By July 8, 2011

Random Motorcycling Tip #24: What To Do When You’re Scared

Riding a motorcycle is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. However, there are aspects of riding that can be scary. Being scared is going to happen. If you are new to riding, things like learning to lean the bike may seem counter-intuitive to your survival. Pucker-inducing moments include riding in the rain, going over a really tall bridge on a windy day, cruising in close proximity with congested traffic at highway speeds, or traveling at night in a deer-infested back road. I remember the first time a car failed to notice me — an old lady in a big white sedan pulled out in front of me when I was going about 30MPH.

You probably know this already. The knot in your stomach. Your blood turns cold as the adrenaline starts pumping. Vision becomes super sharp, but only in a narrow area. In my case, things slow down and I feel physically more light and agile.

I sounded my horn and slipped in between the woman’s car and the car next to me. I remember seeing the right side mirror barely glide by the old lady’s car. That meant my right saddlebag was an inch or two away from being hit, and then I would have been down in an intersection where everyone else were the travel speed was 60MPH.

You may not have a full-blown fight or flight episode, but at some point you’re going to get scared. Here are some easy tips to handle being scared on a motorcycle.

Be prepared

This is the number one thing I have done to calm myself down. Taking a rider’s safety course, reading books and articles on motorcycling technique (and practicing them), wearing protective gear, studying motorcycle crash statistics, and experience all combined to calm my nerves when I got scared. Riding around a sharp corner in the rain still makes my heart race every once in awhile.

Knowing that motorcycle tires can (basically) only change speed or turn helps me to stabilize my speed before I enter a corner.

Understanding how motorcycle suspensions work and setting my exit speed as I begin to turn helps me feel secure.

Remembering to look through the turn maximizes what you can see and reduces uncertainty and fear of things in the road.

Reading that motorcycle traction is only reduced by 10 – 15% while riding in the rain keeps me from fearing that my tires will instantly slip from underneath me as I turn.

And realizing I’ve ridden through a rain-soaked corner hundreds if not thousands of times settles me right down.

Relax

Easy for me to say, huh? I’m behind the keyboard right now, you’re riding in your first tropical storm at night 200 miles away from home. Relax anyway. Take a deep breath. Remember that you’re prepared. Sometimes it helps to make a mental checklist of all of the things you know and have done, like I did above. Relaxing not only makes your mind settle down, but a loose motorcyclist is a more responsive motorcyclist. You’re less likely to make snap motions like grabbing the front brake if you feel scared going into a corner. Take a deep breath. As my friend roclar said, shitting your pants just gives you another mess to clean up.

Love your gas tank

That’s right, and not in a brotherly love kind of way. Most riders sit too far back from the tank. You should sit as far forward as comfortable. This allows you to do a few things once your coal mine shaft closes tightly with stress. Gripping the tank with your legs is the most important. This engages your leg and core muscles so that you feel more stable. It lessens the pressure you exert on the handlebars. It may reduce tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck. For me, it signals that I’ve taken an active approach to something that scares me, and immediately my fears lessen. Things don’t seem as bad if you have a plan.

Ride your own ride

You aren’t competing with anyone or any thing. If you feel that you are riding beyond your limits, slow down or pull over. This is the hardest to do when you’re riding with other people, which is why I don’t recommend you go on any “spirited” group rides until you’ve had a few years of practice and/or a lot of professional training. Your ego should never be part of your motorcycling decision making, but unfortunately for most riders it is the main factor in deciding how to ride.

If you friends are going too fast for you, slow down. You may think, or have been told, that shadowing more experienced riders is a great way to learn technique in real time. This may or may not be true. Are your friends really more experienced than you? My perception of my friends riding abilities changed drastically as I acquired more seat time. It’s hard to judge when you’re just starting out, or when you change bike types.

It is very true that riding when I was scared or uncomfortable gave me the experience to ride with more confidence next time. However, you need to know yourself and know your limits. There is a difference between being a little nervous and white-knuckling your grips and hoping you make the next corner. Use your brain, not your ego. Know your limits, and ride the way you need to ride, not how you may be compelled by your ego or your riding buddies.

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2 Comments on "Random Motorcycling Tip #24: What To Do When You’re Scared"

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  1. Ted says:

    I would add drawbridges to your list of scary things. I avoid them at all costs. There is one in Hampton Roads on the interstate at the top of a very tall windy bridge.

  2. EdH says:

    Good advice. When I am riding in traffic, I assume everyone is out to get me. I am looking for some moron to try and clip me. Has saved me more than once from some cager that was more interested in texting their boyfriend than controlling their 3,000lb block of steel.