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Control is an Optical Illusion ...
Without Experience

By: James R. Davis

For those of you who are new to riding and have managed to successfully acquire a few months and perhaps a couple of thousand miles of experience, you have probably wondered just how much more you need before you can get a newer, bigger, bike. My advice: back off.

You are essentially a newbie. MANY new riders are offended when they are described as newbies.

Wrong attitude.

Newbie simply means that you have yet to experience MOST of the events and incidents from which you WILL learn how to control your motorcycle, and yourself. Therefore, a newbie is a rider who is untested and is easily found to be riding over his head because he doesn't, yet, know better. He is quite likely to THINK that he knows what he is doing because he is 'still standing' when, in fact, he is delusional as to his knowledge base - without experience that knowledge base is purely theoretical. (These people are quick to offer advice to other new riders as they honestly want to help but that advice often turns out to be absolutely wrong, or is so nuanced -- unbeknown to the person giving that advice - that it turns out to be dangerous to the recipient.)

How does a newbie cease to be a newbie?

He/she experiences riding and most of those incidents - and survives.

When a brand new rider goes out on the street for the first time he is usually rather frightened. GOOD! There are lots of reasons to be terrified out there. Besides having to spend precious mental energy and time dealing with the fundamentals - most of which are NOT, yet, learned beyond superficially - they must re-learn the behaviors of the drivers of other vehicles because those behaviors are NOT the same as they used to be when confronted as a driver of a big, easily visible, automobile. And, after much getting used to those new behaviors and having developed a new regard for defensive riding, the new rider begins to experience some of those incidents from which he matures his skills and confidence.

But it takes NO SKILL, whatever, to ride a motorcycle at highway speeds. NONE. You are along for the ride. The bike steers a straight line all by itself. The bike does not fall down by itself. The engine will keep running without a second thought on your part.

Which means that unless you are confronted by one of those incidents (say, a car in front of you that does a panic stop), you are not developing responses and skills that you will sooner or later need.

And in a short time frame of, say, 6 months, you will not have developed tried and true responses and skills sufficient to assure yourself that WHATEVER HAPPENS, whatever the environment throws at you, no matter how the bike behaves itself, or doesn't, you will respond appropriately and survive the experience.

In short, you will, with limited experience, come to believe that because you haven't died yet, you must be pretty good with your machine and come to believe that you are 'always (or pretty much) in control' of the bike. And that leads you to think about maybe getting a larger bike.

Those incidents cannot be 'practiced for' without having had similar incidents behind you. This time it is having to deal with some water on the roadway. Next time it will be having to cross a low-water bridge with standing water on it, invisible sludge at the bottom. The time after that it will be 36 degrees out there and that water will not look like it's frozen. Then you will find yourself 50 miles from home when it starts to hail. That stops and the ground seems to dry up, but in a curve you ride over some leaves and your rear-end squirts to the side a bit.

Believe me, those incidents happen almost every ride. And after a year or two you will have overcome most of them. After 40 years of riding I found myself carrying a passenger (Cash) in the fast lane of a freeway going about 70 mph when a LARGE cardboard box presented itself in my lane! I tried to swerve around it but that box just blew into my new line of travel. I was going to hit it, no doubt about it. EXPERIENCE told me 'NO BRAKES!!!!!' so I squeezed just the clutch lever, hit the box and rolled over it without incident instead of ending up eating asphalt.

As to a new, larger bike ... you will be starting all over again! FROM THE BEGINNING! Or you will have to find out that controlling the motorcycle is only part of the drill. You also have to learn how to control yourself.

Slow down in your quest for having 'arrived' as a motorcyclist. Treat being a newbie as a learning experience that everybody goes through and only some actually appreciate. Do it right and you will cease to be a newbie some time in the future - at least most of the time that you ride.

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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