I live in a state where on any nice, sunny weekend day there are many motorcyclists on the road. The caliber ranges from bearded and long-haired Harley riders to teenagers on scooters, to young professionals tearing up the interstate at twice the speed limit.

There’s an obvious sub-culture, both to each type of motorcycle and motorcyclist as well as to motorcyclists in general as perceived by the majority of suburban population. I’ve been fortunate to know many a motorcyclist to date and have come to appreciate and enjoy both the open road on two wheels and the camaraderie which is shared by all riders, regardless of their personal preference for particular bikes and riding styles from the cautious middle-class dad in full gear to youngsters in shorts and flip-flops splitting lanes.

There are skills and mindsets which are imperative for a safe and enjoyable ride, and those who learn and apply these skills benefit both in the saddle and on the streets of life. Although of course specific mechanical skills are only applicable while riding the more important inner-game aspects of enjoying and controlling a motorcycle translate in to many seemingly unrelated areas of life.

Ride Your Own Ride

The idea behind this one is pretty simple: even when riding with buddies or as part of a larger group, each rider is responsible for himself. Vernacular version of this idea is not to jump off the roof if everyone else is does it. This is, perhaps, the most important trait and mindset to cultivate for success. Even if it looks like everyone is on the same road and going the same way as you, the abilities and context of each person differ. These differences are often completely invisible to the outside observer until one looks around and realizes they got in way over their head and the water is deeper than they thought. Of course riding in a group is a fun and mostly safe undertaking – as long as people with you are at or about the same skill level and are well behaved and well mannered. Common courtesy on two wheels goes a long way, and more than once reduced a potential major accident in to a quick-stop. Realizing that no one really knows your limits and abilities better than you, and that people always have their own agendas and goals, even when they temporarily align with yours, is a very important lesson to learn.

ATGAT

All-the-gear-all-the-time. This one doesn’t require much explanation, but covering your ass is less painful when something goes wrong. Notice the “when” in the previous sentence and not “if”. So many people miss this in day-to-day life. Fortunately, covering your ass actually makes for a much more pleasant ride by protecting the rider from wind, sun and bugs which at 50 mph feel like small rocks when hitting exposed skin.

Don’t Look At Lightpoles

The first lesson beginning motorcyclists learn is that the motorcycle (unlike the car) always ends up following where the rider is looking. This is very counter-intuitive at first but this works 100% on two wheels. I have made countless sharp turns which seemed impossible on approach by following this snippet of wisdom – behind handlebars and in my career and relationships. Usually this requires some quick planning and positioning, but after that it’s only a matter of keeping the eyes focused on where I want to go and not at any potential obstacles. The bikes go where riders look… in other words, people end up at a point which they were focused on. A side-effect of this metaphysical law is that if one looks at the ground in front of them, that’s where they will end up a few seconds later. Please don’t confuse awareness of light poles with concentrating on them – life and death difference there!

Counter-Steering

Motorcycles, like bicycles and any other two-wheeled transportation machines, must lean in order to turn. This is where simple explanations stop about how the physics of the motorcycle in a turn work. The catch is that it’s impossible to turn a motorcycle moving faster than quick walking pace by turning handlebars. The motorcycle needs to be leaned over first, and this is accomplished by a counter-intuitive action of turning the handlebars the wrong way. Yes, that’s exactly how it works! The lesson here is that to change direction – of a motorcycle or anywhere else – there’s always a hidden, complicated step-by-step process which no one really agrees on how to do, but all who manage through a turn successfully obviously mastered. Changing or improving careers, relationships, friends, income levels and anything else follows an identical pattern: what needs to be done is always counter-intuitive and once rolling the actions people need to take manage to take care of themselves – as long as you’re in motion and look where you want to go laws of physics conspire to carry you through the twisties.

Never Break Hard in a Turn

The easiest way to crash a motorcycle without trying (and a mistake many new riders make) is to apply brakes while leaned over in a turn. This is an instant big repair bill! You see, motorcycles when leaned over and stopped tend to fall over on their side. Just like anywhere, when making rapid changes people are the most vulnerable to panicking and jamming on the brakes. The result are often just as spectacular and damaging. This innate self-trust in concentrating on the destination and knowing that the bike will pull through, and the exhilaration of coming out of a turn scraping foot-pegs and grinning ear to ear, is what living is all about. Within reason, people tend to live well within their limits. While it’s not healthy to push boundaries all the time to the extreme or at the expense of other’s safety (like gambling away kids’ college fund) a bit of excitement and elevated adrenaline is what separates meager “getting from A to B” and “whoa! what a ride!” Just remember to ride your own ride and avoid light-poles.

Look-Plan-Lean-Roll

This four simple words describe how people get anywhere on a motorcycle. Following this simple formula without skipping the steps or getting them out of order is what separates classy, fast but safe riders from people who get in over their head and squeeze the brakes half way through an up-hill turn. In life the results are identical to the ones on a bike – a fast but self-confident rider who can control their emotions and manage their attention well not only gets to do more but also faster and with a lot more fun! Step by step, this requires knowing where you want to go – and is implied by the first word “Look”. You need to know where you’re headed at any point – it’s OK to adjust your goal as the journey continues but it’s not OK to not have a goal. If you don’t have a goal the prudent course of action is to pull over at a mom-and-pop diner, have a cup of coffee and a pastry and review the map. Next comes the “Plan” – on a bike this is adjusting travel speed, lane and body position, selecting the right gear to carry me through the turn without having to shift up or down. Once all set, it’s important to not be afraid to lean a bit. When I began traveling on a bike this was the most nerve-wracking experience: being leaned over at 45 degrees. Over time I just like every rider developed an innate trust and confidence that the universe will conspire to keep me from falling over as long as I keep moving. The last step is “Roll” on the throttle. For non-riders, that is giving more gas – effectively the motorcycle is most stable in a turn when it’s accelerating a bit. This is why it’s important to plan the entry trajectory and speed – any mismatch means the rider will need to break while rounding a corner or not be able to lean over far enough to follow the curve through. The best results in life are also achieved when following this pattern without skipping any steps.

Give these few tips a shot on your road of life and see for yourself! If nothing else you will be going to sleep in the evening thinking “what a ride!” and waking up in the morning looking forward to another day of adventure. Even if you’ve never owned a bike yet.