I've been fortunate to be the mental game coach to multiple national motorcycle racing champions and professional motorcycle racing competitors. I've helped them improve their mental preparation, ability to handle pressure, and to develop a deep, laser focus. You can learn these skills too.
How do you ride? Are you a recreational rider or commuter rider? A competitive rider? Whatever your preferred mode, this article will help you improve your awareness of yourself as a rider and to link that to improved motorcycle riding performance.
The master skill for being a solid, adaptable, consistent rider is awareness. That's the magic word. With it, all is possible. Without it, almost nothing is possible. The kind of awareness I'm referring to is "in the moment awareness". The other kind of awareness is termed "historical awareness". The historical version means you understand yourself and how you've reacted to certain situations in the past. In the moment awareness is all about awareness in real time, as it happens. Good motorcycle riding is really a blend of excellent riding technique, solid practice and training, historical awareness of how you have reacted before, and in the moment awareness.
How Awareness Is Your Friend
As a rider, you can either be "in your head" or "in your body". Being in your head means you are thinking, remembering, analyzing, reminiscing, daydreaming or mentally wandering here and there. It also may mean you are preoccupied with some important life issues. Whatever the reason, if you are up in your head as you ride, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Being in your head means you are disconnected from your body and your senses, and ultimately, from your bike. You need to be sense-based to ride well.
If you are based in your senses, and you are hearing, feeling, seeing, smelling and using your gut instincts, you'll notice what is happening in real time. You'll be connected with your body, your bike, the driving surface, the conditions, and what is happening around you. You'll have excellent situational awareness, and you'll be a great defensive rider. You'll immediately read changes that take place, be able to anticipate hazards and situations that arise, and overall be very attuned to your whole riding experience. You'll be a safer rider and have a far more enjoyable riding outing. You'll be a safer person to be around for other vehicles. Your riding performance will improve and you'll be a consistent, peak-performing motorcycle owner.
How Awareness Is Blocked
Awareness does not come automatically every time you get on your bike. Many things block awareness such as emotions, reactions to life events, physical illness and being in a hurry. Probably the number one factor that diminishes your ability to be aware is fear. Examples of this fear would be the fear of looking bad, fear of losing control and fear of crashing. Fear, anxiety, negative anticipation, worry, being preoccupied, tension—these all dampen your ability to be in the moment. In the moment means you are in the center of the three time zones. This is where you need to be when you are riding. The three time zones are PAST—PRESENT—FUTURE. The past is the place of regret, lament, recrimination, good and bad memories, and the running of old mental movies. Any rider who slips into the past will instantly lose touch with their senses, and hence, lose touch with awareness of the present. The future has not arrived yet, but many riders live in the future. They think about what they have to do next, what will happen later that day, that week, or next month, and they also may harbor fears and worries of a variety of things. Any rider who mentally zooms into the future will instantly lose touch with their senses, and hence, lose touch with awareness of the present. This mental movement among the three time zones is known as "time travel". Unfortunately, when a rider mentally leaves the past or future time zone and comes back to the present, they are often unable to be FULLY present. They may have a mental residue remaining, called "mental baggage". This baggage causes mistakes, because even though the rider's body is always in the present, their mind can wander. This mental wandering means the rider is not fully present. They're not engaged with riding 100%. They're not paying attention fully. They're not feeling their bike or their body. They're not hearing or seeing critical changes in their riding experience. Hence, they can't adjust quickly or correctly, so they ride poorly, make mistakes or worse, crash.
How Do You Know Your Awareness Is Wavering?
If you're in the present time zone, you're calm and focused, and relaxed, with very little thinking, and minimal internal agitation. You feel peaceful and engaged in what you're doing. Contrast that with your state when you are disengaged from "the now". You may be agitated, emotional, over-thinking, preoccupied, and your mind may be busy, racing and locked onto a problem or issue you are facing in life. Your body is there, but your mind is elsewhere. You're like the absent-minded professor. What does this do to your ability to focus and perform on your bike? It doesn't enhance it, that's for sure. In fact, when you feel mentally and emotionally off-balance, or un-grounded, you can't focus on the normal cues you sense when you are riding well. It's as if you're riding wearing earmuffs and blinders. Your senses are dulled and muted.
When your senses are muted, how well can you feel the road? How well can you feel the bike? How well can you make instant, subtle and accurate adjustments in steering, throttling and braking? You can't. Your abilities become sub-optimal. And this reduced performance level can lead to bike control issues.
Pre-Ride Habits That Reduce Awareness
We've all heard a rider say, "I'm going out for a ride to clear my mind", or "I have some things to think through, and I do that best on my bike", or, "I'm outa here-I need to feel that wind in my face to forget what's bothering me". Well, OK, but think for a minute. If you get on your bike with a full, busy, racing mind, and you're emotional and all amped up, what kind of mental state for riding does that place you in? Compare that to a professional or Olympic athlete saying something similar like, "I'm all emotional over what just happened in my real life, so let me get into that game so I can think that through". That doesn't make sense, and it doesn't work. The athlete would fail. So what does an experienced athlete do before a game? They prepare their mind and body for battle. They get on their game face. You need to get on your riding face. In the same way as the athlete, you as a rider need to make your mind and body—and senses—ready for the ride. Here's how.
How To Increase Your Awareness
Some riders look like a cowboy running toward a horse at full speed when they jump onto their bike to zoom off. You want a different approach. Slow down and be deliberate about prepping for the ride. Take your time and notice details. If you use a pre-ride checklist, complete that slower than usual. Take some deep breaths. Stretch your muscles. Plan your ride in your mind. Use some visualization. Picture yourself riding well and being safe. Plan for any contingencies. Adjust for the weather. Give your mind time to disengage from what you have been just doing moments before, and instead, become tuned into riding mode. If you have some issues taking up space in your mind that need resolution, vow to spend time AFTER the ride in figuring them out, not during the ride. In short, be like that professional or Olympic athlete who preps their mind and body for maximum performance. Be intentional. Pay attention to what you're doing, and don't just go through the motions.
I enjoyed giving you some new mental strategies about the mental game of motorcycle riding. Now you know how to mentally prepare for riding. Most important of all, you know the key role awareness plays in riding a motorcycle. Take that awareness and become one with your bike.
This article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Mental Art Of Motorcycle Riding, by Bill Cole, MS, MA and Chris Carr, World Champion and World Record Holder motorcyclist. The book will be published in September 2017 by Albert-Brownson Publishing.
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Copyright © 2017 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance,
mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William
B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals
achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing
the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching
worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles,
and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time
World-class motorcycle racer Chris Carr is a national motorcycle racing champion, world motorcycle racing champion and world record holder in motorcycling. Chris Carr put Buell Motorcycles in the world record book by riding from Key West, Florida to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 8 days, and in 2008 the same itinerary in 106 hours. In 2010 Harley Davidson USA asked Chris to be the first person to ride the brand new XR1200X, in the 7,000 mile Hoka Hey Challenge motorcycle rally, which started in Key West, Florida and finish in Homer, Alaska. Chris has been the top adventure rider for Harley Davidson, and has also served as an instructor for the American Honda Demo Team. For the past 10 years he has been in the motorcycle training business, educating more than 6,000 riders.
Chris is the author of the book "Street Riding Secrets" which can be found on Amazon.com
His web site: TwoWheelAdventures.com
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Chris Carr, left, with the owner of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles,
Bill Davidson, far right.