Motorcycling, like any true sport has an extremely lengthy and gradual learning curve. It’s only fitting then that the true enthusiast be on the constant quest for techniques that will improve his or her riding. Here are 5 things you can do that are guaranteed to bolster whatever skills you currently possess as a rider.
1. Set a Purpose Before You Ride
With time, riding a motorcycle becomes intuitive, which means you just get on the bike and ride. In fact, that’s what most riders do. In doing so however, you are passing up an important opportunity to further develop your skills. Much like a mixed martial artists sets a purpose for any given training camp (boxing, legwork, stamina, wrestling…), so too can we, as motorcyclists.
Get into the habit of setting a purpose for your rides. You can chose to focus on any area of your riding that you feel compelled to improve. Common areas include 1) body positioning on the seat (fore/aft, as well as leaning off the bike), 2) contact points (how loose/tense you are on the bars, foot placement on the pegs…), 3) cornering line selection, 4) threshold/trail braking, etc.
When your ride is underway, actively experiment and self-critique to discover what works best for you and your bike. Refining your technique often involves trial and error so don’t be afraid to try something new (keeping in mind what’s safe, obviously).
Focusing on a specific area in this way will allow faster progression than “just getting on the bike” and can also work well in tandem with a riding partner or small group where you can exchange feedback.
2. Ride with More Experienced Riders
Most riders are guys. Most guys have ego. Therefore, most riders don’t admit to themselves that 1) they have a lot to learn and 2) that they could learn from someone else (…and Rossi doesn’t count).
There’s no shame in it folks. Each of us is on our own motorcycling journey and all one’s ego or pride does is get in the way of safety, learning and most importantly, having the most fun possible on two wheels.
Find a more experienced rider (let’s forget whether they are “better” than you), then make a point of riding with them and try to understand what it is they do that makes them a good rider. Ask them if you can follow their line on a ride and most “fast” riders will agree to maintain a pace that’s comfortable for you. During breaks, ask them to tell you about their personal journey and how they learned the skills they possess. This can be done on a racetrack as much as on the street and you’d be surprised how willing a fellow rider (even a stranger) will be to help pass long their knowledge.
In doing so, you’ll not only gain first hand knowledge of how other people became proficient, you’ll also open your mind to becoming a better rider yourself.
3. Ride Somewhere New
We can all take a page out of the ADV riding book (and by this, we don’t mean you need to ride across multiple countries on a BMW GS): riding somewhere new serves both the purpose of discovering new roads while teaching us how to ride in new situations.
Varying your local rides is a good way to start as there are likely dozens of loops in your immediate riding area that could offer new corners, elevation changes and hazards to bolster your skills.
Taking a road trip is another fantastic way to increase your street riding knowledge. Wherever you live, there is likely a motorcycling mecca within a day’s ride (or drive -if you have access to a trailer). Grab some friends, pick a destination and make a week end of it.
4. Ride Something New (to You)
Variety is the spice of life and nowhere is this more true than in the bike(s) your ride.
Every bike has a unique personality and the more of them you experience, the better in-touch you will be with your riding skills as well as your own bike’s characteristics.
You know that test ride you’ve been meaning to take at your local dealer but keep putting off? Whether you intend on buying a new bike or not this year, do it. You risk nothing and stand to gain knowledge of how another bike rides and behaves on familiar roads. Have a friend whose bike you’ve been curious about? Do a 30 minute bike swap on your next local ride so you can both learn from the experience (and later trash talk each-other’s bikes, obviously). Know an older fella with a bagger who’s been trash talking your hip new sport naked bike? Trade places for an hour and compare notes over coffee at the next stop.
The best riders (and we can use Moto GP as the yardstick) cross-train and the benefits can be important, even to a casual street rider.
5. Do a Track Day (or Track School)
No ChanceMoto.com post would be complete without referring to the holy grail of riding: the track day. Unfortunately, most people think of track days as a way for adrenaline junkies to get their high when in fact, a closed course setting offers so much more.
Let’s first dispel the myth that riding motorcycles on a race track is dangerous. If we can first agree that riding motorcycles as a sport presents inherent dangers, then it should be simple to agree that taking away all the cars, guardrails, sign posts and road debris should actually make the activity safer. And that’s exactly what a racetrack does: it provides a safe environment for practice and experimentation which is not possible on public roads.
But what if you’re not a “racer”, you’re not “a sport bike guy” or you’re not interested in riding really fast? What we have here are more misconceptions of what riding at a racetrack achieves: practicing basic or advanced riding skills that are applicable to any type of motorcycling and make literally any rider better and safer. If you’re a self-described “Harley guy”, spend a day riding either your Harley or a rental bike at a track and I guarantee you will learn more in that day of riding than from a whole season of riding on public roads. Likewise, if you’re a casual rider who has no aspirations of challengeing Marquez (maybe you don’t even know who “Marquez” is), spend a day at the racetrack to understand your bike and its capabilities better so that you can ride casually more safely.
In closing, remember that becoming a “better rider” also equates to becoming a “safer rider” and that’s something we should all strive for.