I got it!!!
This is the exclamation that often accompanies reaching Step 3 of gaining competence.
Step 3 is when a person realizes that they're making progress on mastering a new skill. Being stuck squarely in Step 2 a rider may be thinking that they'll never get it right. Attempt after attempt is made. During one try a certain element works but another doesn't. Next time the second element works but the first doesn't. Dang it, dang it, dang it!
Then comes the attempt when it all comes together at the same time. Good job. Do it again. And again. I love these moments with a class, be they beginners or more experienced. I never lose the joy of seeing the light come on. Nor in exulting with a rider over their conquest. Step 2 is so satisfying on two counts. Firstly, there's the initial thrill of victory at the conquest. Secondly, the peace of mind in simply knowing we can do something is priceless. We know because we've done it. More than once.
A rider can certainly learn and conquer on their own. As I've written before, however, in my opinion there's a big advantage in learning under the watchful eyes of professional trainers.
This is true for whatever level of experience we have. Here's a group at the end of a Basic class. They're feeling pretty pleased with themselves.
As well they should. These folks have worked hard to master the building blocks. On those blocks they've built some skills that will serve them well on the streets. On top of it all, they conquered a bitterly cold weekend. There's always more to learn, though, isn't there?
This is a group of more experienced riders. They're spending a warm afternoon brushing up on rusty skills plus learning some new ones. The skills being worked on are more advanced but that same joy of conquest and satisfaction is just as strong as the beginners. The satisfaction scale is actually probably a lot higher at this stage. Nothing like having a full tool box and knowing how to use them, is there?
Even professional riders seek out training from qualified instructors. Their investment of time proves that these riders find value in formal training and feedback.
An instructor can share with a rider some valuable feedback. One really valuable thing we might not think of is just plain positive comments. Knowing what we're doing right frees us to concentrate on other things. It's the typical, "I got that down, now I can work on this other thing".
Instructors can see things that the rider often isn't aware of. A great example is during maximum braking. There's more to the process than just a short stop without falling down. We practice under controlled conditions. The braking chutes are clean, if not always dry! There is no conflicting traffic. Students do feel a certain amount of stress and tension. It's nothing compared to what they'll feel on the streets when their maximum braking is done in response to a critical incident. In those kind of situations their technique absolutely must be right. During practice, however, the students can sometimes get away with less than perfect technique. Which is where the instructors come in. We help to make the technique perfect.
For basic riders we're looking for certain things like one smooth and progressive squeeze of the brake lever. That's pretty much what the beginner riders are capable of absorbing. As the experience level of the class goes up, we're looking at things more closely.
We watch how the front cowling progresses downwards toward the front fender, for example. Granted, some bikes don't have a cowling. Like certain Bonnevilles without tachometers in Key West, for example. Nonetheless, we know what to look for, even then. We can then offer very precise feedback for improvement.
While a rider may only be aware of how firmly or smoothly they're squeezing, instructors can break it down further. We see the initial squeeze. We see variations in the whole progression of the lever application. We see the end of the squeeze. Did you know that a rider can skid the front tire at the end of the stop as well as at the beginning? We can see exactly where in the process mistakes are made and help with some very fine tuning.
Same goes with the rear brake application. I've had riders ask me why they keep sliding the rear tire with too much pressure? On the surface the answer may seem obvious. One would be tempted to simply tell the rider not to press too much with their foot. There's more to it than that, though. There are dynamics involved that most people aren't really aware of.
Things like the human response to brace themselves for an impending impact. Isn't that really the thing that's on our mind during maximum braking? Sure, we're hoping to avoid the impact by stopping short of the hazard, but what if we fail? See, that's the thing our mind is thinking about deep down. We hope we stop but our deep primal urge is to brace for the possible crash.
In a car we brace with all four limbs. Or all we have, anyway. Two on the steering wheel and two on the floor. Both feet press hard. The left foot on the floorboard or clutch and the right foot on the brake pedal. In a car we want hard pressure on the brake pedal. Not so much on a bike. Okay, not much at all, really. Yet our brains tell us from deep down to press hard. Both from the motor skills we've picked up from driving and from the instinct to brace for a worst case outcome.
In answer to the rider's question, then, my answer would be to tell the rider to brace their knees up tight against the tank of the bike. With knees out, the large muscles of the upper leg are pressing down on the brake pedal. By pressing the knees hard against the tank, it both helps keep the rider down in the seat of the bike and forces the smaller muscles of the lower leg and foot into service. Since these muscles are less powerful but capable of receiving greater feedback from what they feel, much more control of the rear brake application is possible.
Again, I'm not saying that a rider shouldn't practice on their own. Just the opposite, in fact. Perfect practice is what makes perfect. There isn't enough time in a class to get to that point. On the other hand, there is a big difference between training and practice. I'll go into that in some other post.
Having trained under a professional, our practice is more productive because we're practicing the correct things. We move from "I THINK I got it" to "I KNOW I got it!"
That's where the real fun and satisfaction of Step 3 comes from.
I was going to tell you a story or two about a couple of individuals who are great examples of what this post is about. Going to have to save them for the next post, though. You'll really enjoy them, so please come back!
Miles and smiles,