Being the master of your ride is all about skill… or is it? Every rider, even the newest rider, knows how to apply the brakes and slow down or come to a complete stop, they can shift gears and twist the throttle one way or another to add speed or facilitate a slight reduction in speed. Now, doing all this with finesse and making it seamless comes with repeated use resulting in a familiarity with these actions and how it affects your bike.
I have been riding off and on since 1972 and I’ve faced a significant number of “tests” and thus far have survived them all. That does not mean I am a super-rider with extraordinary abilities far beyond those of mortal men; it means I’ve been lucky. I will admit some (perhaps many) of those “tests” were put before me for no other reason than a result of my being distracted by some insignificant thing, arrogance, pushing the envelope and/or just plain stupidity.
I consider myself a competent rider meaning I have the skills to ride my bike safely. However, sometimes my mental functions and my level of competency fail to work hand in hand with a common goal in mind; that goal being the safe operation of my ride and remain accident or incident free. Granted, some accidents are truly unavoidable. Tooling down the dark country road toward your favorite hangout, obeying the speed limit restrictions, vigilant eye out for danger and a deer comes out of nowhere and plows into the side of you. You never saw it coming; no amount of skill or mental clarity can avoid this. However, avoidable accidents are just that; avoidable. Meaning, on many occasions whether we crash or not depends on our actions.
Mental function and/or clarity are just as important, maybe even more important than skill. Your attitude while riding is paramount. Many avoidable accidents happen because of something you do, or fail to do, right before impact. We all speed, if you say you don’t then not only do you speed you also lie. Speeding on an open road is one thing, speeding in town amongst traffic is surely another. Doing a “hole-shot” and pulling the front wheel off the ground is cool, but what value will it add to your life if your rear tire blows while the front wheel is 2 feet off the ground or a distracted driver changes lanes? We all know what happens right after we say, “Hey, watch this!”
The coefficient of friction (or traction) is one thing that keeps the shiny side up and our rides in a satisfactorily linear position between the ditches. The other thing is our mental attitude while we ride. If your mental attitude (or lack thereof) outweighs your skill then all the skill in the world is not going to save you. A rider may be so familiar with a particular curve in the road they know exactly how fast they can go, how far they can lean and tell by the tone of the scrapping peg where the limit is. Would that same rider take an unfamiliar ride on an unfamiliar curve and apply the same set of variables? I would submit a prudent rider would not, but therein resides the discussion. At what point do we no longer act prudently, when do we willingly set aside a deliberate mental attitude toward riding and exceed our limitations?
Mastery of our riding skills is important, but it is not enough. It is the mastery of your mental attitude while riding that will prolong your life so you can enhance your skills or the lack of that mastery will place you in a situation where no amount of skill will get you out of what you just got yourself into.