Monday, October 06, 2008

Ask The Maniac!

Dear Maniac,

So I have a problem for the advice column. I recently purchased a 2007 Suzuki Bandit 1250 for a bargain price on Craigslist. I rode the Bandit the last 10 days and am just getting to know it.

It thrills me and scares me at the same time - part of that fear is that I cannot corner as easily as I can on my S50 - in the low speed around town stuff. I rode my S50 tonight and it was like an extension of me. It turns in easily and goes exactly where I want it to go.

Is it a mental thing that stops me from being able to perform the low speed maneuvers on the Bandit? Surely this bike should be easier to turn? I have 9000 miles on the S50 and less than 300 on the Bandit. What happened to my ability to ride? Do I just need to give it more time?


The Unsure Bandit.

Dear Unsure,

What happened to you is the same thing that happened to me this last weekend. I was driving a big truck for our training program. Behind me was this huge trailer full of motorcycles. Off and on during the drive it rained. This caused me to have to fiddle with the intermittent windshield wipers. Even though I knew in my head that the knob had to turn towards me for less frequent wiper action, my fingers continually rotated the knob in the wrong direction. It took a half a day to get it straight.

You may ask what windshield wipers in a truck have to do with riding a motorcycle. Maybe nothing. After all, I'm the Motorcycle Guru, not you, so you knew deep in your heart that I'd make this all about me, didn't you? Well, I'm pleased to say that this isn't the case here. My experience with the windshield wipers has everything to do with what you described to me.

There are many ways to explain what is happening with you. A different bike. The reach to the bars is different. Torque curves aren't the same. Weight distribution feels strange. Changing riding positions from a cruiser to more of a sporty standard feels weird. I'd bet the Bandit has less trail than the S50. You don't feel as "at home" on the Bandit. We could go on and on trying to describe what's happening. Thankfully for you, we'll not go there.

What it all boils down to is one basic thing. Like most basic things, this one seems so simple. Not understanding it, though, can cause a lot of pain and suffering. The simple truth is that it all has to do with these:

That's right. It's all about muscles, baby! More specifically, how our brains talk to our muscles. It's that basic thing called "muscle memory".

Sound too basic? Think about it.

My brain knew the correct direction to rotate the windshield wiper knob. However, I wasn't giving it total concentration when I was driving. There were little things like other traffic, dark and wet roads, pulling the trailer, and so on. I just let my hand reach out for the control. My brain used the most accessible memory to accomplish the task. That memory just happened to be the one ingrained from my own truck. Where the knob rotates away from me to get less wiper action. Knowing something is different than making your body do it correctly.

Back to you, Mr. Bandit.

I'm pretty sure you know how to ride a bike. You know about countersteering, balancing, how to use the clutch and throttle, how to turn your head for directional control, as well as all the other things involved in riding a motorcycle. That's the knowledge part. I'd ask you to think upon which memory the brain is sending to the muscles right now. It's the S50 memories, isn't it?

Our brains are wonderfully complex things. What I've found, though, is that they are either somewhat lazy or have a finite working space. Sort of like the RAM on a computer. It's not the storage capacity that's the problem. It's the brain's ability to rapidly retrieve information that's key. With only so much RAM available, the brain sort of picks and chooses what goes there. Things that are used more often are stored in the front of the file drawers. Memories and experiences that are used less frequently, or not at all, are stored way in the back. These things are still in the file cabinet, but it can take the brain a little time to find them. Some memories will even need to have the dust figuratively blown off of them. While all this is going on, new memories need to be processed and sorted in the file system, too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is to just relax. Your ability to ride a motorcycle is still there. It's just that your brain is still working off the muscle memories stored up from the S50. Those are ones it's comfortable finding and using on short notice. Your brain will analyze the feedback from your muscles and compensate for the different way the Bandit responds. It won't be long until the new Bandit files are made and stored in the front of the drawer and ready for quick use.

That's pretty much the answer to your question. I want to take a minute and show how this simple truth can either make or break a rider in the bigger picture.

Muscle memories include accident avoidance skills like swerving and maximum braking. These memories also cover things like cornering properly and effectively scanning for critical information. Remember the principle:

Memories used often are filed up front and are readily accessible. Memories used less often or not at all take longer for the brain to find and put into use.

If a rider hasn't done anything physically to keep the memories in the forefront, they may find themselves in trouble if called upon to quickly execute an accident avoidance manuever, for instance. Knowing how to do something is one thing. The question is, will the brain be able to find the correct muscle memory in time? Spending a few moments a month practicing these skills can go a long ways toward making sure the muscle memory will be there quickly. Which means as soon as a rider thinks it, the brain has the file ready to send to the muscles.

Basic, but critical, isn't it?

The same thing applies after a long layoff. Like parking the bike for the Winter, for example. While the knowledge may not fade, muscle memory certainly has. Files have been moved deeper into the drawer. The files up front are now things like how to wield a snow shovel or to pour another shot of whiskey while stoking the fire. Great files to have, but not useful on a motorcycle. A wise rider will spend some careful riding time helping their brain move the memories back up front where they belong!

Miles and smiles,

Dan, aka, The Maniac


Anonymous said...

Dear Maniac,

your words of wisdom are so true it's quite uncanny!

Muscle memory is so important in so many activities I participate in - shooting, skiing, and riding.

As far as muscle memory goes, I am in the process of breaking the old braking and steering habits and forming new habits.

I take the training very seriously and made a point of making sure I could effective stop this new bike the very first ride I took.
Gotta love dual front disk brakes!

I will be paying a visit to the range beginning of the next season - call it an immersion session in building muscle memory.
About 50 miles around a go kart track should give me a good start don't you think?

The lea(r)ning Bandit

Arizona Harley Dude said...

Great insight, as usual, Maniac. Emergency braking comes to mind because of an incident last week. It is something I quit practicing and it came back to bite me as I dropped Petunia. Muscle memory = practice. Muscle memory = practice.Muscle memory = practice. Don't just know it, use it. Thanks again for activating my brain.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"Spending a few moments a month practicing these skills can go a long ways toward making sure the muscle memory will be there quickly."

So my morning slalom around the manhole covers and potholes is Good For Me? I'm not just having fun? Aw nuts! ::grin::

(The main road nearest my house has a blocks-long row of manhole covers right where I want to be - the left wheel-track. So I dodge right, then left as I go down the street. Not as enthusiastically in the rain, mind you...)

Bryce said...

Dear Uncle Dan, aka The Maniac of Oregon:
Your private e-mail box is unavailable
so I send you this missive via the blog.

The 1981 Honda Goldwing is home!

The top box is off and all the bits and pieces are installed or
or replacing other dead bits and pieces.

Frankly I am scared to ride!

The bike that I once could handle as if a two wheel child's bicycle
was for me quite a handful just
trying to back it into the garage.

Damn this cancer and the ongoing chemo! It has weakened me
something horrible.

And I still have another two years of specialized chemo every nine to twelve weeks to look think about
And each session I become physically weaker and weaker.
Yes the doctors are trying to poison me however the alternative
is not any better, actually much worse and terminal as well.

I have no warranty though that this ongoing treatment will also not
invalidate the warranty, either.

Shall maybe find a free parking area some where to learn how to
ride all over again, before the snow flies. We had a heavy frost here the evening of October 6, 2008.

Maybe come next spring I may be able to learn to ride once again.

irondad said...

Steve L,
That's how you justify taking ART, isn't it?

Arizona Harley Dude,
I just gotta know the story behind naming the bike Petunia. Maybe I should go root around in your blog some more! You're more than welcome for the reminder.

I really hate to ruin your fun by even hinting it could actually be useful work, but there it is.

I have the deepest empathy for your situation. As much as I hate to say it as a motorcycle maniac, if you're afraid to ride that's a voice that should be heeded. Painful as it may seem. Nobody who reads here will think you any less of a man or any less honorable, my friend.

Take care,

Rick said...

Great advice Oh wise one!

Arizona Harley Dude said...

Petunia didn't have a name until I installed a set of True Duals and Python slash cut mufflers. On the maiden run to test her out it just came to me to call her Petunia because she was now a Hog.

Bryce said...

And, so now you know the rest of the story! And I shall probably heed your advice, or perhaps heed the advice of my internal being.

Thanks Dan.

It's Canada's Thanksgiving weekend, October 13 unlike the USA which celebrates on the third or fourth Thursday of November.

The US has Columbus Day weekend;
however unlike here where everything closes, understand Columbus Day is a prelude to the Christmas shopping madness, for those who have money or think they have money.

I shall attempt to sit on the motorcycle this weekend and think,
"is this what I want, desire, or require?"