How It Feels
How well we ride depends a lot on how loosened up we feel. A graceful line is scripted by a relaxed motorcyclist at the controls. I’m riding my best when I feel a complete presence of mind. It is “being in the moment” and it is when my brain can easily and effortlessly process all the visual information as it flows toward my helmet visor.
Something magical happens.
To stay relaxed, regulate the flow of this visual information. You’ll want to either turn up or turn down the flow. If the flow is moving too quickly, you’ll be overwhelmed and won’t be able to process the visuals well. You’ll lose presence of mind. If the flow is moving too slowly, you’ll get distracted and lose presence of mind. You want to regulate your speed so that you are mentally satisfied processing the visuals but never overwhelmed or bored. “Just the right speed” is key, and this requires a taut-running engine and the immediacy of horsepower. So harness your engine’s horsepower by continuous gear shifting.
Instead of explaining the mechanics of gear shifting, I want you to the appreciate what a taut-running motorcycle engine feels like. I want you to know what it feels like when you stop driving your motorcycle like it has an automatic transmission, and start riding the beast like it’s meant to be ridden.
The best thing to do is go out on an open road with your own motorcycle and rev up 2nd, then 3rd, and then 4th gear to maximum torque. An engine running at maximum torque is where an engine is most responsive. Immediacy is found there. The immediacy will feel abrupt to an untrained hand. Spend quality time in each of these gears, hovering around maximum torque. Lock in a gear and just be there. Soon you’ll see that each gear has a personality in terms of the immediacy of power. Get real acquainted with this immediacy; it’s the very foundation of engine control. Feel and listen to this power. Get comfortable with it. Learn to work with it. With a small on-twist of the wrist, there will be an immediate surge of acceleration; roll off, and you’ll feel the physics of instant deceleration. Harness this power to your advantage. Your control will dramatically improve.
At maximum torque, the engine will feel super buzzy, and sound loud and shrill. Riders often confuse the busyness of maximum torque with “beating up the engine.” Don’t worry, you are most definitely not. All sport touring motorcycle engines are engineered for high performance. They are designed to and run best at high rpms. So busyness be damned, wring the gears’ neck!
Revving up 2nd gear will have an intense feel, a suddenness. Unless your roll on/off is practiced and in relatively small increments, the quality of your ride will be herky-jerky. Herky-jerky throttle control can be emotionally upsetting because of the challenging riding conditions where 2nd gear is most used. 2nd gear is the preferred gear (unless of course, the rider is adept in 1st gear technical riding) for highly technical roads – sharply oscillating, twisty roads. It can crush a rider’s confidence when an already demanding riding environment calling for a deft throttle hand is met instead with ham-handedness. You could become fearful and endanger yourself. So spend a lot of time gear-shifting between 2nd and 3rd gears. Learn to smooth out the transition between on and off. You won’t ever develop authentic motorcycling confidence without developing a smooth technique in 2nd gear. It takes practice.
Compared to 2nd gear, 3rd gear feels more settled. But to get the similar immediacy of 2nd gear, a rider must rev up to maximum torque and ride a wee bit faster. So ride down the road in 3rd gear at maximum torque and experience the throttle immediacy at higher speed. You can be going one speed, and in an instant, you can be much faster, or much slower. It’s a lot of fun to employ the immediacy of 3rd gear at higher speeds for your amusement and safety. It’s my favorite gear. But it absolutely requires ratcheting up your presence of mind to calmly process the visuals streaming toward you at 3rd gear’s higher speeds. It takes practice.
4th gear around maximum torque provides an opportunity to ride with immediacy, at yet again even faster speeds. 4th gear is a great high speed cruising gear for open, sweeping Invisible Roads. Presence of mind now demands the ability to calmly process the visuals as they now come racing toward you. It takes more practice.
To ride well at relatively faster and faster speeds, you must have a calm presence of mind. To have a calm presence of mind, you must see well. To see well, it helps to have a methodology for seeing.
In the Workshop, I describe a methodology of seeing that I borrowed from instrument flying. This methodology of seeing is the pilot’s instrument scan. The instrument scan is a continuous procedure of systematically moving the eyes around the instrument panel (consisting of many dials and gauges) in an efficient way so as to extract the most information. With practice, the scan becomes very fast. The mind begins to effortlessly process the details as fast as the eyes can absorb them. I discovered this piloting skill applies nicely to riding motorcycles. In fact airplane pilots and motorcycle “pilots” share the same mindset. While the machines are obviously different, the mindset to “fly” them well is the same. The result of seeing well is a confident sense of situational awareness whether it be through the sky or on the pavement.
In a nutshell, around every curve and over every rise, reference the vanishing point and size up the view corridor. If you can’t process these visuals calmly and thoroughly enough, roll on or off the throttle just enough so that you can.
Exploiting your motorcycle’s horsepower by harnessing the engine, and learning an effective method of perceiving our environment, are the “meat and potato” skills. They are the “parts” of The Rider’s Workshop.
The “whole” is how it feels when you put it all together. You feel free like never before! You are free of anxiety, fear, and stress because while you’re riding faster, you are riding with a real sense of calm, confidence and control.
As you familiarize yourself with this intense/effortless motorcycle control, you’ll see that you’re in a “dance” with your machine. As you apply the subtlest control inputs, the bike willingly dances with you as you whirl around your favorite twisting road.
As your confidence soars, as you feel joy, you might experience a transcendence. The mythical centaur is not an exaggeration. Your motorcycle may even disappear out from underneath you and now it’s only your mind galloping down the road.
Is it any wonder we ride?