Something we don’t talk enough about as riders are the mental aspect of riding. I think at some point every rider experiences some doubts about riding, rather it’s their ability or their motorcycles. As humans, it’s only natural to have these feelings. The important thing is to acknowledge and deal with them. An insecure rider is a dangerous rider. Most riders start off insecure but in order to truly enjoying riding and be a safe rider, you must learn to trust your riding skills.
Know Your Abilities
Any rider can propel a motorcycle down the road but not every rider is a skilled rider. Almost daily I see riders on the roads that are clearly a danger to themselves and those around them. There are some basic things you should be able to do and feel confident about while riding a motorcycle.
- Riding down the road with control of the motorcycle
- Ability to swerve to avoid obstacles in the road
- Proper braking technique
Yes, a u-turn! There is a reason that it is taught in safety courses. If you are not confident in performing a u-turn I’d suggest you find a safe location and practice. we’ll talk more about that in another post.
Know Your Motorcycle
From day one of Margaret having a motorcycle, I stressed the importance of her knowing her bike. I could tell she was unsure of what I meant but I knew with a little time she would. As time went on and she got to know her friction zone, how far over she could lean, how sharp she could turn and just how much space she needed for a u-turn. She began to discover what I meant by getting to know it.
Spending Time Riding
Just like with any relationship the more time you spend with your motorcycle the better you know it and the more you learn to trust the connection between you and your motorcycle. When Margaret first began riding we rode all of the time! She couldn’t get enough and I was more than happy to oblige with all-day rides, dinner rides, or cross-country trips for our vacations. Then last summer Margaret went back to school to work on her nursing degree. Her free-time nose-dived and she actually went months without riding.
Getting Back on the Road
Last semester she decided not to take any summer classes. We were excited, finally some riding time! Around the time riding season was getting into full swing several people we knew were involved in motorcycle accidents. A few of them were really bad accidents. Those accidents led to her dwelling on them and would play into the mental aspect of riding I mentioned earlier.
As soon as school was out and weather permitted we began riding again. At first, she tried not to dwell on the accidents our friends had been in. Soon I started noticing that she was slowing way down in corners or curves. I would check in with her when we were at red lights and when we made stops. She assured me everything was okay. She’d usually answer with something like I just don’t feel super confident today but everything is fine. Later she explained she thought if she kept pushing on she’d regain her confidence.
What I didn’t know was she no longer felt in control of the front end of her motorcycle. The more we went out the more she noticed her inability to control her motorcycle. It wasn’t long before she had convinced herself that she was a bad rider. The real problem was she kept attributing the physical problem she was noticing in her motorcycle to the fact that she hadn’t ridden in so long.
Acknowledging a Problem
It’s now around mid-August. The rain is finally letting up and the weather is beautiful. I’m ready to ride! We knew summer would be over soon and nursing school would once again consume Margaret’s time. I wanted to take a long ride and head out to a burger place. We sent a text to some friends to see if they wanted to join us and we were off.
This is what Margaret said made her realize she needed to speak up: “We hit the first real corner and it’s not terribly sharp or anything but I felt wobbly and unstable. I had to really start slowing down in corners and turns that shouldn’t require it. Finally, it hit me that maybe the problem wasn’t me, maybe it was my motorcycle. I knew the issue was usually in turns and corners. I then notice it was mainly right-hand turns and corners with a speed of about 30-35 mph. As the day went on I knew I had a mechanical issue and needed to tell Scott what had been going on”.
Assessing the Problem
The next morning we decided to take a look at her motorcycle and see if we could identify the issue. I don’t usually ride her motorcycle but she asked me to take it around the block. Yep, she was still doubting herself just a bit. As I rode it around the neighborhood making right turns and even just leaning the bike to the right side the handlebars would begin violently shaking, even at low speeds. I pulled back into the garage and said: “How the hell have you been riding that?”. I saw the look of relief come over her face and then she exclaims ‘Whew, I wasn’t crazy or a bad rider, something was really wrong with it.” Because of our schedules and the multitude of things that may have been causing the issue we made the decision to have the motorcycle towed into the dealership.
What Was Wrong With the Bike
Finally: What was wrong with the bike? The steering head bearings went bad. Replacing those is quite a bit of work. For us and this situation, it was a good move to pay for the repair. The cost of the repair was very reasonable. In just a few days we were able to pick the bike up and get back on the road. You can read more about the mechanical issues in this post if you’re interested.
It only took Fort Worth Harley a few days to repair her bike. The evening we picked it up we decided we’d two-up on my motorcycle to get there and then head out for a dinner ride. The first turn out of the dealership was a right turn. So far so good. We took some back roads to get to Del Norte Taco in Godley, TX. Out of habit, she started off slowing down as she reached turns and corners. I kept an eye on her in my mirrors and I could see her slowly getting more comfortable and speeding up. By the time we headed home, She was smiling again and leaning into the corners and curves. She’s had her bike back for a few weeks now and each time she get’s on it I can see her gaining back a little more confidence.
We learned a lot in the last few months but the biggest one was Margaret learned to speak up when something seems off. If she had just told me the first time that she thought the front end seemed wobbly we would have had it fixed way back in April or May of this year. She let her pride get in the way and that put both of us in danger.
The other thing she learned was to trust her ability. There was no reason for her to assume just because she hadn’t ridden frequently that suddenly she wouldn’t be able to handle her motorcycle. She would have had a lot more fun this summer if she hadn’t spent so many rides questioning her abilities as a rider.
Looking back I was reminded of the importance of truly feeling confident as a rider. That’s why I wanted to go ahead and address the issue in this post. In the coming months, we’ll dig deeper into riding safety.