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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I really struggled with a title for this writing. "Learning not to suck" or 'Riding without ego" all seemed to fit but in the end I suppose this is for the best.

This will be all about learning about...well, learning. Not 'I just got a motorcycle and now I am pulling out of my driveway' but how to condition yourself to learn how to really ride a motorcycle proficiently. There will be NO actual riding tips here!

I will give you a bit of background, partially because it is important for you to have a frame of reference and partly to remind myself of where I was, where I am, and where I still need to go. Don't worry, I will try to keep it somewhat short.

I began riding in 1985. Yeah, let that sink in a sec. Initially out of necessity (couldn't afford a car) and eventually out of love. Not going to bore you with the details but many, many miles of riding different bikes (all sportbikes though, mostly GSXR) through sun, rain, and even snow. I should also add that I was entirely self-taught. There was no MSF or internet forums to get knowledge from. I literally hopped on a bike and trained myself not to die.

Fast forward to 2008, the year of my 'rebirth' to motorcycling. At this point I had already been riding 23 years. You could say that I was pretty certain that I knew all that there was to know about riding, or at least all that I needed to know. And then it all changed; I bought a 2008 Ducati 848.

I had been riding sport bikes my entire life but this bike, and I will apologize to the ladies in advance, seemed to be calling me a giant pussy every single time that I got on it. It was absolutely begging me to ride harder, faster, and more aggressively than I ever had before.

Now, I am generally speaking a law-abiding rider. I don't ride like crazy on the streets, never have. I began to feel uncomfortable in the fact that I was starting to creep upwards on the speedo in places that shouldn't see those kinds of speeds.

So, I started to do a little bit of research (with that newfangled interweb thing) and came across a local motorcycling forum. I started chatting a bit, asking some questions, and ended up meeting a bunch of people that told me about track days. WTF was that??!?

Well, I went through all the excuses and finally convinced myself to give it a shot. I was scared as hell, for myself and my 'baby'. In the interest of keeping this somewhat short I had an absolute blast, and was completely hooked. I did track days for one year, and then in 2010 I started racing.

What my first sessions on the track taught me is that I had absolutely NO idea what the hell I was doing on a motorcycle. Everything, and I do mean everything that I knew about riding was wrong.

This was my first track day. Note the amazingly awesome body position and tremendous cornering ability!


This was a serious blow to my ego. I mean, I was a well seasoned rider and considerably older than most of the 'kids' that were passing me on my 130hp Ducati on their 70hp SV650s...and I think some kid passed me on a big wheel.

I had 23 years of ingrained habits that I just found out in one day were completely wrong. The way I sat on the bike, the way I gripped the bars, the way I moved on the seat, the way I used my brakes, the way I used my throttle...all of this and more needed tons of work if I was going to pass that kid on the big wheel.

So, I could do this two ways: Continue in my belief that I was old, wise, and make excuses about 'just holding back' or I could look at myself objectively, assess where I needed improvement, and make a plan to succeed. Obviously, I chose the latter.

Looking in a mirror for some self-assessment can be a very challenging thing to do, but in the end every human being on the planet could benefit from an honest, objective session of introspection. The key word there is honest. None of this will mean squat if you cannot look at yourself and realize that you don't, in fact, know everything.

This can be a very painful process, and the haughty have the worst time of it. It is a knock-down drag-out fight between your will to learn and your ego. Some people simply cannot ever make it past this early stage. I know some really talented riders, very fast people and good racers that will never progress to become 'great' racers because they still are unable to come to terms with the fact that they make mistakes; they externalize blame.

This is probably where I would normally get all zen-like and make some cryptic statement like "You cannot fill a vessel that is already full' or some other fortune cookie wisdom that I got from a kung-fu movie. Cliche as it is, that doesn't make it any less true. You must learn to put your ego aside when performing a critical self-analysis.

So, here are some tips on beginning the learning process:

Don't make excuses
I can't tell you how many times I have heard from a track rider that they crashed because they hit a rock, someone did something in front of them, the motorcycle lurched/did something. Sometimes you will get an 'I don't know what happened' which at least is a step in the right direction.

Yes, it is possible that there was some sort of outside influence that caused the crash (mechanical failure, oil, debris) but the sad truth is that overwhelmingly the fault lies with the rider, and our ego immediately steps in and places the blame elsewhere (externalizes) in order to save our fragile little sense of self. This is doing you a huge disservice because you stop searching for the actual answer, which means it is likely that you will repeat the same mistake.

Understand that you don't understand
It is ok to not understand or know everything, as long as you realize this and then seek out the answer. This is how we learn and grow as human beings, not just on a race track. Realize that this (life, riding, whatever) is a long journey which will be a continuing evolution where you will layer knowledge on top of knowledge...which will eventually become wisdom =)

Be objective
Suppose you crashed, or suppose you got beat in a race, or suppose something unexpected happened. Why? Why did those things happen? Was there something that you could have done differently to change the outcome?

Did you really hit some oil in the road or did you give bar input while leaned over and grabbing some throttle? Objectively looking at a situation and pulling the facts out of it is a skill that you will need to hone. It is very easy to let our ego make up an excuse. Don't let it!

GI Joe would be proud of me here because knowing the root cause, and you will see that phrase a lot from me, is half the battle. Get to the root of the matter and then the learning can begin.

Getting back on the horse/facing your demons/itsallthesamething
This is mostly about track riding/racing but it can apply to street riding as well. Do you know someone that has crashed and has never been able to get back up to speed? Never fully regained their confidence? I do. Multiple someone's actually.

These same people either swear at me or they look at me in awe like I am some sort of machine-god of racing because after I crash, I am immediately right back at my pace.

I can assure you, I am no deity. About as far from it as possible, actually.
What I am is a man who can objectively look at a situation and determine the root cause, free of my ego.

There have been a few crashes that were not my fault however the bulk of them were my own responsibility. The last crash that I had was a mechanical failure; one of my pit helpers didn't turn on my rear tire warmer.

After I put the bike back together, I did my best lap time ever in the very next race. I was able to do this because I had determined the cause of the crash and because I know what it was I could plan to make sure that it didn't happen again. Consequently it did not affect my confidence and allowed me to go faster.

The crash before was absolutely my fault. I pushed on the bars while I was leaned over too far and something had to give. Again, I know what I did wrong so I was able to get right back out there and hit it just as hard.

More to come as I get time....
 

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Thank you for this. I have been doing a lot of introspection lately, trying to see what I'm doing wrong and how I can improve upon them. The one thing that really keeps me hungry is the knowledge that the ceiling is very high. There is a lot of headspace, meaning that I have a lot to learn... probably spend a lifetime on riding, and never run out of things to learn.

I do have a question. I do a lot of back-and-forth with people I look up to when it comes to riding. Is there a danger that one could over-do said introspection to the point where it actually begins to hurt confidence. Could you become so obsessed with the mistakes you make that that is all you're thinking about? Correcting them?

I remember you (and others) asking me to have fun out there. I can't seem to get it out of my head that I won't have fun unless I can correct the mistakes I'm making. How do I get out of this shell? Or is this possibly innate, and may be the only way I can have fun out there? Only when I see improvements?
 

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Great read! I am learning to do a lot of this in life right now. I'm actually going through a lot of internal shit with who I am personally. This helps to put things into perspective and I KNOW it will help when I start track days next season. Thanks again, I always enjoy your write-ups.
 

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Great read Slo, the photo of your first track day reminds me of mine. I was too embarrassed to show my friends because it looked like i was scared shitless. Then I went and watched some of my videos from the last corner and was very disappointed, I was under the impression I was much more sound and faster than I thought. I was completely disappointed that my canyons skills couldnt relate to the tack and I felt like I had to start all over again on how to break, accelerate out of a corner and definitely body position. Some of us that want to club race at a low level have hope when we see some one at a higher lever almost start were we are, shows that you can achive your goals if you listen and learn.
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thank you for this. I have been doing a lot of introspection lately, trying to see what I'm doing wrong and how I can improve upon them. The one thing that really keeps me hungry is the knowledge that the ceiling is very high. There is a lot of headspace, meaning that I have a lot to learn... probably spend a lifetime on riding, and never run out of things to learn.

I do have a question. I do a lot of back-and-forth with people I look up to when it comes to riding. Is there a danger that one could over-do said introspection to the point where it actually begins to hurt confidence. Could you become so obsessed with the mistakes you make that that is all you're thinking about? Correcting them?

I remember you (and others) asking me to have fun out there. I can't seem to get it out of my head that I won't have fun unless I can correct the mistakes I'm making. How do I get out of this shell? Or is this possibly innate, and may be the only way I can have fun out there? Only when I see improvements?
This actually made me chuckle. I think you and I are very similar. Many times my teammates, people who have known me for years, tell me that I need to step back and relax, and that I should have fun.

They don't realize that I am having fun diagnosing and improving my riding. 'Driven' is the word that gets tossed my way a lot. Just because I am not giggling like a little girl doesn't mean that I am not having the best time ever.

There is a definitely danger of 'going too deep' and losing sight of why you are there in the first place. I used to have a problem over-thinking things, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed if you allow it to happen. I learned to compartmentalize my approach to riding.

Pick a single area that needs improvement and work on it. Do not become distracted by anything other than what you are working on. Yes, other mistakes will be made. Log them away for future improvement and focus on what it is that you are doing.

Do not dwell on things that are out of your immediate influence; that is wasted energy. Focus on the things that you can change, or that will garner you the largest improvement.

For instance, I once spent an entire track day working solely on taking right hand turns because they were so weak compared to my left handers.


Great read! I am learning to do a lot of this in life right now. I'm actually going through a lot of internal shit with who I am personally. This helps to put things into perspective and I KNOW it will help when I start track days next season. Thanks again, I always enjoy your write-ups.
Then you will already have a head start. These are indeed life skills and not specific to riding, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that every single one of the great riders of the world has an intricate understanding of what we are discussing here today.

Great read Slo, the photo of your first track day reminds me of mine. I was too embarrassed to show my friends because it looked like i was scared shitless. Then I went and watched some of my videos from the last corner and was very disappointed, I was under the impression I was much more sound and faster than I thought. I was completely disappointed that my canyons skills couldnt relate to the tack and I felt like I had to start all over again on how to break, accelerate out of a corner and definitely body position. Some of us that want to club race at a low level have hope when we see some one at a higher lever almost start were we are, shows that you can achive your goals if you listen and learn.
I totally get where you are coming from, I was in the exact same position when I started. That picture IS embarassing to me, and it is why I keep it around to serve as inspiration.

This is the same corner, almost one year later almost to the day.


This was 16 months after that first picture...same corner.


same day as the one above


The reason I progressed at the pace that I did was because I took my ego out of the equation.

I critically observed each mistake, formed a plan of action to correct it, and executed.

I am pleased to hear that you are interested in learning how to race, however do not restrict yourself to thinking that you must be stuck at a 'low level'. I went from that first picture, to winning amateur races in one year. ONE year. You can do the same with the right focus and determination.

This is why the locals call me 'The Machine' :p
 

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Great read and good points! Your recent pictures do look just a bit better than that first one on the Duc :laugh
 

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This actually made me chuckle. I think you and I are very similar. Many times my teammates, people who have known me for years, tell me that I need to step back and relax, and that I should have fun.

They don't realize that I am having fun diagnosing and improving my riding. 'Driven' is the word that gets tossed my way a lot. Just because I am not giggling like a little girl doesn't mean that I am not having the best time ever.

There is a definitely danger of 'going too deep' and losing sight of why you are there in the first place. I used to have a problem over-thinking things, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed if you allow it to happen. I learned to compartmentalize my approach to riding.

Pick a single area that needs improvement and work on it. Do not become distracted by anything other than what you are working on. Yes, other mistakes will be made. Log them away for future improvement and focus on what it is that you are doing.

Do not dwell on things that are out of your immediate influence; that is wasted energy. Focus on the things that you can change, or that will garner you the largest improvement.

For instance, I once spent an entire track day working solely on taking right hand turns because they were so weak compared to my left handers.
Thank you... I thought I was being weird!

I will give the compartmentalization approach a try this weekend, and report on how that goes. There is a lot of pressure, but part of me wants to say 'shoot it' and just get on with riding. But I hate being stuck in a rut... not seeing improvements. I think I'll go for the smaller fish first... one at a time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Great read and good points! Your recent pictures do look just a bit better than that first one on the Duc :laugh
Just a tad...it is amazing what just a few short years can do. That, and a lot of money, training, introspection, crash parts, and broken bones :p

Thank you... I thought I was being weird!

I will give the compartmentalization approach a try this weekend, and report on how that goes. There is a lot of pressure, but part of me wants to say 'shoot it' and just get on with riding. But I hate being stuck in a rut... not seeing improvements. I think I'll go for the smaller fish first... one at a time.
You will not learn well under pressure. I hope that you realize that YOU are the only one putting pressure on yourself. My advice would be to let that part of it go.

There is NO PRESSURE. NONE. There is no trophy at the end of a track day. No endorsement deal. No talent scout just waiting to draft you for next years factory Kawasaki team. It is just YOU and THE MACHINE. Do not bring any extra baggage with you.

Once you relax (key to learning anything) you will be able to start down the path to improvement. As much as you may wish it to be otherwise, you cannot force or speed up this process, let it occur naturally and at the pace that your brain can handle the input.
 

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You will not learn well under pressure. I hope that you realize that YOU are the only one putting pressure on yourself. My advice would be to let that part of it go.

There is NO PRESSURE. NONE. There is no trophy at the end of a track day. No endorsement deal. No talent scout just waiting to draft you for next years factory Kawasaki team. It is just YOU and THE MACHINE. Do not bring any extra baggage with you.

Once you relax (key to learning anything) you will be able to start down the path to improvement. As much as you may wish it to be otherwise, you cannot force or speed up this process, let it occur naturally and at the pace that your brain can handle the input.
I follow. Most of the pressure is resource/ budget-induced. Sorry, I know this is a shit thing to admit, but I feel like a lot of energy and effort would have been squandered if I didn't feel satisfied at the end of the day. That is where the pressure comes from.

I'll really try and shut it out this time. Just focus on the bike and my riding. Try and knock out one thing at a time. I'll try reminding myself of this every time I feel the pressure to improve.

Thank you for the advice and the patience.
 

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This actually made me chuckle. I think you and I are very similar. Many times my teammates, people who have known me for years, tell me that I need to step back and relax, and that I should have fun.

They don't realize that I am having fun diagnosing and improving my riding. 'Driven' is the word that gets tossed my way a lot. Just because I am not giggling like a little girl doesn't mean that I am not having the best time ever.

There is a definitely danger of 'going too deep' and losing sight of why you are there in the first place. I used to have a problem over-thinking things, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed if you allow it to happen. I learned to compartmentalize my approach to riding.

Pick a single area that needs improvement and work on it. Do not become distracted by anything other than what you are working on. Yes, other mistakes will be made. Log them away for future improvement and focus on what it is that you are doing.

Do not dwell on things that are out of your immediate influence; that is wasted energy. Focus on the things that you can change, or that will garner you the largest improvement.

For instance, I once spent an entire track day working solely on taking right hand turns because they were so weak compared to my left handers.




Then you will already have a head start. These are indeed life skills and not specific to riding, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that every single one of the great riders of the world has an intricate understanding of what we are discussing here today.



I totally get where you are coming from, I was in the exact same position when I started. That picture IS embarassing to me, and it is why I keep it around to serve as inspiration.

This is the same corner, almost one year later almost to the day.


This was 16 months after that first picture...same corner.


same day as the one above


The reason I progressed at the pace that I did was because I took my ego out of the equation.

I critically observed each mistake, formed a plan of action to correct it, and executed.

I am pleased to hear that you are interested in learning how to race, however do not restrict yourself to thinking that you must be stuck at a 'low level'. I went from that first picture, to winning amateur races in one year. ONE year. You can do the same with the right focus and determination.

This is why the locals call me 'The Machine' :p
Wow 16 months that's crazy. I would ask how many track days you did, but that is mute if one doesnt learn each time there out there. I saved my photos for the sole purpose of all the shit talking I did before the track day about how I was gonna tear it up (I leave all my friends in the dust in the canyons). Then i showed all my canyon buddies my photos of how pathetic I looked. They were hell yea man you look good, tearing it up. I had to explain to them in no way or form was I "tearing it up". Brought up the Group 2 (Group 3 ridesmart) videos and they were floored. So I think one thing that helps me is i am the first to be critical of my riding and honest, prob more harsh than anyone else.

Great photo timeline by the way. Why i was pounding my buddies head that i need photos photos photos. I was on site that track day watching the videos and photos trying to correct my mistakes that I seen in sessions before, by comparing other riders that were well above my skill level. I kinda felt like Payton Manning on the sideline going threw photos of coverage reads. Then i would go find the bikes that rode near me and pick there brains on my lines, corner speed, breaking etc.
 

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Always a solid contribution P-Slo, much appreciated.



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without any formal or track day instruction. When I introspect I find nothing. Which is why I am on here with you. Great read.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I follow. Most of the pressure is resource/ budget-induced. Sorry, I know this is a shit thing to admit, but I feel like a lot of energy and effort would have been squandered if I didn't feel satisfied at the end of the day. That is where the pressure comes from.

I'll really try and shut it out this time. Just focus on the bike and my riding. Try and knock out one thing at a time. I'll try reminding myself of this every time I feel the pressure to improve.

Thank you for the advice and the patience.
It is actually a very good thing to admit. Through admission, you put it out in the open. You are now consciously aware of it, and can focus your way around it. I can tell you are a smart guy, so you must know that this is a self-defeating circle.

Go there with a plan to have fun, set realistic and attainable goals and go after them. I think doing the latter will lead to the former =).

that's funny...hehehe
Yeah, I thought so too but I guess there are worse nicknames out there.

Wow 16 months that's crazy. I would ask how many track days you did, but that is mute if one doesnt learn each time there out there. I saved my photos for the sole purpose of all the shit talking I did before the track day about how I was gonna tear it up (I leave all my friends in the dust in the canyons). Then i showed all my canyon buddies my photos of how pathetic I looked. They were hell yea man you look good, tearing it up. I had to explain to them in no way or form was I "tearing it up". Brought up the Group 2 (Group 3 ridesmart) videos and they were floored. So I think one thing that helps me is i am the first to be critical of my riding and honest, prob more harsh than anyone else.

Great photo timeline by the way. Why i was pounding my buddies head that i need photos photos photos. I was on site that track day watching the videos and photos trying to correct my mistakes that I seen in sessions before, by comparing other riders that were well above my skill level. I kinda felt like Payton Manning on the sideline going threw photos of coverage reads. Then i would go find the bikes that rode near me and pick there brains on my lines, corner speed, breaking etc.
I would guess about 10 track days and maybe 4 race weekends in those 16 months. I literally threw my body, my wallet, and my bike at this as hard as I could. All suffered for it but I did learn to ride a bit ;-)

Pictures and videos are awesome learning tools. Out here we are fortunate that there is always a pro photographer on site for our racing and track days. The local organizations out here will bring the students over to look at the pictures in an effort to help critique body position and lines. I get teased a lot because I video everything. I use this combined with my GPS lap timer data to see where I can improve. Where my on/off throttle markers are, tip ins, brake markers, etc. See where I can push a bit more. I am literally fighting for tenths of a second now.

Anyway, you would be amazed at how many people think they are doing something different than what pictures will show. Again, honest criticism will help people more than delusions of grandeur. It is good that you are hard on yourself. You will learn faster that way as long as you do not allow it to progress into defeatism. Be sure to keep realistic goals in mind.

Always a solid contribution P-Slo, much appreciated.

Glad you got something out of it!

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without any formal or track day instruction. When I introspect I find nothing. Which is why I am on here with you. Great read.
Forums are a great resource for things like this. Books are another. If you havent read them already, I would start with something like Twist of the Wrist 2 (skip 1). It goes into some pretty good detail that will help you establish a framework for learning.

In the meanwhile, if you have questions, ask! There are some very talented riders on this forum and I am sure they wouldn't mind sharing what they have learned with you.
 

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Go there with a plan to have fun, set realistic and attainable goals and go after them. I think doing the latter will lead to the former =).
I will do that. Thank you.
 

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Thank you... I thought I was being weird!

I will give the compartmentalization approach a try this weekend, and report on how that goes. There is a lot of pressure, but part of me wants to say 'shoot it' and just get on with riding. But I hate being stuck in a rut... not seeing improvements. I think I'll go for the smaller fish first... one at a time.

You will not learn well under pressure. I hope that you realize that YOU are the only one putting pressure on yourself. My advice would be to let that part of it go.

There is NO PRESSURE. NONE. There is no trophy at the end of a track day. No endorsement deal. No talent scout just waiting to draft you for next years factory Kawasaki team. It is just YOU and THE MACHINE. Do not bring any extra baggage with you.

Once you relax (key to learning anything) you will be able to start down the path to improvement. As much as you may wish it to be otherwise, you cannot force or speed up this process, let it occur naturally and at the pace that your brain can handle the input.
Also, remember what Keith Code says about learning best/improving most when you ride at about 75% of your limit. I noticed this in myself the other day when I was taking it easier than normal because I was leading a slower rider through the canyons.

Here is the quote from the second page of the introduction in A Twist of the Wrist Volume II:

75 Percent Perfect

What I have discovered is that 95 percent of my students reach unexpected new levels of confidence after only half a day of classroom plus track training, and half of them can be coached to a high degree of technical skill in two days: but only if they ride at about 75 percent of their limit. What happens after 75 percent? Everyone agrees, in some fashion, survival* reactions* (commonly known as fear) are the ever-present barrier to reaching their goals. Once the standard riding techniques are understood, this is the one button (also called panic) that nearly everyone pushes, at their own personal limit. This agreed-upon fact is what ruins* riders' attempts to reach the goals they have envisioned* for themselves. It ruins self-respect, confidence and trust in oneself in the process.​
 

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Thank you. This was a well described honest testimony to a basic lesson in life that we can't move forward after falling down without first standing up, admitting we played a role in falling down, and then taking another step. We do this when we first learn to walk and the process never ends.
 
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