Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Is Motorcycling Competence?

A friend of mine and fellow long distance rider, Steve Bracken, wrote this post to the ldriders mailing list.  I thought I'd share it here as it may be the best description I've ever read on what it means to be a competent motorcyclist.  It strikes home for me because I had 3 near misses today in a ride of about 20 minutes.  My awareness, a certain level of competence, luck, and my angel being on the job allowed me to miss all 3 drivers with their heads shoved up by their hemorrhoids.  Here is what he posted:
With the current vogue for discussing "competence" I would like to share a
few thoughts that may amuse a few, entertain a few more, but hopefully

My motorcycle license plate backer declares that the rider of this machine
is one of "The Worlds Toughest Riders". It is, not to put too fine a point
on it, complete bollocks.

I am not tough, not in flesh nor attitude. I am a slightly prickly, a bit
anal, but soft-centered, 54 year old husband and father. I bruise when I
fall and cry when emotionally distressed. I am typical of my breed.

If I have what could be described as "a quiet determination", then
generally I keep it to myself. No one but me knows what resources I bring
to bear to stay on a motorcycle for hour after hour. You probably do it too
if you are reading this, but what you do is personal to your own
circumstances, and no one else knows what they are. Sure we get together
occasionally to tell lies, drink beer and generally behave like teens at
Prom Night, but we all live in our personal spaces, and the lies are the
lies, and the Prom Queen is the Rally Master!

I have ridden motorcycles since I was 16 years old, legally, and a bit
before that without telling my Dad. As a teen and young man I admired my
friends, who lied about "getting their knee down", pulling wheelies and
other feats of daring-do that I never quite managed to master; and never
really tried that hard. Have I ever sullied a knee-slider? Well yes,
several times, including a couple of occasions where it wasn't actually

There was a time when I believed it reasonable to occasionally do stuff
like that on the public highway. Indeed, if you ask Troy Martin he will
tell you that I can still get the devil in me, if traffic on a Dallas
freeway is deliberately trying to keep me from a timely rally finish! But a
ten mile sprint, while it can be fun, is not the way I approach the tricky
business of keeping out of trouble on modern, cellphone plagued, roads.

"Approach the corner still accelerating on wide open throttle. Pick you
braking point, move to the outside then brake on the limit of adhesion.
Nail the apex, straighten up then hard back on the gas. Rinse and repeat".

This will get you around the track pretty quickly. If you do it better than
the others, for twenty laps, then you will win a Moto-GP. If you do it on
the road, you will likely die. So if you want a Track Day, then book one
and go play. It's fun.

On the road my only ambition is to get to my destination in one piece, and
in a timely manner. If I can do that without incident then I am happy. We
talk sometimes about speed, about techniques and styles, and those
conversations inform us all. We each bring what we can to make the next
journey, one of five miles or five thousand miles, as safe for our friends
as shared information can make it.

So on the road I go slow into corners, wait until I can see the exit,
straighten up and fast out. It reduces lean angles which, if you have seen
my bike, is a good thing. The dynamics of riding tell me that I could go
round faster, and do so easily. I could carry a little more speed in, lean
quite a lot further and the forces involved would take me through quite
safely until .....

Until my back, or heaven forbid, front wheel hits the patch of diesel,
thoughtfully left there by the last 18-wheeler with an over-filled tank
went around the bend before me ... or until I hit the patch of gravel
washed to the outside of the bend ... or until I get to the apex of a tight
turn then spot the stationary vehicle, cyclist, or deer and have completely
run out of safety margin. Well you get the drift.

Two weeks ago I left home for a two day ride that was scheduled to be just
short of two thousand miles. Not a particularly remarkable ride in this
company, but we should always keep a sense of perspective. That ride, to
everyone outwith our small group, is insane! Really? Two thousand miles on
a motorcycle in 42 hours? Are you fucking nuts??

I probably am nuts. We might all be nuts. Yet I am also a nut who is
painfully aware of his own mortality. That we do a dangerous thing, even if
the risks are calculated, is not lost on me. There is always a small part
of me that is a bit scared of the ride, at least beforehand. Those
butterflies of anticipation as you are about to embark upon an
extraordinary (at least to others) task.

Before every Long Distance Ride, a small part of me doesn't want to go.

It's that part, I believe, that brings me safely back to my family. It's
the collective and personal knowledge of the dangers and the risks that
ultimately means that I only use one of the dual compounds engineered into
my tires. I like that the softer compound is there, it's my safety margin,
but if the moulding nibs remain when the tire is worn out, then I am
pleased that I just rode ten thousand careful miles that mean I am still
around to ride ten thousand more.

I know it's not this simple. I am aware that many of the dangers can be
influenced by chance, or factors not within our direct control. But we do
what we can to improve the odds, we owe that much to those who love us.

This is simply one man's approach. I don't suggest that anyone else need
feel bound by it, nor even informed by it if that philosophy is not for
you. Just add it to the collective, and make it to the finish, wherever you
are going.

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