Building Confidence on the Motorcycle

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - I-90 Motorsports


Building Confidence

You've got the bike, now ride it well

Ducati Debbie called the office one Saturday afternoon last spring. I just happened to be in and answered the phone. The call went like this:

"Tom, I really want to come to the Sound RIDER! rally, but I'm not sure if I'm up to it. My boyfriend and I just came back from riding the Sunrise Road at Mt. Rainier and I don't normally have vertigo, but I was really having trouble riding and I was terrified about going over the embankment coming down."

"Debbie, take some time on the internet today to learn about the vanishing point technique, then ride a few times, practice what you learn and call me back with a report."

She never called back, but in a few weeks her rally registration came in. She attended the rally and thanked me profusely for the tip, saying it boosted her confidence level up to where she felt she could handle the event.

Debbie didn't have vertigo. She was doing what any novice rider does. She was looking around as she was coming down that ultra scenic parkway along Mt. Rainier. You can't help but lookright? But the fact is, no matter how beautiful it is, we must keep our eyes focused on the horizon line of the road in front of us in order to maintain full confidence on the bike.

When I feel I'm out of touch, I use the next pullout or overlook to stop, suck in that magnificent view and take some pics before getting back on the bike. Once I'm on the bike the lookie-looing is over and I ride down focused on the road in front of me.

So how about you? What's making you feel less than confident on the bike?

Whatever it is, it's probably time for you to start focusing on that issue. You can do that by talking with more seasoned riders, taking an intermediate or advanced rider course, buying a few good riding skills books like those by David L. Hough, Nick Ienatsch and Reg Pridmore, or spending some time online researching information on sharpening your skills. A combination of all is even better.

Here's a few things other riders struggle with.

New Rider Syndrome: Start riding moreSo you've taken a riding skills course like an MSF class, Team Oregon or Star Idaho course, but you're having trouble getting the hang of things and thus, you park the bike. You've got two choices now. Sell it or start riding more. If you have a history of automobile collisions occurring every few years, maybe you should sell the bike. But if not, there's only one solution for finding  confidence. Start riding more.

Do some short trips around town, take a weekend afternoon romp, every weekend, to a scenic place with one other riding partner. Start commuting each day back and forth to work. With the rising price of gas this will keep some money in your pocket and start building your confidence level.

If you think you need more time one on one with an instructor, book a private lesson which you can probably do through the same education company that provided your initial rider training.

If you never took any rider training because a friend taught you a few things, or you taught yourself, it's time to go back to square one and get with a certified instructor.

Work on the weak pointsOK, you've been riding a while, taken a few rider-ed classes, but you still have trouble with cornering, starting from a dead stop or predicting what's around the next corner. Those are just a few of the skills that seasoned riders with thousands of miles under their belts struggle with.

No doubt you've already determined your weak points. Now it's time to tackle each one, one at a time. One technique that's handy for this is known as "Ride with a Plan." Go to the internet, consult a good riding book, speak with another rider and get the information you need to master your weak point in your riding. Then the next hundred miles you ride, work on this single skill.

It happened to me many times. One weak spot of mine was stopping and starting with a passenger on board. All that extra weight sure changes the way you handle a bike. I finally settled on using the left foot as the one I'd place on the pavement without lifting the right foot from the peg. It took a while to get it, but by not attempting to put both feet on the ground at the same time, or lifting them off the ground at the same time, I was much more in control of the bike.

In another scenario, my cornering was horrendous. Cornering well requires more than one mastered skill. It involves eye position, throttle control, braking control and line selection. Wow. I spent more than four years working on each of these techniques before I could say I was truly confident with my cornering skills. I'm not the fastest at cornering, but I can do it to the point where I feel I have control of the bike at all times, even if there's some hidden gravel coming up or a cager is coming at me over the line.

We can listen to educators all day. We can read books and the internet into the night. But the best thing I've discovered is to take a snippet of something learned in a seminar, read in a book or online and focus on it until you think you've mastered it. When David L. Hough put out his Street Strategies book, I immediately redubbed it 'the bathroom reader.' The short vignettes were such, you could read one, then go for a ride and focus, focus, focus.

Maybe we haven't hit on your weakness yet? But this doesn't have to be the end of the article. Email us with what you're having trouble mastering and one of our editors will share their thoughts with you. Send your email to

TM/Winter 2012

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