How much riding experience do you have?
Be realistic, and assess your experience level. Beginner or novice? Experienced or an expert?
What if you’re riding with others?
It’s wise to take your experience level, and that of others, into account before heading out on a group ride. A novice rider should be careful of the situations that might arise when traveling a group of experienced riders. An expert, mixed in with a group of novices, should consider the needs and capabilities of the other riders when selecting destination, pace and following distance.
How much do you really know about motorcycle riding?
Ask yourself a few questions to assess knowledge level. If any of the following concepts are unfamiliar, these are critical skills that are beyond your reach without getting some training.
Do you have a riding strategy? Do you use an active system to scan the roadway, identify hazards (and potential hazards) and manage your speed and position?
Do you understand visual directional control? How skilled are you at using head and eyes to guide your motorcycle –– rather than your hands and feet?
Do you know how to achieve maximum braking? If you avoid using your front brake, whether in routine or emergency situations, you are missing out on a very important technique for safe stopping.
Do you understand countersteering? If you believe you steer the bike by leaning your body, and not by precise “opposite” inputs into the handgrips, you need instruction and practice in this lifesaving technique.
Do you have a plan for every corner? Cornering smoothly is more than just point-and-shoot, steering and throttle. Cornering can be broken down into smaller skill components to increase safety and proficiency.
Do you know how to swerve quickly? And do you understand the concept of traction management –– the relationship between throttle, steering and braking inputs that limit options in an emergency?
Do you understand counterweighting? If low-speed or tight turns such as U-turns give you trouble, using this technique helps with balance and control in tricky situations.
Comfort level plays a role in your ability to handle various riding situations. When you are comfortable with your mental and physical skills, you are able to react correctly and with precision to any hazard you encounter.
If you are uncomfortable in a situation –– for example, if you are stressed and distracted because surrounding traffic is moving much faster than you are –– you are prone to making mistakes and less likely to respond quickly when needed.
If you are not confident using the expressway at 65 mph, choose a route that uses smaller roads instead. If you are not comfortable riding in a large group, avoid organized rides and travel alone or with trusted friends. If you are forced into a riding situation that makes you uncomfortable, adjust your speed, position and following distance to give yourself more time and space to react to surprises.
How good are your physical riding skills? Have you ever taken a training course to improve your riding? Consider all the skills you need to ride safely –– are any of them giving you trouble?
Slowing or stopping quickly
Cornering lines and body position
Lane position and smooth cornering
Throttle control and speed management
Coordination of clutch and throttle
If you doubt your ability in any of these areas, the solution is to set aside time to practice and improve. A training course is the best way to do it, but you can also practice riding techniques on your own. Spend an hour or two, at least once a month, on an empty parking lot working on your low-speed turns and braking skills.
You can also work on your skills while riding. Before you head out, ask yourself: “What am I going to practice today?” Pick one skill at a time such as front brake use, keeping your eyes up, or looking through turns, and focus on improving that technique.
There is an old saying among police motor officers: “Train at 100 percent, ride at 80 percent.” Your skill level should always be greater than your comfort level. Training will help you get there.