Struggles and success
by George Tranos
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Hands and feet don’t move as desired, coordination is lacking and movements become abrupt. This is a sure sign that someone is struggling. Learning to ride a motorcycle can be challenging! Struggles can lead to success if you can overcome your mistakes.
Some people think learning looks easy from afar. When they become the newcomer and try a new task, things don’t seem quite as simple.
One thing that many riders have issues with is the use of the friction zone – the area of travel of the clutch lever where some of the power (but not all) is transferred from the engine to the rear wheel. Learning proper coordination of the clutch and throttle is the key for starting out smoothly without stalling. Improper clutch use can create anxiety for the student. If the clutch is not mastered early on, it can impede the learning process as additional tasks such as shifting, stopping and turning will seem more difficult as effort will still be needed to start out.
Knowing when to release the clutch lever completely is also a learned task. Starting out properly requires knowing how to use the friction zone and then when to allow the clutch lever to be fully released. Riders who continue to hold the clutch during normal riding can cause the bike to bounce back and forth as they squeeze and release the clutch lever. This causes partial power to the rear wheel to alternate with full power. When this is done, the throttle is not linear. Once the clutch is fully released, control shifts to the throttle and it becomes easier to keep the motorcycle speed constant. This task is complicated as low speed control skills sometimes require use of the friction zone so some students may confuse when they need to release the clutch and when they need to partially squeeze it.
Another difficulty can come when someone doesn’t look far enough ahead. Many new riders look at the motorcycle – sometimes at their hands and feet – instead of where they want to go. Once the rider loses their situational awareness of where they are and how the motorcycle is positioned, they can panic when things appear to happen too quickly. Simply looking further ahead helps slow things down and prevents a panic response.
Improper brake application can also create struggles. Two specific things create problems for learners. The first is not rolling off the throttle before braking. Students who don’t roll off the throttle first and separate this step from the braking step create problems for themselves. Beginners should never brake before removing power. We had one student hold the throttle on and grab the front brake at the same time. He continued to do this, chirping the front tire with every braking action. He did this so many times that we just knew he was going to crash. The next time he rode through a curve, he did this and lost front tire traction, crashing hard, damaging the motorcycle so badly that he bent the handlebars! Luckily, he wasn’t hurt! Needless to say, that was the end of his class as he was counseled out for performing a dangerous action.
The second type of braking problem that can occur is braking with the handlebars turned. This can be caused by a couple of factors. The first is when the student looks down at the motorcycle and loses situational awareness. They may panic as they think that things are happening suddenly causing their seeming need to brake hard regardless of whether or not the bike is upright with the handlebars square. Another cause can be fear – thinking they are going too fast and needing to slow down right now. Yet another is use of the arm to pull in the front brake lever and turning the handlebars simultaneously. Proper use of the front brake is done by squeezing the lever with your hand and not pulling with your entire arm. This uses finer muscle control of the hand instead of larger gross movement of the entire arm.
Shifting gears is another source of potential problems. Students can grapple with the sequence and timing of the shifting process. They sometimes try to shift at the wrong time – like before the bike is going fast enough to shift to second gear – and this can cause a stall or a fall. During training, we try to have the student get ready to shift – to get their hands and feet in position – prior to beginning the process. Being unprepared inhibits proper shifting, causes students to rush or to look down at the motorcycle. All of these issues are preventable with repetition of the right process or more time on task.
Self assessment is an important part of the learning process. Describing an action is not the same as doing it. Learners need to discover what works for them and determine what is not working and why. Just like solving any problem, the determination of what the problem is is part of the process of fixing it. A coach can help guide someone to possible solutions but the student must know what issues need to be corrected to improve.
Learning for adults can be hard. No one wants to be criticized for doing something wrong. But we must be allowed to make mistakes. This is called learning the hard way, however, mistakes can help you improve if you can assess why the mistake was made and figure out a way to correct it. Someone once said that a smart person learns from their own mistakes and a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. When put in an unfamiliar situation, most of us tend to fall into the first category!
Success comes from working hard, focusing, self assessment and applying lessons learned. Smiles come when success is achieved! Sometimes students who struggle early can enjoy greater success later on than those who have things easier. Their journey may be longer but it may be more satisfying overcoming bigger obstacles. Don’t give up if you struggle – it is natural to have difficulty with a new task especially one as challenging as riding a motorcycle. You will succeed if you give it your all and not give up!