Levels of Competence: A Closer Look.
A couple of posts ago I shared what I feel are the four levels of gaining competence. I used the backdrop of a basic riding class. I did this because it's often easier to more clearly see the steps with rank beginners.
The thing is, it's easy to miss the deeper implications because we say "Those are beginners but I've been riding for a long time. I've already reached a high competence level."
That statement would be totally true. For some skills. For others, maybe not so much. Experience levels vary. One of the great things about this motorcycle related blogosphere is that so many of us from different walks of life ( and differing experience levels ) can find a common ground here. That's led to some great friendships. Last summer in Bend, when our first official blogger meeting was held, is a great memory. Sprawled all over the hotel room were nine riders. Some were relatively new to riding while others had been riding for longer than they care to admit. They were proud of their years spent riding but didn't want to give away their age! No matter the experience level, though, there is always room for improvement.
There is always room for improvement. Did I say that, already? Must be important. I'm a better rider than I was five years ago and I thought I was a pretty good rider then. Friday I sent an e-mail to an old mentor. For whatever reason he saw potential in me even as a new instructor. This mentor offered me a chance to take a leadership role in our motorcycle training organization. I was thinking about him and sent an e-mail of appreciation. Notice his response:
"That is just awesome to read - thanks for taking the time to send it. Your growth in the organization has been a joy to watch and to be a part of, and yes - you have lived up to faith and potential I saw in you (and then some). Here's my coaching for you now:
* Keep finding ways to take your game to the next level ('cuz there is ALWAYS a next level...)
* Look for Instructors who are ready to grow towards a leadership position and mentor them (in other words - pay it forward)"
In light of the above sentiments I feel it's worthwhile to go back and look deeper into the four levels of competence. Both for ourselves and for being able to pay it forward. Accurately. This time let's look specifically at how those of us who are past the beginner stage can benefit. For the sake of space, I'll split the four steps into separate posts.
Starting with number one ( a nice place to start, don't you think? ) here's the step:
I don't know what I don't know.
I could also add that some of what I think I "KNOW" is actually wrong!
Using myself as an example, let me tell you a story. I think it clearly illustrates my point. Even at the risk of looking a bit foolish. Hard as it is to believe, I haven't always been a highly skilled and technical rider. If I'm even there now. Like I say, I'm much more skilled than I was but there is always a next level.
In the story are something I didn't know I didn't know and something I thought I knew but was wrong.
More than three decades ago. A corner in the countryside a lot like this one. Posted at 20 mph. No mailbox or posts. Just a muddy field with which I would soon become more closely acquainted. "I didn't know what I didn't know" point #1. Proper cornering technique. Getting all the transitions done before the corner.
I'd done ok for a long while because I'd never really gotten in over my head. I had just graduated from my beloved Suzuki 185cc dual sport that I'd had since I was 14. The bike was a pretty blue and white and had a seat large enough for a passenger. The dual sport and I spent a lot of time off road until I got my driver's license. After that we spent a lot more time trying to impress the girls in high school and making the other guys jealous. Life was good but eventually I outgrew the Suzuki.
Now I was on a Honda CB750. You may laugh now, but back then this was a bike powerful enough to get you into trouble in a hurry. Moving to it from the Suzuki was like moving from a Shetland Pony to the Appaloosa stallion named Terry that Gramp used to ride when we did rodeo events.
Instead of a leisurely trot we were now at a full gallop towards this corner. I'd let the reins lie a bit too loosely and we were covering ground at a scary pace. Rolling on a throttle connected to an engine four times bigger than I was used to was pretty heady. Until I got a bit carried away. The corner kept looming larger and larger in my vision.
It was time to pull back on the reins, yell Whoa!! really loudly, and scrub off some speed. Seriously quickly, too, I might add. Enter villian number 2. What I thought I knew was actually wrong. I found that out later but at this moment I had full faith in the truth of it. After all, it had been drummed into my head by many riders more experienced than me. I'm sure you've heard this solemnly pronounced yourself:
"Stay away from the front brake because it will throw you over the handlebars."
I had actually experienced this on a bicycle. You think a macho young man raised by a cop/cowboy wasn't going to be doing deeds of daring and bravado on anything he could make move quickly? First a bicycle and then a dirt bike?
Weirdly enough, my having grown up on dirt bikes reinforced this so called wisdom but in an opposite manner. I'd lost count of the number of times I'd washed the front wheel out from applying too much front brake in the dirt. Another technique for steering a dirt bike was a lot of rear brake. You'd slide the rear wheel from side to side like a rudder. When you were pointing in the right direction you'd let off the pedal. Great in the dirt. No so much on the street.
Something had to be done for this corner. Time to pull the trigger. I fired the ammunition I had available. A brass shell made of ignorance with a bullet cast from falsehood. How did it turn out?
A little front brake along with a lot of rear brake. The rear drum shoes clenched as did my entire digestive tract. I remember some noise. Funny how a sliding rear tire never makes much noise in the dirt but seems to be quite loud on the street. There was this huge jarring sensation then silence as the motor died. We were still upright. We were also definitely not moving. Ironically, I'd almost gone over the handlebars. Not for having applied the front brake. No, we had simply stopped quite suddenly. Bike and rider nearly parted company. The Honda forgot to tell me it was going to stop so abruptly. Perhaps, in all fairness, it really didn't know that itself.
As you may have guessed by now, my braking technique was not overly successful in scrubbing off enough speed to make the corner. Ok, it wasn't at all successful. Heavy rear braking caused the bike to fishtail. In an interesting contrast, my dirt bike experience that caused me to screw up the braking helped me keep the bike upright. I instinctively looked up and kept the bike headed straight. Straight off the road and into the field. Actually, with the rear tire sliding, I didn't have much choice as the bike will continue to travel in whichever direction the front wheel was pointing. It would be more accurate to say that I kept the bike from falling over as we launched over the ditch and into the muddy field.
By the way, did I mention that the bike was now buried up to its axles in the mud? That would probably explain the sudden stop and the fact that we were still upright. Oh yeah, the force of hitting the ditch made my hand let go of the clutch which was probably a good thing. Although the rooster tail of slinging mud could have been quite spectacular. I'm also pretty sure that the other reason we didn't fall over was the fact that the low slung muffler system was acting as outriggers on each side.
Did you ever try to pull a 500 pound motorcycle out of mud to its axles? I tried for a while. There didn't seem to be any real damage to the bike. The spoked front wheel was tougher than it looked. My hope was to pull the bike out of the mud then go wash it off before I got home. The second part of the plan was dependent on the first part. Which wasn't happening.
A Good Samaritan in a small gray sedan stopped to help. Between the two of us we got the bike back onto the roadway. I'm still deeply ashamed of what I said. I've always been raised to own up to my mistakes and have practiced this religiously in my life. Except for this one time. I somehow couldn't seem to tell this stranger that I, a macho rider, had simply screwed up. I blamed it on a farm dog that ran out into the road and had then proceeded to disappear. It must have been a sheep dog because I sure felt sheepish telling the story. Based on the fact that I wasn't able to look him in the eye, I'm not sure the kind stranger believed me. However, he was polite enough not to challenge me. Perhaps he didn't know anything about motorcycles himself except for how to pull them out of the mud.
The good news was that there was no permanent damage to either the bike or me. Except to my ego. However, it could just have easily been just the opposite and I wouldn't be here writing this story. Which you may have preferred.
It was time to get some actual professional help. I'm talking about motorcycle training. What kind of professional help were you thinking of? Shame on you.
Which will lead us to Step 2.
Miles and smiles,