On Balance  

Wrong side of the road

I spoke too soon. There are, indeed, a bazillion riders on the road, COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines notwithstanding, so previous columns to the effect of “stay the blazes home” weren’t accurate. Sadly.

Setting aside the two or three percent of riders who are (ever) actually on the bike for essential trips, astonishing numbers of people seem to feel much smarter than all those pesky public health officials with advanced degrees in medical science and health epidemiology, so recreational riding season is well enough underway.

I do get it. Absolutely inundated with news of unprecedented loss and tragedy, we crave some form of balancing outlet now more than ever.

Speaking of, the people of Nova Scotia need our love and support while they cope with disaster on top of disaster. What an unimaginable horror has been visited upon those families and communities. Congratulations and thank you to everyone across our land who has found some way to let them know they are our family, our community, and we are with them in their pain, wanting to help them find their ways through this darkness.

For so many of us, one such way is to seek balance and perspective, and riding a motorcycle is our high road to that place. Movement through space is fundamental to the human feeling of well-being, and the more directly we connect to that process, it seems the more the experience delivers. 

Riding’s a pretty direct connection.

These days, while we’re working from home, and socially distant, we’re physically distant from what works for us on a lot of levels. Here’s my thinking: in sports of all sorts, there’s a tool people use to improve our sense of connection, our feel for how to move ourselves through space effectively, efficiently. 

Visualization. A guided process of imagining, “seeing” ourselves doing a particular action, manoeuvre, or series. It has the effect of helping us to use the abstract, or “disconnected” state, to strengthen the links between mental and sensory maps that we use when actually at the controls.

This has the crucial effect of allowing us to inject some essential calm into our experience of what we’re doing; the “mind’s eye” offers a perspective apart from a lot of the turmoil and angst that come up when we’re in the saddle, as it were.

Calm is the antidote for one of the biggest barriers to success in much of life, maybe especially riding motorcycles: performance anxiety. Stress. Freakin’ out.

I’ve danced with that monster a lot over the years, working with new and returning riders. People get so worked up over what might go wrong, they can’t process what they need to do, can’t “hear” and translate guidance. Without some calming and reassuring influence, things do tend to go wrong, the self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Alright, already, where the blazes is this going, anyways?

Scroll back up to that image at the top. 

Remember what RCMP Constable Dave Cramm told us a couple of years ago about what was going on in a lot of the bike crashes in our area: riders lacking and losing steering control. Here’s a link to his assessment

One of the biggest challenges to rider safety is that we tend to rush into corners, where we need to be absolutely in control. Doing that maximizes the probability that our control skills are going to be on the line; if we haven’t got the skills, or we can’t use them (freaking), bad things happen. Fast.

Point is, we need a calm space to practice and develop those skills; leaned over, at warp speed, with an oncoming semi isn’t that space.

This could be. Stuck at home, we can still visualize approaching and working our way through that corner, sensing where to place ourselves on the road, how to adjust our body position, seeing where we need to be looking, feeling the brakes keeping us in check and allowing us some steering room, easing back on the gas as we start to straighten up and out. All without having to run over that centre line, without placing ourselves in Oncoming! space.

So, different than our buddy in the picture, who’s freaking out right now, about to whack something. Maybe the cyclist, maybe the oncoming motorcycle, maybe the roadside furniture. Maybe all of the above. This is a dude who really, really needed to spend some time earlier, practising, picturing, and getting a feeling for, how to turn the bike on his own side of the road. Calmly, and in control. 

On our own side of the road, meaning bike and rider. Not just our tires, while our head and shoulders are across the centre line. I see this all the time – riders seem to forget that leaning into a left-hand curve means we need to leave some space between the bike and the line. If we don’t, leaning means our helmet’s looking to take an impact we won’t survive.

Home study and visualize your cornering skills. Nick Ienatsch is a great resource, look him up.

Stay safe, be well.


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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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