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Lessons from the road

Posted By Jon DelVecchio, Friday, April 8, 2016

Going back to school doesn’t sound like much fun. Boring lectures. Tests. Homework. Rules. Detention. Of course, after graduation comes the corporate training events and job certifications. Those aren’t much better, but at least you get paid for attendance. It’s no wonder most adults have had it with learning by the time they get on their motorcycles.

Times have changed. Instruction these days is much more engaging and personalized. Today monotone lecturers get poor reviews and learners are encouraged to talk and share ideas. Even basic motorcycle training courses are becoming more student-friendly experiences. But once the licensing course ends, few pursue further formal skill development.

Why many experienced riders shy away from sharpening their skills is anyone’s guess. Are you cutting class again? Motorcycle seat time will provide valuable experience, but are you getting the physical and mental stimulation necessary to ride at a higher level?

Part of the problem with advanced rider training is that it’s not readily available to the typical street rider. Most advanced riding courses are still confined to parking lots, which is about as appealing as a classroom. Track schools attract a limited number of people and are geographically out of reach for the curious.

So what’s left? The most rare of them all: small group on-road courses. These gatherings resemble Sunday morning rides down twisty back roads more than a learning environment. On-road courses fuse concepts to the real world in real time. They provide vivid examples of what to do when and where. Riding at peak performance requires a precise combination of physical and mental skills. While practical, books and videos can only provide the mental part of the equation.

Truth be told, the complexities of conducting motorcycling instruction on public roads are challenging. As a result, few providers venture outside the safe haven of parking lots. Those that offer on-road programs do it more for the love of teaching than profit. For that reason, enroll in and support on-road training when you can.

Don’t have access to on-road courses? Be your own teacher. Talk to fellow riders about what works for them. Read books. Watch videos. Choose a technique to focus on and go try it. Build skills one ride at a time. Here are some ideas to start you off:

  • Be Smooth
    • Every movement on a motorcycle should smooth. In order to be smooth, start by being relaxed. It sounds simple, but many riders will find themselves tense in traffic or the twisties upon reflection. Every squeeze, press and roll should be performed gently.
  • Move Your Eyes
    • Few hazards appear at the very last moment before a crash. Most can be anticipated by clues and plain ol’ paying attention. Looking straight ahead is not enough. Scan and sweep your field of view continuously to better identify problems. Our brains function better when we tell our eyes specifically what to look for. “Inattentional blindness” is a lack of attention that causes failure to recognize dangers in plain sight. This lack of diligence leads to countless close calls and mishaps. To defeat it, proactively look for hazards.
  • Anticipate
    • After building your search skills, the next step is predicting traffic patterns. It’s easy to get into the minds of other roadway users. Make it engaging by playing a game of chess with others on the road. Instead of reacting to traffic, attempt to anticipate the moves of others. Once you get really good, strategically place others on the road where you want them to go simply by opening up space.
  • Escape
    • Always have an escape path. There is no valid excuse for not having a pre-planned exit strategy on the streets. Given that motorcycles are less noticeable in traffic, having space to squirt into is essential. At minimum keep plenty of space in front of you. Large following distances are an underutilized escape path option.

Have questions about using the road as your classroom? Stop by and see me at the National Rally in Hamburg, NY. I’m looking forward to immersing myself into the BMW lifestyle this summer.


Jon DelVecchio is the owner of Street Skills LLC based in Rochester, NY. His motorcycling school specializes in advanced riding skill courses for street riders conducted on public roads and race tracks.

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