They say great musicians are born, not made. Part of that I believe. Where I take exception is the part of that statement that becomes self limiting. Being born with a natural talent is obviously a great start. It doesn't mean to me that a person with a little less natural talent can't take what they have and turn it into greatness. The same holds true for riding. When a person says they weren't born to be a great rider it can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes if we really want something we need to look at what's getting in the way. Then remove it. What I see keeping a lot of riders from being really great is the need to maintain an Image. They don't want to risk being seen as something less than what they've built up in their minds. Insecurity rears its ugly head and stops all further progress. I saw this just the other day in someone I was trying to help out.
The rider claimed he wanted help. He even told me he'd do anything to ride like me. I told this guy he was lying. He acted all offended when I told him that. I assured him it was the truth. He'd do anything but risk looking foolish in the process of achieving greatness. We couldn't move past that. Until he can, this guy's going to languish in mediocrity.
Bear with me while I tell a little story to help set the stage.
We had a family gathering a little while back. Katie's parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary at the end of January. Katie and I, Katie's sister and her family, and some friends of her parents had a dinner party. It was at the sister's house. The meal was excellent and we moved on into the next phase. The invited friends were chosen because they like to share in making music. My father in law is a tinkerer. He's made a contraption that pretty much allows him to be a one man band. He's got a guitar, a harmonica, a foot operated drum, cymbals, and a few noise makers he can blow into. I think it's a little corny but it makes him happy. Katie and her sister play piano or electric keyboard. There's notebooks made up that contain the chords and lyrics. The friends bring a sampling of instruments and they all have a good time. Except me.
I wholeheartedly admit that the problem lies in my attitude towards it. I do not like to participate. Mostly because I think the one man band thing is over the top and he uses every opportunity to drag it out. I'm uncomfortable with the whole thing and I feel stupid being a part of it. Katie's father always tries to drag me in. My response is always the same:
"I make my music on a bike."
There is some musical talent floating around in my body. I play both the guitar and piano. Despite the fact that Grandpa sang bass in a barbershop quartet, I can't carry a tune in a handbasket. Or rather, perhaps it's because I choose not to. To be brutally honest, I feel foolish to think of how I'd look pouring my heart and soul into singing or making music. Combine this with the fact that I have another way to express myself and it seems I will always be a technician. Not a musician. I'm fine with that. Like I say, I make my music on a bike.
Consider those who are really great musicians or singers. On New Year's Eve PBS aired a concert from Tuscan, Italy. Under the Italian night sky Andrea Bocelli occupied a large stage. Several names from the music industry joined in at various times. Andrea sang many songs in Italian. His voice is strong and clear. As he sang you could see him living in the mood of the song. It was powerful to be drawn in along with him. Italian is a wonderful language for this kind of thing. This Italian singer and his songs were one. To hear the music and see his face was to peer into his soul. As I listened I realized this was the finished product. Years of work had passed to reach this point. What looked natural and fitting now must have looked and felt awkward in earlier times. Maybe even somewhat foolish.
What we saw now was the expressions of a Master. Imagine a younger man trying to get it right. Mistakes are made. Notes come out sounding really strange at times. Imagine trying to project a powerful and masterful presence, or persona. All the while not having really grown into it yet. Yes, there were times of looking foolish. Andrea obviously wanted mastery enough to risk these times. Few would argue that it all came together. Andrea Bocelli is truly one of the Greats today.
I feel similar on a bike. Not that I would go so far as to say I am a Great Master. No matter how high the altimeter reads it can always go higher. I don't want to say I've arrived for fear of missing out on the treasures of the journey. On the other hand, the bike under me is an extension of my being. If you watch me ride you get a glimpse of my soul. We don't technically attack corners. We dance through curves. Instead of droning down the interstate we're galloping along reveling in the feel of speed. If I can do things with a bike that most other riders can't, yet, it's because it's no longer a technical exercise. It's as natural as reaching out my arm and grasping something.
It wasn't always like this. We sure didn't start out here. Did I have my times of looking stupid as I dropped a big bike? For the 9th time? Yes, but I eventually mastered the Keyhole. Was there some embarrassment when I finally took a rider class in the 80's and found out I wasn't as competent as I thought I was? Sure. Weirdly enough, the other students were experiencing the same thing. It's part of the learning curve. The risk of looking foolish goes hand in hand with advancing skills. Avoiding the one negates the ability to gain the other. That's written in stone.
I fell down the first time I tried to ride a big street bike in the snow. And the second. And the third. Eventually I learned when to avoid it but what to do if I had no choice. In the 70's when I still thought I knew everything and really knew nothing, I ran a big street bike off the road, across the ditch, and mired the wheels in the mud. Still upright because the axles were buried. It was on a quiet country road. Some guy was kind enough to stop and help me pull the bike out. I thanked him for his help and blamed it on a dog that ran across the road. Seriously. There's always a phantom dog available when you need to find some way to cover up your lousy skills. There was no dog. I just got into a corner way too hot. I didn't have the skills to save myself, let alone avoid getting there in the first place. I finally decided this was no way to live. Literally.
The point is this. I may have some extra natural aptitude for riding. It certainly didn't show the first time I crawled up on a dirt bike. Nor onto my first street bike. Can you think of anybody who jumped on a bike for the first time and was instantly an expert rider? Unlike playing a musical instrument, I really wanted to attain mastery on a bike. If the risk of looking foolish was getting in the way, then I needed to get over it. It's attitude and work that got me where I am. Not being some sort of "born rider".
There's a lot of riders out there that want to be better. Just not enough to risk looking foolish in front of their peers. I'd love it if you'd help them understand how limiting that viewpoint is. I'm not talking about folks just learning to ride. That's a separate thing. What I'm talking about is the group of riders that has some level of competency. They might even have been riding for years and are kind of looked up to in their peer group. So many just sort of plateau here. They say they want more skills but never try. Things hold them back from reaching out for the next step. And the next one after that.
Yes, they will look foolish. Whether they practice on their own or take formal training. No way around that. Not as much as they think, though. On the other hand, think of how much more respect they'll garner when they reach the excellence they're capable of. Not to mention that little thing of being so much better able to take care of themselves out there. Being excellent is so much more fun than being mediocre!
Are we content to be technicians or do we want to be musicians? Great riders are made, not born. The key to unlocking the door to greatness is mindset. We can do it. Go for it!
Miles and smiles,