from Mike Wascak, Road Captain
From Motorcyclist Magazine - August 2015
So you think you have this whole riding thing figured out? If you've been riding for many years and your motorcycling resume contains no serious crashes, then maybe you're doing pretty well. But do you really know the limits of your ability and the amount of risk to which you are exposed? Before you answer, consider that measuring limits can be deceptive. While some limits can be clearly defined and accurately measured using precise tools and mathematics, personal limits are usually measured only by the imperfect perceptions of the human brain and emotions. Because personal limits are ambiguous, it's easy to have a completely wrong measure of your ability.
One reason why riders stink at "limit perception" is because of preconceived ideas about what is "normal". Some commuters accept close calls as "normal" even though there are plenty of motorcyclists who get to and from work with almost zero drama. A lot of sport riders think that if their bike isn't sliding and squirming then they aren't going fast enough, even though the fastest riders become dots in the distance while maintaining complete composure.
Another common area where riders fall flat is accurately judging the limits of the environment. I often see otherwise smart and sensible people willingly push hard - too hard - in places that even the most skilled riders choose to navigate carefully. These riders can be seen ripping down the road seemingly oblivious to the real danger posed by blind turns and hillcrests, sketchy surfaces, and seemingly innocuous intersections. What makes them think this is okay? Inaccurate perception wins over reality.
One way to help accurately perceive reality is to imagine (or draw) a scale that measures overall ability, including both physical and mental skills. Absolute beginners reside at the bottom, and highly accomplished professional riders (or racers) proudly inhabit the top tier. Where do you think you belong? If you're like most people, you will place yourself somewhere just above the middle part of the scale. I have news for you: humans tend to have an inaccurate and over-inflated illusion of superiority when self-assessing their skills, which causes most people to overestimate their ability.
Serious trouble can be expected if you blindly trust your own estimation of your ability. Here's an idea: revisit the riding skill scale, and this time place yourself 20 percent lower than you did the first time. This new (and likely more accurate) perception won't boost your ego, but it should cause you to reconsider how you ride and prompt you to improve your skills.
Unfortunately, a lot of people get hurt before they discover the extent of their misperceptions. Lucky riders survive and learn from the mishap. Even luckier riders meet someone who intervenes before bad things happen. I've counseled many riders who were bad at recognizing limits. With as much intensity as I can muster, I tell them just how close they are to binning their bike and body. Some riders hang on tight to their belief that they are doing just fine and ignore all warnings.
Thankfully most riders pay attention and consider that perhaps they have a thing or two to learn. Once acknowledgment happens, devoting energy to developing skills suddenly becomes a higher priority. Worthwhile questions come to the surface, such as, "How can I have fun but with less risk?" or, "What tricks reduce the chance of near misses during my commute?" Answers can be found in books and articles, but for the quickest result, get some face time with a good instructor who can help you learn at your own pace.
Whether you ride at the racetrack, in the canyons, or on Main Street it is critical to recognize your personal limits. Remember that you don't know what you don't know, and not knowing what you need to know can kill. Assume you've got a lot to learn (you do), and get to work raising yourself higher on the riding-skill scale.