Fear on a Motorcycle
Ever been caught in severe cross winds when riding. In my early days of riding I hated riding in very strong side winds. Why? It scared me! I felt I had less control. I thought I was going to be blown off the bike. I got tense with my knees gripping the tank and had an iron fisted grip on the throttle. I learned later were signs of fear. Newer riders especially feel this type of fear.
So what is fear?
The Oxford dictionary tells us that it is “An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm”. Fear is an emotion and comes from the Latin derivative ‘emot’ which means to move out. This means that the natural sequence of events with fear is to feel it (including in your body) and then to ‘emot’ it or move it out through expression. (Side note …. I used to be a Counsellor so I know a bit about this).
Every rider deals with fear on a motorcycle. There’s two things regarding fear that will get you into trouble on a motorcycle:
- Riding with no fear
- Riding with too much fear
A rider with no fear rides recklessly. They think they are invincible. They enter corners at full throttle, leaning fully and getting around the corner as quick as they can even when the road surface isn’t good or they don’t know what’s coming around the bend.
A motorcyclist with too much fear approaches the same corner with a tense grip on the throttle, not lean enough and pull back on the throttle and squeeze the front brake before and/or more than they need to, making the bike less stable.
These reactions are a normal response to fear but the result is that the bike becomes less stable and you are more at risk. Their fear response is to avoid an incident and what they create is an increased likelihood of an incident!
Another thing about fear is that it can be real or perceived and your mind cannot tell the difference between these real or perceived fears – you react (emotionally and physically) the same.
An example of a real fear is if you are camping alone in a forest and in the dark you see a massive brown snake centimetres from your foot – most people would react with fear and the fight or flight mode would kick in – I would!
Perceived fear is different. It isn’t based on something real (like the huge snake you can see). It is often based on a similar past experience, our lack of understanding, lack of experience with a situation and lack of training in dealing with this type of situation. The fear is caused by our perception of it rather than the actual thing we are faced with.
So, as a motorcyclist, why is this important to understand?
Remember, your mind cannot tell the difference between real fear and perceived fear. You have the same reaction – you tense up, sweat, your heart rate increases and you have high adrenaline levels that make you hyper-alert – and sometimes you freeze up (none of which is good when riding a motorcycle!).
How you think about things when you’re riding directly affects your riding! On a bike, we face both perceived fear and real fear.
Fear on a motorcycle can happen for heaps of reasons including:
- The reality is that it is harder to ride a bike at very slow levels than at speed – this is why some riders get scared making tight U-turns. Or, you’re riding too fast for your level of skill.
- Usually, you slow before the bend, lean while looking through the turn and then roll on the throttle so the bike goes through the corner smoothly. The perceived fear of the corning makes you hesitate and roll off the throttle or brake in the middle of the bend making the situation worse.
- Road, weather or traffic conditions. For instance, if you live in the country and you’re riding in heavy major city peak hour traffic for the first time, it is often scary.
- The unexpected. When something unexpected happens, say like a roo jumping out, the normal response is fear.
How to overcome fear on a bike
- Practice, practice, practice to rewire your brain so you rewire your reactions. Sometimes practice on the road, sometimes in an empty car park and sometimes take a riding course. When you’re on the road and need a lifesaving manoeuvre, if you’ve practiced it, it just happens. If you don’t practice, you’re likely to grab the brakes or “lay the bike down” as some riders say (seldom a good thing). For instance, if you haven’t practiced emergency braking for ages, do it today! Or set up some cones in a car park and practice slow speed corning and manoeuvring.
- Keep learning – do something new on your bike every day. After riding for over 40 years, I realise how little I know. Every time I ride I am different. Every time I ride the weather, road, general conditions and traffic is different. Ride in different weather, different roads, different traffic conditions, etc.
- Get out and ride as much as possible
- Never be complacent on a motorcycle – stay alert and focused. If you’re losing focus perhaps it’s time to take a break. An example is if you are overtaken and you didn’t even realise someone was behind you – why?
- Replace fear by being prepared.
- Make sure your bike isn’t going to let you down, keep it serviced and maintained.
- As mentioned, keep improving your skills
- Wear the right gear. Invest in a Helite Airvest or Jacket - https://motosmart.com.au - so you can relax on the bike.
Some people never buy a bike because of fear. Many have bought into other people’s fear of motorcycles so they never even get on a bike to experience it – “it’s just too dangerous” they say!!
So, the key is to replace fear reactions with the proper technique. This comes through being prepared and practice. Fear doesn’t have to paralyse us. In fact, fear can be a great motivator. I try to practice something every time I ride. I replace fear with repetition of a skill.