A while back I was teaching the classroom session for our ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) course. A man asked me a question.
"How do you keep from freezing up?"
This man had recently run off the road after getting into a corner faster than he was prepared for. Rather than take any steps to successfully negotiate the curve despite his higher speed, the guy froze up. Fortunately there was no major damage to either the bike or rider. It was this experience that prompted him to enroll in our course.
I gave him what I thought was a satisfactory answer at the time. In the meantime, though, I've spent a lot of faceshield time thinking about the situation. I believe I have come up with a more complete answer. Not only does this answer help a rider conquer their fear, but I believe it goes a long ways toward preventing the condition in the first place. There are several factors involved, but there's a simple way to sum it up.
YOU GO WHERE YOU LOOK!
We should all be aware by now that the bike's direction and smoothness is greatly influenced by where we point our nose. It's all about target acquisition. Broaden the scope a bit and think about it a little differently. Doesn't the same thing apply mentally?
Believe it or not, I do other things besides ride motorcycles and take photos of Ryan. I also read extensively. A couple of books that deal with how our mental pictures affect our life course are "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Another is "You'll See it When You Believe it" by Dr. Wayne Dyer. There are countless articles and books on visualizing success in business and sports. Why shouldn't the same apply to riding a motorcycle successfully?
So let's bring this back to the guy who "froze up" in the corner.
There are two aspects involved in successful cornering. The same thing applies to other situations in riding. I'm going to focus on curves because that was what the guy asked about. Anyway, the two things are having the physical skills handy and then being able to visualize ourselves experiencing a successful outcome.
We tend to pretty much focus on the practice of physical skills. Which is a great thing, don't get me wrong. Knowing what to do and how to do it are critical to success. I've already written about developing motor skills and keeping the mind-muscle connection fresh and sharp. During the class my fellow instructors and I were able to help this gentleman to more fully develop his physical cornering skills. We couldn't help him with was his mental pictures, though. He will have to do that for himself.
On a physical level we tell students to look at the solution, not the problem. That's because target fixation is a surefire way to run into something. Where do we look mentally?
For example, in the photo below my bike is heading for a guardrail. For whatever reason that's my path of travel. Maybe I got into the corner too hot because I either misjudged it or was distracted. Maybe my head turn was weak and I ran wide. Maybe I moved to avoid something in the road. Pick something from the list. Whatever the cause, here I am. What is the picture in my head?
Do I have this clear and vivid mental picture of impending disaster? Guess where I'm most likely to go? Exactly. Right where I'm looking in my mind. Picture defeat, suffer defeat.
In contrast, I could have a different mental picture. Like the clear view below. I could have a technicolor movie of myself playing in my head where I am the hero. I clearly see myself putting the bike back on the path it needs to be on. In the movie it's very clear that I am doing the correct things physically. Picture success, experience success.
This is another case where giving in to our natural instincts can get us into trouble. I've always claimed that riding a motorcycle successfully is an unnatural act. In other words, our inborn natural reactions aren't always the right way to go. We have to develop new reactions.
Think about it. When humans are faced with a really stressful situation, where does their mind go? In my experience most go to the worst possible outcome in their minds. People stress out over things that haven't happened anywhere except in their heads, yet. Think about it for a while and you'll see the truth of what I'm saying. Heck, it even still happens to me now and then. I'm able to overcome the natural reaction because I've trained my brain to show a different movie.
That mental training is as critical as the physical training. I would urge riders to spend time making new mental movies.
Success will have two parts. First, and most importantly, mental visualization will cement the physical and mental skills that keep us out of trouble in the first place. Always the best option, staying out of trouble in the first place is key. We are humans surrounded by humans, however. Things go wrong. Visualization is especially critical at these times. Here's how to prepare.
Mentally put yourself into stressful situations. Then visualize yourself doing the right things and experiencing success. Visualize a corner where you look to the corner exit and press the grip to lean more. See yourself emerging unscathed out the other side. Your bike seat may need some attention, though. Picture an emergency braking situation. See yourself keeping your eyes up. Watch as you smoothly apply both brakes with firm progressive pressure on the front brake and light to lighter pressure on the rear brake. Celebrate as you successfully deal with the situations. Fear will be replaced by confidence.
Do these mental exercises frequently. When the time comes, you don't want the hard drive of your brain to have to look very long for the right file.
We go where we look. Visualize success!
Miles and smiles,