How Do We Become Better Riders?
One of the most important things that motorcyclists can do is to continually strive to become better riders. Every time we climb on our bikes, the goal should be – that at the end of the day we’re better riders. The desire to constantly improve helps us to grow and develop. If you say to yourself that there is nothing you can learn – that you know everything there is to know – that you are the best rider you can be – then it’s time to stop riding – you’re an accident waiting to happen. Now I know some of you reading this will take issue with that last statement, but I believe it and I hope that you’ll be open to what I have to say.
I think we can all improve our skills in a number of ways. Tom Malia addressed this last year with his safety tip about a riding course that Dennis Dougherty, Tom and myself took together on the back roads of Wisconsin. I think that becoming a better rider is a valuable topic and worth revisiting as we enter the winter and can substitute the time that we ride with time for learning.
Rider Improvement Step 1
We all know our weaknesses, in life and in our motorcycling skill set. Take some time this winter and make a list of things that you’d like to improve on. Then when you ride in the spring pick one thing from that list to work on.
Make it a habit to reflect on each ride – before (goals), during (monitoring) and after (reflection and analysis) each ride.
Rider Improvement Step 2
Every rider should have as a minimum at least two books in their motorcycle skills library. They should be reread every winter as part of your ongoing rider improvement program. I read and reread these books multiple times each year and I always pick up on something that has slid to the back of my mind. No matter how many times I’ve read it before, there is always a new way to see something and I always end up walking away a little smarter for the time spent. You can get David Houghthem on Amazon for less than $20 each. The rest are excellent reads as well. Ken Condon and Pat Hahn’s books are the newest on the list. Larry Grodsky and Reg Pridmore are tremendously talented riders who have written wonderful books and expertly share their collective knowledge. Here’s my short list of books to read.
- Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough
- More Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough
- Riding In The Zone by Ken Condon
- Maximum Control: Mastering Your Heavyweight Bike by Pat Hahn
- Stayin’ Safe: The Art and Science of Riding Really Well by Larry Grodsky
- Smooth Riding the Pridmore Way by Reg Pridmore
There are a lot of excellent motorcycle magazines on the market. I subscribe to Cycle World and Dirt Rider. I also receive the American Motorcycle Association and the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association monthly magazines.
My favorite is a less popular magazine titled Motorcycle Consumer News (http://www.mcnews.com). What sets it apart from all of the rest? There are absolutely NO ads in the publication, so there’s absolutely NO bias in their writing based on ad revenue. Believe it – that really counts for a lot! Like the other magazines, there are great articles, terrific columns and tons of gear and bike reviews. Unlike some, there are also monthly columns on riding strategies, motorcycle safety and medical topics related to motorcycling.
Many of these publications can be found in digital format. There are also a number of training videos and DVDs available as well.
Rider Improvement Step 3
The last step is to take a class. Too many riders fail to continue to learn, when in fact there are many courses out there that any of us can benefit from. There are even a few alternative school choices, like the “do it yourself DVD” that has become more prevalent these days.
My strong recommendation is that every rider should take a formal class at least every other year. The Harley Owners Group (HOG) agrees and feels strongly enough about this idea that every member can get a $50 refund when they provide a receipt showing that they took a structured motorcycle class from any legitimate provider.
Twist of the Wrist – An excellent book/video/dvd – pick you media type. These are the work of Keith Code, famous for his California Superbike School (http://www.superbikeschool.com). He started the school in 1976 and pioneered step-by-step advanced rider coaching that is often imitated but never replicated. One of his most unique classes is the wheelie class. The classes are held in a number of locations. Information is on the website for ordering classes and training materials.
If you really want to work on cornering techniques that will help you master any turn try reading Total Control by Lee Parks (http://www.totalcontroltraining.net). You can also sign up for a class – a schedule is on the web site. The one day school is taught all over the country including some nearby locations. Both the book and class teach you how to fine tune your bike’s suspension. That in itself is often worth the price of admission. This is NOT a sport bike only class. Riders of any bike can benefit greatly from the skills taught here. To make it even better sign up for the optional follow on skills day that directly follows the Total Control riding class. The extra day gives you plenty of time to think about and master the principles taught in the class.
One of my favorite things to teach is slow speed control. There’s one guy who makes a living doing it, Jerry Palladino. Known as Motorman, his DVD and class teach riders of even the largest bikes to Ride Like a Pro (http://www.ridelikeapro.com). Next time you’re in Florida sign up to take a one day class from the master himself.
There’s a new player in motorcycle training town. BMW has launched a Motorcycle Rider Training Program at the BMW Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina. There are lots of courses to choose from, so take a look here. The on road and touring classes look very tempting. http://www.bmwusa.com/Standard/Content/Experience/Events/PDS/ProgramsandCourses/Motorcycle.aspx
Stayin’ Safe offers courses designed around a two or three day tour and are offered all across the country. This is the class that I mentioned in my opening paragraph. Their web site (http://www.stayinsafe.com) will provide all of the information you need.
Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Training Course. There are lots of places to find the Experienced Rider Course. My school, LRN2RYD motorcycle training (www.lrn2ryd.com), offers small class sizes and the ability to tailor a course to fit the needs of the riders in attendance. Think about the people you ride with. If you can find three other riders, we can design a class specifically for your group!
Where to look for this stuff
There are many places to find the books and DVDs. Take some time and shop around to find the best prices. Here are a few web sites and stores that I visit often.
- www.aerostich.com One of my motorcycle favorite places to visit. Everything and anything about motorcycles can be found here. If you’re not getting the informative and often amusing catalog mailed to you, then you’re missing out on some great ideas and great ideas!
- www.whitehorsegear.com More motorcycling books than you can shake a stick at. They have lots of other things to sell these days, but they got their start as The Whitehouse Press, publishing motorcycling books that no other publisher would touch.
- www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com are sites we all know about, but they do have terrific deals from time to time. Be selective because not all of the sellers are known for pricing their products right.
You can also visit your favorite motorcycle manufacturer websites to learn a thing or two. Better yet visit the plethora of motorcycle forums and newsletters that will be filled with slightly used copies for sale.
Bottom Line – Pledge to be a better rider every time you mount your motorcycle! Get started now – in the “off” season.