it over and over again. Then move onto the next technique. Practice one technique at a time. Do each over and over again. When it’s time to actually ride, stop practicing and simply ride. Let your muscle memory and the less-than-conscious part of your brain do what you trained it to do.

Riding a motorcycle is easier than it seems but harder than it looks. But it can be done, by anyone.

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