6. Ride your ride
Riding with friends can be a great experience and, myself included, the camaraderie and the fellowship is one of the greatest reasons to ride. But riding on the street is no place for competitiveness. If you ride with friends who are much more experienced than you, or who are much faster than you, avoid the impulse to ride over your head in order to keep up. Ride your ride, always. If you’re out with the friends, make sure to set up a rendezvous spot before you head out to ride and let them know that they can ride as fast as they want and you’ll catch up with them at the coffee spot. It’s your ride too. I promise, you’ll ride better and way safer if you don’t add the pressure of keeping up. Even if it seems like they’re leaving you in the dust, you’ll wind up catching up quicker than you’d think.
7. Avoid target fixation
How many times have you noticed a rock in the roadway, or a piece of tire rubber, and then realized that you’ve run right over it, even though you didn’t mean to? That’s target fixation at work. Motorcycles go where you look. It’s true. Look at that rock in the road, and you’re going to hit it. To avoid target fixation, look where you want to go. Don’t look at the edge of the road when you come around that curve, look through the curve. Your bike will almost magically follow your gaze. And when you notice that rock in the road, don’t fix your stare on the obstacle — look at your escape route. Look around the rock, and your bike will follow. Try experimenting with cones or paper cups in a parking lot. Soon, you’ll be able to notice the obstacle, look around it, and your bike will follow.
8. Make your bike fit your body
The science is called “ergonomics,” and the motorcycle application is pretty darn straightforward: If your bike fits you, you’ll ride better. Start by adjusting your handlebars — most stock bars can be adjusted by loosening the clamp at the center, and twisting them forward and aft. A change of just a few inches can transform your relationship to your bike. Some bikes have adjustable hand controls, too. Fiddle with those until you find the right tension and grip for your hands. Footpegs can be adjusted and moved; seats can be changed to gain ride height or lower the reach to the ground; nearly every place that your body meets the bike can be adjusted or altered to make you more comfortable and secure. Short, tall, fat and skinny, make the bike work for you.
9. Wear the right gear
We talk about ATGATT frequently here – All The Gear, All The Time. But it’s not just ATGATT that counts — it has to be the right gear, too. Dress for the temperature that you’re going to encounter. If you’re taking a long ride, remember that the heat of the day will give way to the cool of the evening, so you’ve got to be ready. Those perforated summer gloves will do little to keep your hands warm when the mercury drops into the 50s or 40s, as it can on summer nights in the desert. Getting caught in a rain storm is no fun if your leather jacket isn’t water resistant. You risk hypothermia if you ride in wet jeans at low temperatures. Proper rain gear isn’t just for comfort; it’s for safety, too.
10. It’s all about safety and practice, and practice, and practice
There are plenty of web sites, books and articles about motorcycle safety. Reading about safety and visualizing safe riding technique can make your actual rides safer. Who knows? You might just learn something new.
Low speed practice will yield some serious improvement in any riding situation. Don’t be afraid or feel bad if you need to teach yourself the remedials. I take every opportunity to get more motorcycle rider training. I love to go to track days, safety demonstrations and riding clinics — any place where I can get feedback on my riding, and observe skilled riders doing their thing. Even if you’re never going to race your motorcycle (I know that I won’t), spending time on a track can make you a better street rider. You get a chance to ride in a controlled environment without worrying about oncoming traffic, intersections or poor pavement. Many track days have instructors available to give advice and help you to improve your riding. Also, it’s great fun.
Every ride is an opportunity to improve your riding. Work on your following distance. Brake lighter, longer. Avoid target fixation. Adjust your corner entry speed. Practice, practice, practice. You’ll never be perfect, but you can always improve and have more fun, because really, that’s what it’s all about.