Are You Gaining Experience or Just Logging Miles?

Story by Misti Hurst// Photos by Misti Hurst
October 1 2009

I like a good discussion so when I’m not riding, I enjoy visiting various motorcycle forums and participating in, or starting a good debate. Recently a thread on riding experience created quite a stir and got a lot of people talking. The question posed to the forum members was this, “Are you gaining experience or just logging miles?”

There is the common viewpoint out there that the longer you have been riding, the better a rider you are going to be. Put two riders side-by-side, one who has been riding for 30-years and the other only two and most people will say that the 30-year veteran is probably the better rider. But is that really the case?

When asked for advice on how to improve their riding skills, a lot of people tell new riders, “Seat time, it’s all about seat time!” This implies that the more you go out and ride, or, the more miles you have under your belt, or, the more time you spend on your bike, the better you are going to get.

However, I don’t think that time alone, or even the amount of miles ridden total, is any indication of how good or capable of a rider you are, or are going to be. There is more to it than that. I think that seat time plays a role in getting a rider more comfortable with such basic skills as turning the bike on, using the clutch, uphill starts, basic turns, basic brake usage etc, but just because you are comfortable with operating the controls of a motorcycle doesn’t mean that you are making improvements and becoming a better rider overall. In my opinion, there has to be a conscious effort made each and every time you go out and ride to take something valuable away, and learn from it.

Take a common street-riding scenario, for example, a car changes lanes without seeing the motorcycle, and cuts him off. The rider gets mad, zooms past the car, flips the bird and later tells all his friends that cagers suck and that he gets cut-off all the time. This kind of attitude could result in the same situation happening over and over again, and doesn’t result in any growth of the rider. Now, if that rider took a good hard look at how he might be contributing to the situation or how he might be able to prevent it from happening again, he could then begin turning his riding time into riding experience.

In this situation, the rider could probably improve his riding position and/or visibility on the road. Maybe he was riding in the blind spot of the car or wearing all black clothing on a dark rainy day. He could also work on improving some of his visual skills. Maybe he had tunnel vision and didn’t notice the car moving into his lane, or maybe he wasn’t looking far enough ahead and wasn’t able to anticipate the fact that the driver might want to change lanes. Without some quality analysis on what happened during that particular ride, no improvements in riding are going to be able to be made.

Take another common riding scenario, a crash. A lot of riders have experienced some kind of crash on the street but you would be amazed at how many times I hear people say things like, “Ya, I’ve lowsided coming into turns a couple of times but I don’t know why, bad luck I guess.”

When I ask these riders what causes a lowside crash or what they might have done to contribute to the crash, they can’t answer the questions. How are you going to possibly learn from your mistakes and improve your own riding if you don’t take the time to learn why certain things happen and what you can do to prevent it from happening next time? If these riders just took the initiative to learn a little bit more about how their bike works, what causes certain types of crashes and what techniques they could be utilizing to avoid the same riding mistakes, they could begin the process of becoming better riders overall.

I speak from experience on this issue as I remember high-siding at the race track about four times before I finally looked for some help in preventing me from landing head first in the pavement anymore. I had no idea what I was doing that might be causing the problem, and it wasn’t until I worked with a professional riding instructor as a student at the California Superbike School (where I now coach) that I discovered what I was doing wrong. Rolling on the gas too hard, sliding the rear and then chopping the throttle. DOH!

It took some effort on my part to discover what mistakes I had been making, and it certainly took some practice in learning how to react to the situation properly (gently roll off the gas, don’t chop it) before I was able to successfully prevent another high side, but it was well worth it.

Now, whenever I go out for a ride, whether it is on the street, on the track, or during a race, I try to look carefully at one part of my riding and see if I can figure out how I could improve upon it. If I felt like I ran wide coming out of a turn, I look for the reason why that might have happened, and I try to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen next time. This is a big change from what I used to do which was just ride around without any kind of plan and just hope that I would get better and faster.

Now, as a motorcycle riding coach myself, I’ve encountered many riders that have only had their licenses for two years but that have more riding experience and skill than that of the 30-year license holder. As one of the forum members commented in the thread, “Rolling up miles on the odometer is easy enough, but turning those miles into experience that will make you a better rider takes the right attitude and conscientious effort.”

So, how do you make sure that you are turning those miles into experience that will ultimately make you a better rider? I think it has to do with a combination of analyzing what you as the rider are doing on your bike, and continuously trying to learn skills and techniques that will improve your riding outcomes. Taking a riding school, getting tips from qualified and knowledgeable riders, reading books/magazines or furthering your understanding of riding techniques and skills in other ways will give you the tools you need to be able to solve your own riding dilemmas.

The first step is really to take a look at your own riding and break it down into little bits. How comfortable do you feel with the controls of the bike? How could you improve your comfort level? What common mistakes do you make while riding? Do you tend to enter into corners too hot, roll off the gas mid–turn (or even brake) and just hope you make it through? What kinds of things could you do to prevent entering corners too fast? Have you crashed? What happened in that crash and what did you learn from it? How can you make sure it doesn’t happen again?

The second step after the initial riding analysis is to figure out the proper technique to use in order to prevent the negative situations from happening over and over again, and then practice, practice, practice.

The whole purpose of the forum question was to get riders thinking about how they ride and how they can turn those valuable riding miles into valuable riding experiences. As a coach, I strive to help people become better riders so they can enjoy their sport even more. So, take a look at what you the rider are doing on your own bike and learn the skills that will change your habits for the better.

 

Love your ride! Misti

Misti Hurst is a motorcycle racer, an instructor and a freelance writer. Visit her website www.mistihurst.com

Also, if you have any specific riding technique questions that you would like answered in an upcoming article, email editor@motorcyclemojo.com and I’ll see what I can do.

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