Monday, September 24, 2012


No, not that clown in the mirror.  Well, sometimes.

Self-reflection in this case is your ability to evaluate your own performance of any skill, activity, knowledge, whatever.  In this case, let's assume it has to do with riding motorcycles, and evaluating your own abilities, and based on that evaluation, make positive changes in the way you ride.  Is this something you do?  Is it something you think about?

Assuming you're not a riding god, and assuming you know that, and you're not a victim of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, most of us have some room for improvement in our riding.  Barring having regular sessions with a riding coach who observes your riding and provides useful feedback, we're pretty much stuck with evaluating our own riding.  We may read all the best books on becoming better riders.  We may post questions on internet forums and eagerly sift through the answers.  We may even ride with more accomplished buddies who demonstrate how they get up and down the local racer road.  But even after we do all that, we still have to compare these ideals with an unvarnished look at the way we're riding now before we can hope to figure out the steps to take to improve.  Yep, self-reflection. 

Here's what got me thinking about this.  A few weeks back I was with some motorcycle friends talking about (what else?) riding.  One of these friends - who will remain nameless for now - knows more about what it takes to ride a motorcycle quickly and well than anyone else I have the pleasure to know.  When the topic of conversation moved to embarrassing events, I related what happened when I crashed my motorcycle about a year ago.

Crashing my motorcycle is not something I like to do, and it had been 5 years since my prior crash, and 20 years back to the one before that.  Last year's crash had been a bit of a mystery to me, and the only thing that seemed to explain it was too much throttle in a low traction situation, but the quickness and violence of the crash made that explanation a bit unsatisfying, and no one I'd talked to about it had any better of an explanation than that one.

When my friend heard how the crash happened, he said that he'd seen a lot of people crash by getting back on the throttle before they finished setting the lean angle for the turn, and in those cases these riders experienced losing the rear tire and low-siding even though their lean angle wasn't terribly steep and traction was not that bad.  This seemed odd, and it stuck with me.

The next day a group of us were riding over the Sierra headed back to the Bay Area, and I began to reflect on what he'd said, asking myself, "Am I opening the throttle before I've finished setting the lean angle?"  I didn't think about it every turn, but when I had time to think, I posed the question.  Any time I felt like the rear tire had been squirming or skittering across the road, I posed the question.  Here's what I found: yes, in some cases in some circumstances, I sometimes start opening the throttle before I finish setting the lean angle for the turn.  Exciting!  A new insight! Once home a brief exchange of messages confirming what had been suggested, and some helpful feedback, and more to work on.

The moral of the story is that it doesn't matter how much Code, Parks, Ienatsch, Hough or others you read, you've got to bring them with you when you ride.  The only way to do that is save a little bit of bandwidth to observe and record your own riding, then - perhaps later - reflect on what you observed and how it compared to what you read.  Is there a gap?  Can you learn something from that gap?  Can you bring that gap back to another reading of the book to see if you learn something else?  I hope the answer is in all cases "yes"!

Self-reflection is a key skill to develop in becoming better at pretty much anything, including riding, just don't let staring in the mirror overwhelm everything else.  We all know what happened to that Narcissus character. 

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