FEAR- it can paralyze you, or propel you forward. Fear can cause a life of timidity, or create a life of adventure. Everyone faces fear, but not everyone overcomes fear. As motorcycle riders we inherently deal with fear almost daily, and have found ways to conquer it, or at least manage it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ride, would we? There is a certain amount of risk involved with throwing a leg over a bike, thumbing the starter, and throttling off into the wind. But we all had to address fear when we first took up motorcycling, after we had an accident, or when we returned to riding after many years. For me, having grown up in a “biker” family, the initial fear was never present, but was uncovered after my first accident back in 2000. Following several surgeries and therapies, I eventually found my way back to riding. Fear coupled with excitement the first time I straddled a bike again, and though I probably rode with excessive trepidation that day, the skills, the awareness, and the confidence soon returned.
How do we deal with the “Fear Factor”, if I may use the phrase? Many situations create fear for riders, so identifying and addressing these can replace fear with confidence.
New Rider or New Ride
It can be intimidating, hopping on a motorcycle as a new or returning rider, or on a new, unfamiliar bike. No “cage”, no seat belt, no air bags (unless you have one on your Gold Wing). You are out in the open air, exposed, with a powerful engine and two wheels beneath you. The best means of conquering fear here is to be prepared:
Motorcycle Safety/Riding Classes– Avail yourself of professional instruction and supervision. It is well worth the time, money, and effort. And to stay sharp, enroll in a class every several years. It could help reduce your insurance rates as well.
Gear Up– Wearing a proper fitting helmet, an armored riding jacket, riding boots and riding gloves, as well as good eyewear, both increases protection and decreases anxiety.
Practice, Practice, Practice– Hitting some loops in a parking lot first is preferable to hitting the open road when entering or re-entering motorcycling. Honing skills in a controlled environment builds confidence for the street. Couple your practice with reading: moto magazines, “how-to” books, and rider websites are all invaluable resources.
After the Fall
When I was confined in the hospital following my accident, an older riding buddy named Larry stood at the foot of my bed and declared, “You gotta get back on the horse, after you’ve been thrown off.” My wife wanted to throw him off somewhere, but his words rang true. One year later, on the exact anniversary of my crash, I borrowed a bike and spent a day riding with another buddy named Harold. It was heaven on two wheels. Back on the horse.
Doubt, insecurity, and second-guessing can all creep in, making us think we were better before, or that we won’t be able to master it again. Truth be told, experience can be a painful but effective teacher. You probably were not as good as you thought you were, and you’ll now be a more conscientious rider than before. If you have been down, honestly evaluate what happened in your accident, learn from it, and improve yourself as a rider. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, as Nietzsche once stated.
Slippery When Wet?
Many riders never venture out in the rain, fearful of the traction issues they will face. Yet wet does not always equal slippery. Roads are most often slick within the first ten minutes of a shower. Oil and fluids from vehicles, road grit, grass clippings, etc. all accumulate on asphalt, and need some time to wash off the surface. The times I venture out in the rain usually come about 30 minutes after the downpour began. That means much of the flotsam and jetsam has washed off, and often, the rain has begun to subside. Some good tips for overcoming “wet worries” include:
Suit Up– Proper high-vis rain gear not only keeps you dry, but keeps you warm. Riding soaked, even in summer conditions, can cause the beginnings of hypothermia, thereby slowing thought processes and reaction times. So suit up, stay dry, and be visible.
Slow Down– It’s always advisable to ease the pace, ride gentler lines, and use smoother inputs under wet conditions. Don’t “vise-grip” the handle bars, but relax your shoulders, sit up straight, and be steady with the throttle, gentle with the brakes. Slowing down gives more reaction time, and reduces the risk of hydroplaning.
Safe Tires– Riding on worn out tires is dangerous in general, but just asking for trouble in the rain. Reduce anxiety by running on good rubber, with deep tread. Tires with silica in their mix perform particularly well in rainy weather.
Scared of the Dark
Night riding is an entirely different experience from day riding, with its own risks and rewards. The risks include reduced visibility, temporary blindness from oncoming vehicles, street lights, and reflective signs, as well as the danger of nocturnal animals entering your path. Some of these apply in rainy conditions too, of course, but very often, those who won’t ride in the rain won’t ride at night either. Yet for those who can overcome their “fear of the dark”, the rewards are palpable. Less traffic to contend with, the heightened sensation of forward momentum, and the moving shadows created by one’s headlights dancing out in front, all create a most unique nocturnal adventure. Just be sure to ride with reflective gear, insure your windshield and visor are scratch-free to reduce the “halo” effect around lights, and survey farther out in front, so as to see the headlights of oncoming vehicles before the vehicles themselves.
As children, we overcame our various fears by facing them incrementally, step by timid step, with a little help along the way. The same is true in adulthood, especially with motorcycling. The Fear Factor can be managed, even abolished, with time and attention. Adventure waits on the other side.
*rain photo by TunedTrends.com