My natural reaction is to look down at my feet. This isn't about directional control or avoiding traffic hazards. It's about not falling off the wall. Weirdly enough, though, the more I stare at my boots, the less balanced and in control I feel. Looking down makes my steps more awkward. I think my feet feel like my neice is going to feel tomorrow. She's taking her driver's test. She knows how to drive. The pressure of the examiner sitting next to her, though, is going to make her forget what she knows how to do. Staring at my feet is making them nervous. A wall top eight inches thick isn't really that hard to walk on. Unless there's added pressure from staring at your feet. From deep within my boots comes the cry to leave my feet alone and let them do what they know how to do.
So I pull my eyes up and quit worrying about my feet. Sure enough, the pressure's off and I do an admirable job of walking smoothly along the wall's top. Even the curve's no problem. My body knows exactly what to do. I just need to keep looking at the bigger picture and let things happen as they should. How does this relate to riding?
I've seen a similar thing happen to my riding students. It's especially evident during an exercise where they practice maximum braking without skidding either tire. Just this last weekend I had a student who would repeatly let his head and eyes drop towards the gas tank as the front of the bike dove under braking. Fascinatingly, ( at least to me, if not him ) as his eyes dropped his braking got more abrupt. It's like his lowered gaze prompted the rest of his body to curl in upon itself. His feet pressed harder and his hands squeezed more forcibly. Skids happened often. Once I finally got him to keep his gaze up everything smoothed out. It was like looking at a different rider. His stops became very competent. He's not the first I've seen have the same experience.
This isn't so much about stability. It's not about finding hazards. Neither is directional control involved. The item on the top of the list is that thing called being smooth. In this case, being smooth isn't just something nice to experience. It can literally be the difference between stopping without incident or crashing. Not everything we do on a bike is a critical matter, I admit. Critical or not, being smooth is much preferable. Keeping our eyes up and letting our body do what it knows how to do will go a long ways toward being smoother. We'll have more fun because we'll feel more in control. Not to mention looking much "Cooler" too!
Walking on top of the walls really wasn't a huge thing. Hundreds of people have done it at this college, I'm sure. No circus is going to try to recruit me for the high wire act. Call it an obsession, but I'm always looking to improve my own skills or find a better way to help others do the same. It's become a part of my nature over the decades to hold my experiences up to the light that is motorcycling. Is there some small gem that will be applicable? One little diamond got polished up some on the top of a concrete wall.
I told you I actually have a life. Just to prove it, I'm going to try to make an application to real life without mentioning riding or motorcycles.
Keeping our eyes up during whatever journey we find ourselves undertaking will help keep things in perspective. Remain focused on a destination down the road. In other words, maintain visual contact with the larger picture. Let whatever we use for balance and motivation take care of the small things. Eyes up will make for a smoother journey.
Wow! That was hard. A whole paragraph. Can we go back to talking about riding, now?
Miles and smiles,
P.S. The Kid's plane is landing in a couple of hours. He's picking up his new bike tomorrow and bringing it over to my place. I'm hoping to get a couple of photos with his mile-wide cheesy grin!