by Blaire Baily
Life is full of subtle and not-so-subtle invitations to change your normal riding style. We’ve all had the experience of getting on a bike when we’re running late and feel pressured to make up time. And I can’t be the only one that gets sports cars in the next lane revving their engines, eager to race. More commonly, if you ride in groups, you may find that the speed of the group or the difficulty of the ride is somewhere outside your comfort zone.
Serious, experienced motorcyclists say the same thing again and again: ride your own ride. That is the golden rule. Riding your own ride means, in its simplest terms, refusing to allow outside factors or influences to change your riding behavior. It means riding within your comfort zone at all times. Your comfort zone can change, for example if you are riding at a track instead of on the street, but it is only you, and no one else, that should adjust and manage how you ride.
There can be a strong temptation in group rides to meet others’ expectations rather than determine your own limits. When I first started riding with a group, I was concerned about keeping up and afraid to seem inadequate, inexperienced, or unskilled.
I’ll admit that more than once I rode a lot faster than I was comfortable with and had some very close calls. It’s easy to do, and it’s often a rush. But it also exposes you to an untenable level of risk. The dangers of motorcycling, just like the rewards, are especially intense. Human bodies are fragile. If a motorcyclist is a jelly fish, a car is a brick. We have to treat motorcycling with the respect it deserves and the best way to do that is to always ride your own ride.
Here are some steps you can take to be proactive, empower yourself, and ride your own ride:
• Ride on Your Own
If you’re experiencing pressure from other riders, and keep giving in, remove them from the equation. Riding solo will allow you to increase your skills and experience at your own pace. You get to decide where you ride, and when, and at what speed. This gives you maximum control and helps ensure you’ll ride your own ride every single time.
• If You are Going to Ride in a Group, Make a Plan in Advance
To avoid a situation where you realize you are not comfortable riding at the speed the group is already going, make a plan before it happens. Speak to whoever is leading the ride before you head out. Ask: if you decide to slow down, will they wait for you a few miles ahead? If not, no problem. That’s fine. Now you know. Say that if you do slow down, you’ll just meet them at their destination. Now everyone is on the same page. If at some point you feel it is necessary to slow down, you can do so. And you’ll already know what comes next.
• Listen to Your Gut.
If you’re starting to get tired and your concentration is wavering, or you’re getting light-headed because you’re hungry, listen to those warning signals. Pull off and take that break. Many accidents happen when riders try to push through exhaustion in order to stay on the road.
• Use a Reminder
Put a small reminder on your bike to ride your own ride. Every time you look at it, ask yourself: Is this how I normally ride? Am I riding my own ride?
• Shift Your Attitude about What it Means to be a “Good” Rider
Rethinking your understanding of what it means to be a “good” rider will also help you resist pressure to ride outside your comfort zone. Don’t think of riding skill in terms of “fast” and “slow” but rather in terms of “has more experience” and “has less experience.” I’ve been riding for six years, but I tend to ride only once a week for a few hours. There are several women in my motorcycle club, the East Side Moto Babes, that race motorcycles and live and breathe motorcycling. Unsurprisingly, they have a high level of skill and proficiency and our comfort zones are completely different. This is entirely logical given our respective experience and, more importantly, is completely okay. We’re not in competition with each other. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be as skilled as other riders when they have a lot more experience than you do.
• If You Want to Push Yourself, Do So in a Controlled Environment
Want to learn to curve up corners and follow perfect lines? Hit up SoCal Supermoto and use their small, difficult track to hone your cornering skills. If you mess up, the worst that will happen is that they catch it on camera. Want to experience and practice higher speeds without the danger and unpredictability of cars? Do track days. You’ll improve your riding skills and, if you should go down, chances are the damage will be minor.
• Ride From a Place of Love (For Others and For Yourself)
Put your safety above outside demands. If you’re late, it can wait. It takes self-awareness, self-love, and confidence to know your limits and to assert them. The truth is that when you ride, you carry some of the happiness of the people who love you around with you on your bike. Ride accordingly. And remember that riding your own ride is actually deeply respectful of the people you are riding with—it shows you are putting the safety of everyone on the ride first.
• Help Shape Riding Culture
Women riders have a unique opportunity to shape motorcycle culture around comradeship, skill-building, and safety. When a rider steps forward to say that she is not comfortable with the speed or difficulty of a group ride, thank her. Tell her you appreciate her commitment to riding her own ride. Help her come up with a plan about how to ensure she stays within her comfort zone. Help her ride her own ride. If you do that, chances are one day she’ll do the same for someone else.