Losing My Motorcycle Mojo

Hell For Leather, HFL -



After riding for more years than I care to remember I lost my mojo this past week. I’m not talking about some odd religious belief, or a weird perversion. Nor was it a good luck charm that fell off my key ring.

For some reason that I still can’t fathom the motorcycling gods were definitely against me and for a time, I definitely lost my motorcycle mojo and rode like an idiot.

Now, I’ve had off days before when things have not gelled quite right. These have ranged from my losing focus and nearly getting wiped out by a 18-wheeler truck as I moved over into his lane, to simply coming to a halt on my driveway and forgetting to put the kickstand down resulting in my motorcycle and I lying on the ground.

I’ve had days too when insects have hit me in the face like a hail of bullets. I’ve burnt the inside of my calf on a hot exhaust and spent hours looking for my bike keys at a shopping mall when they were in my pocket all along. There have been times when I have been so focused on riding that I’ve not bothered to check my gas gauge and rolled to a spluttering halt at the side of the road.

I’ve sat at intersections waiting for the light to go green and then just remained there revving the engine as hard as I could as I’d forgotten to put the bike into gear, while frustrated car drivers behind me honked their horns.

There was a particularly memorable occasion for me when I left my bike in a huge parking structure just before Christmas one year and could not for the life of me remember which floor I had left it on. I can tell you that there were 12 levels and that each hold 450 cars and because the elevators weren’t working I had to go up and down the stairs for 20 minutes searching for my bike.

I’ve kicked-started an old bike until I was scarlet in the face and missing most of the skin off my shin. Yet I still couldn’t get the darned thing to start. It was only after walking away that I remembered I’d forgotten to turn the gas tap on. I’ve done something pretty horrendous things too to an oil filter too while changing my oil, which even today I am too embarrassed to publicly talk about in detail.

Last week though it was a little different. I needed to be Los Angeles and I was running a little late. Before I’d got anywhere near a bike I dropped my favorite crash helmet leaving a deep half-inch scar. In theory I should have left it and found another one and never worn the other one ever again. But I didn’t.

To make maters worse, the previous day we’d had gale force winds pass through Orange County, CA and a lot of the side roads were littered with trash and fallen tree branches still lying in the road. It’s hard enough riding in this part of the world with the crazy traffic but these additional obstacles just made it even harder.

I noticed from the outset I was really tense on the bike. My shoulders were hunched up and my hands were gripping the bars far too tightly causing my fingers go numb and making controlling the bike even harder. This all happened before I’d even got off the side roads and onto the freeway that runs close to my house.

I fluffed gear changes and lugged the engine when pulling away at intersections. I wasn’t checking my mirrors properly and I seemed to be fixed on looking at the car in front and nothing else ahead or around me. I was riding like a complete lummox and what I should have done right then is turned the bike around and headed home.

But I’m stubborn as well as stupid and I had a meeting to go to. So I continued riding. All that happened was that I rode even worse. I was hesitant in taking turns. I was on and off the throttle, which made the bike jerky and I was snatching at the front brake lever to try and slow myself down. In truth at that moment I was an accident waiting to happen.

I’m not an outstanding rider but I’ve have ridden long enough and far enough over the years to know when I am in trouble. I’d never experienced anything quite like it before. Eventually I decided it was best to park the bike as I realized I could get myself into serious trouble and potentially hurt myself or someone else. I got off the bike and went and drank a cup of coffee and waited for half an hour.

When I returned and got on the bike things were back to normal again. I had lost the jerky movements and vice-like grip on the bars. I was once again straight into my familiar riding groove. I have absolutely no idea what was going on that morning. All I can think is that for a few hours I had lost my motorcycle mojo. I was riding like a fool.

Have any of you ever experienced this phenomenon or is it just me?

  • William Connor

    Yes it has happened on occasion to me as well. Somedays you just don’t have it. Like you though a short break and everything was back to normal. Sometimes I think it is the urgency of making it somewhere on time, you lose focus on the ride and all you think about it being late, traffic, well everything but what you need to think of.

  • JR

    “[R]anged from my loosing focus.” Uh. “Losing” focus, maybe? I’m only semi-employed. I offer my services as copy editor. Really. And if I can do it from my couch, it’ll be cheap.

    • JR

      Great post, otherwise. And yes, I’ve done nearly all those things. The worst is on a road trip when you’re not really left with the choice to stop and go home.

    • drivin98

      A good copy editor might have also pointed out the missing “t” in “matters” (9th paragraph), or any number of missing commas,

    • Michael Howard

      “I’ve done something pretty horrendous things too to an oil filter too while changing my oil…” Lost your writing/proofreading mojo, too, Tim?” ;)

  • Robert Glover

    Not to discount it, but it sounds to me though that you just had some caffeine withdrawals and your cup of coffee made it all better. Still, I’ve had some days where I’ve just not been “into” it.

    • Lateworm

      Also don’t forget the importance of water. Dehydration can cause all kinds of weird things, including muscle stiffness/cramp and lack of mental clarity. Blood sugar level also affects even a strong and healthy person. I carry water for any trip of more than an hour total time, and if in doubt a small snack of a PB&J sandwich or an apple.

      Another good thing that gives you an early warning of an off day is going through the ritualistic procedures of starting the ride. Since I have to keep my bike outside, I have to remove the cover and lock and take them inside, then load the side cases and carry them out, then I do basic maintenance such as a small cleaning task, check oil or chain or tire pressure, then start the bike and finish getting the gear zipped up just right. If I find myself confused or fumbling during any of this, then I know it’s not a day to be hurrying or aggressive on the bike.

  • devillock

    Not often, but has happened and am very aware of it when it does. If commuting, I’ll take it easy, no lane splitting, no zig zag through traffic and just chill to location. If on a country road ride, I’ll simply turn around and head home seeing that I won’t enjoy the ride, the motorcycle gods are not with me and I don’t want to die.

  • Guzzto

    Yep about 10 years ago I had a bad month of weird unfortunate events including one week where I was nearly taken out 3 times by cars running lights. I sold my bike and took a year out not sure if it was where my head was at or what. Looking back I’m amazed I made that decision as I cant imagine not having a motorcycle now. I feel it was the right decision however, upon returning to riding things clicked and I just felt better. I do believe there are days when you just shouldn’t get on your bike if you are not feeling right.
    Great article Tim I appreciate that you write about things that some people wouldn’t mention due to ego or fear of looking stupid but this honest writing is really welcome in a culture that can be full of bravado.

  • E Brown

    Yep, everyone has those off moments or days. What I typically do is switch bikes. While I’m acclimating to the switch from a CBR600RR to a ’78 CB400T or vice versa, it comes back.

  • JBXC

    Damn brother! I don’t believe I’d a told that!

    Seriously though. It happens. I had a low speed get off on a mountain road about two hundred miles from home. It messed with my head more than physically hurt me or the bike. I had just passed a campground and decided to go back to it, pitch camp and chill that night. When I got back on the bike the next day I was still a little stiff, but after a hundred miles or so I loosened up. The great thing about riding a bike is that it allows us to live in the moment, but the bad thing is if we don’t live in the moment it can kill us.

  • Mary

    I wouldn’t have related to what you just wrote until my first crash about a month ago. I had scheduled a ride out on the country roads, and I hadn’t gone out on a ride in weeks prior to that. It’s why I didn’t think “Oh hey, I’m off my game, maybe I should sit this one out today”. I was too anxious to go.
    A warning sign of my state of mind was on the day before, I was driving around town on errands, and I was spacing out a lot when I usually don’t. Like almost running over pedestrians when making a left turn. My inattention culminated when during the ride I was so hyper-focused on the road 5 ft in front of me and not 20 ft like I should’ve been.
    It was a relatively minor crash because I was able to walk away from it with only scrapes, but my bike was totalled. I take it as a learning experience, to be more aware of my state of mind prior to jumping on a bike.

  • Joe

    Excellent article Tim. Very similar to a comment I made on last week’s commuting write up. Some days, you just don’t have the mental clarity so essential while in the saddle. It’s nothing to be upset or ashamed of. It’s really just some internal realization of just how vulnerable we all are out there on 2 wheels. Being able to acknowledge these feelings and act accordingly is the difference between a life long rider, and a rider whom may lose their life too soon.
    By writing this, you may have just saved someone else who probably should be having a cup of coffee instead of riding their bike.

  • juliansr

    happens to me once every six months or so. something changes in the wind or my mind and the direct connection i normally have is lost. I get to skipping gears, using abnormally rough throttle control and i swear the suspension setup just feels whacked. I blame air temperature in my head or otherwise. Of course, sometimes I have those days anyway.I’ll walk out of the house with a shoelace untied, one shirt collar popped up or I leave my fly down after a piss.

    Thank god for the rest of the days, when it’s click, brapppp-zoooom and the tank is half full.

  • Scott

    Yes. Sometimes for just a few minutes or so, but memorably it affected me for years. I’d lost one friend to an accident, and another lost most of his leg in another accident within a year of each other, and for about 4 years after that, I lost my mojo. I basically gave up riding because every time I got on a bike I rode like crap, and was half terrified all the time. I only rode a couple times a year in fairly controlled circumstances with hopes that I’d find my mojo again, and gradually it came back. Now I’m back to riding 10-15k a year and loving every minute of it.

  • Navot Zaksh

    Sounds like a classic temporary lack of self-confidence. It happens to everybody, and in case of us motorcyclist`s – can be dangerous.

    The lack of confidence can made by other totally different issues in our life like work, family, etc., that messing with our brain, throw our confidence from the window, and soddenly we ride like complete idiots.

    Best thing to do is wait it go off, your confidence will be back sooner or later.

  • eddi

    I’ve had moments and whole days like that. Sometimes I can narrow it down to being tired or starting in on a case of the flu. Other times, I’m just out of it, cause unknown. I don’t drink but that’s got to be as close to drunk driving as I’ll ever want to be. Like you found, a long break can work a miracle.

  • gregory

    Sounds like a hangover. Keep calm and carry on. It’ll pass.

    I’ve had bad days. I’ve had commutes where, upon arriving at work, you say to yourself, “I should _not_ have been riding today.” But you made it. Next time you’re in trouble, remember those difficult times; try to put all that experience in your Experience Bank, to help out later.

  • mid40s

    I get it every once in a while too, sadly… I loved your great article. You had me laughing out loud. Thanks!

  • Kr Tong

    I was told in MSF to expect days where things seemed off, and not to ride on those days. I’ve learned that sleep, exercise, and nutrition are vital to being a good motorcyclist and if I haven’t done all three of those things properly for that day I don’t get on the motorcycle. I’ll get on the bicycle instead.

  • David Kent

    Don’t sweat dropping your helmet, it’s inevitable. In fact, in order to reduce stress in my life, every time I buy a new one, before I wear it for the first time I set it down beside the bike and kick it across the parking lot to get it over with.

  • Randy S

    Just a semantics thing but, personally, I think recognizing when you aren’t riding well and stopping until you can do better is part of motorcycle mojo.

    • Piglet2010

      An Aerostich Roadcrafter with the “Competition” back protector is great for taking naps on lumpy ground, such as under a picnic table in a park – sometimes that is enough to making riding good again.

  • kentaro

    Riding a motorcycle properly is more a mental exercise than a physical one in my opinion. Sometimes you just need to stop and meditate in a sense to get your brain in to riding mode. I can’t ride for 30 minutes after being in “work mode” all day, things just need to come down a bit.

  • Doug Erickson

    i get this when i’m inadequately dressed for cold temps or have some as-yet unrecognized concern in my reptile hindbrain making me nervy. the result is what you describe: tense, distracted behavior accompanied by the classic symptoms of target fixation and sloppy, noobish control actions.

    coffee warm-up and mental chill-out are the cure. also, acknowlede when you’re stressed!

  • Piglet2010

    I have had that feeling on the final session of a track day – hard work to get back to the pit exit even at 5/10ths pace.

  • sdyank

    I get this too. I find that some practice in a big empty parking lot (figure 8s, swerving, panic stops, etc.) reminds me that I can still control the bike and I get a bit of confidence back. But, yeah, I definitely get that little voice inside your head that sucks my confidence away on occasion. Most of the the time that little voice keeps me in check but on rarer instances that little voice can really mess with me.

  • KeithB

    I have had similar incidents and figured out that was was thinking TOO much about what I was doing.
    At times like those, I get my head up and look around at different objects away from me name them or name the makes of cars around me.
    Anything to get me to stop me thinking and to just relax and ride.

  • Scheffy

    I’ve had this a few times, and it mostly turns out to be the mental equivalent of a boulder rolling down a hill. Starts with something stupid like fully suiting up and then realizing my gas card isn’t in my front pocket but secured safely in my wallet which is in some pocket in the backpack which is now firmly buckled on my back. That kicks off the “Well f&*$, what else is gonna go wrong?” playoffs. Because of that you get preoccupied and pissed, causing botched shifts and brake stabs which you then harp on, taking even more attention away from actually riding and giving you an even bigger shovel to dig yourself into a “I sure suck at life today” hole.
    Taking a break usually ends it because I can just hit reset. Otherwise I’m trying to salvage a botched backroad run or I’m stuck around the same people on the freeway that saw me forget my blinkers or almost sideswipe that Buick doing 15 under. If I get back on and I’m still just a monkey effing a football, that’s when I pull the plug and head home. 90% of the time though I think some of us just need to step away for a few minutes to get our heads straight.

    If nothing else, just remember that you’re lucky enough to have the weather / your health / your finances / your time / blahblahblah line up so that you can even BE on a bike that day.

  • Thatmanstu

    It can work both ways….some days I think there can’t be any one alive who does this better than me,and then sometimes,I seriously ask myself if I have ever even been on a motorcycle before…

  • Jordan

    Riding a bike is very challenging and the pictures we see of people riding in our favorite forms of media sort of covers that fact up to help promote the hobby and its products. To really enjoy riding, especially on public roads, it almost takes the entire galaxy of stars and planets to perfectly align and even then you’re not guaranteed the smoothest trip. Anything less than that can distract us and at that point it’s easy to have a lapse of confidence that at best leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth and at worst, picking our bike out of a ditch with the help of a stranger playing the role of a good Samaritan. If we’re riding a machine that we deeply prize (my R1 in this case) the bike itself can even be a distraction in that we can’t stomach the possibility of something bad happening to it. I think dealing with lapses of confidence while riding is what’s most difficult to explain to someone that has never ridden before as it is an invisible foe. Some people don’t know how to handle this issue and get out of riding entierly. Other people acknowledge they don’t know how to handle it either, but keep pressing on in the face of adversity because being on a bike means that much to them. Those riders will continue to be challenged and struggle to find adequate solutions, but the smart thing is to not let yourself settle into a mold because each set back takes on a unique shape. These are things I have to be mindful of as it’s a fact of life on a bike, from the dirt to public roads and even track days and the only way I can cope with it is by trying to identify and remove distractions. Also, if you are influenced by athletes that compete on race bikes, just remember an average off track excursion in practice for them is probably enough for a casual rider to not want to ride ever again. Part of that comes from the lifetime of conditioning they’ve had up to that point that turned them into a professional competitor. Since I don’t quite have that level of mental fortitude, I can settle on humming The Eagle’s ‘Take it Easy’ whenever I start to become distracted by my own nerves when I’m riding a bike and it usually helps, thanks to that bitching banjo.

    But really, is there a silver bullet to curing a bad day? No, not really. The trick is knowing you’re having a bad day as early as possible, seeking shelter from the commotion and rethinking your approach. At least be thankful you have this instinct to detect when things feel ‘off’ because if you were driving something as mind-numbing as most cars 100% of the time, you’d probably never have this skill set to begin with. That fact alone takes some of the poison out of a ‘bad’ day.

  • MightyBobo

    Right there with you. I’ve only ridden 3 years, but I have >10K miles under my belt and I have a good understanding. Some days, I feel semi-pro. Other days (like today), I stall the bike dropping my clutch in gear when I thought I was in neutral. Such is life.

  • criminalenterprise

    Riding is what I use to get out of that kind of funk.

  • Aakash

    Happens to me as well. Usually when I have too much coffee in my system, too little food, my girlfriend just broke up with me, my savings account is threadbare, the weather is a bit too cold, traffic is a bit too heavy, my engine isn’t warmed up yet, I haven’t done yoga in weeks, the sun is just about to set on the horizon and there is a 20mph crosswind out from the north east.

  • bossross

    sounds like you might not be getting enough sleep. I’ve had days like this (thankfully not on a bike) where I just can’t do anything right even the simplest tasks get screwed up and things get dropped. you seem stressed, exhuasted, or worried. something’s on your mind, figure it out and don’t ride till you do bro.

  • Aakash

    Is that cruiser face I see?

  • TheBoatDude

    Yeah – it happens. Too tired, overcaffeinated, onset of a cold, distracted by work, generally pissed, worried about something…you get the gist. The key, I think, is to be able to recognize it and sit the ride out.

  • Khali

    Yes, it happens to me sometimes. Usually when I am thinking on something else, or being late (my bike has a clock and that doesnt help at all).

    My trick to deal with this, is to pick the first song that comes to my mind, and start singing it over and over on a loop, just to have busy that part of my mind that was distracting my riding. I also try to relax myself and ride a bit slower. It works for me.

  • John

    I’ve experienced something similar. For me, it usually happens at the very beginning of a ride. Because it happens often enough, I’ve incorporated a mental check list to my pre-ride routine. I check my breathing (am I anxious about something?). My attention (can I focus on the ride: the traffic, the road conditions, the bike’s feedback?). The feeling of my body (are my legs or hands numb, will I be able to move around on the bike without discomfort?). If I notice that something isn’t right, that I’m not ready to focus on riding, I wait until these things click into place on there own. If I can’t shake the “stuck” feeling, I don’t leave. I stop and work it out. If I have to get somewhere, but my distraction is stubborn, then I force my mind onto a neutral subject. I disassociate my thoughts. Then I pick up the thought-pieces that I need: I’m going to ride the bike; I need to survive; I’ve got to be 100% here and now. It’s not always easy. But as Robert Pirsig might say, while that “stuckness” is hard to experience, it presents us with an opportunity to find clarity by working through it.

  • Kyle Logan Yarrington

    The last time I experienced that same feeling I ended up causing an accident. I had a creeping sensation before leaving home that day and was smart enough to grab all of my body armor, but I really should have stayed home. Body armor definitely saved me from serious injury though, and since I’m still here to complain about my bike being totaled, I think I’m okay. I’ll ride again soon, and hopefully this past accident will have made me much wiser and no worse for wear. (Seriously though, full body armor, people. That stuff is magical in a hard impact, and saved me from losing a leg.)

  • Mugget

    Hah! Just this week I stalled a car twice within a short 5 minute drive!

    I put these kind of incidents down to two basics causes: not concentrating enough, or concentrating too much. Concentrating properly is what we need to aim for, which means we need to have out minds on the task at hand, be aware of our surroundings. But it also means that we cannot concentrate too much on the minor details like brake lever pressure, how much strength to put into a gear shift etc.