Some parts of riding are simple. When the choices of action are limited or easy to grasp, riders feel in control. When choices are more complex or not fully understood, errors can occur. If riding sometimes feels like a coin toss—heads, I brake; tails, I gas it—realize that you have some work to do.
A rider’s skills are improving when his or her choices yield consistent results. Recognizing when our choices produce good results is the first step in trusting ourselves as riders. Choices come in all shapes and sizes. Common ones, like choosing which part of the lane to occupy, are both simple and powerful. Consider, for example, the choice to avoid the middle of the lane. Identifying the situation—the dark middle is mostly greasy car droppings—and combining that knowledge with an action—shifting to one side of the lane or the other—results in a more predictable and often confidence-building outcome: In this case, better traction.
Flicking your bike through a set of S-turns presents a rider with many more available choices and considerably less time to make a decision. Each individual action creates a ripple effect. The decision to steer now or to wait half a heartbeat is not trivial. It can be the difference between following a good line or a bad line through the turn.
At almost every moment in the saddle, riders are confronted with the choice to do something or do nothing. Provided you have some measure of riding savvy and at least a mediocre command of the motorcycle’s controls, good judgment amounts to little more than knowing when to—or when not to—act. This something/nothing decision process begins the instant you let out the clutch. Just count the number of actions stopped or changed in that one simple act of releasing clutch lever pressure and applying throttle, and you may be surprised at how many there are. Every change, no matter how minute, represents a choice to do something or to do nothing. This is the micro side of skilled motorcycle operation. Some may say I’m looking too closely, but I contend these mini-decisions are what rule our riding.
Less-skilled riders sometimes seem bent on doing something all the time, and they appear busy because of that. Seasoned riders better understand when to do something and when to do nothing. Less experienced riders often look busy and nervous. Seasoned riders with evolved skills look almost lazy and relaxed, even when executing complex tasks. It’s like that in every sport or performance, not just on a motorcycle.
Sometimes action is required, and sometimes it’s not. This is why telling someone to “just relax” is poor coaching. In order to relax with confidence, riders first must know when to act or not act. In this respect, “just relax” is the wrong advice, unless it is combined with specific suggestions on when and where to do something, so that later you can be lazy and do nothing.
In the final analysis, what you do do is more important than what you don’t do, at least when it comes to looking and feeling relaxed on the bike. A rider that knows how to make the right decisions proactively doesn’t appear tense and stiff, like a rider who is anxiously waiting for something to happen and then trying to react.
Every rider has the goal to be smoother, faster, more confident, and to feel less at-risk while riding. Each of these goals is achieved by making the optimum micro choices of action or non-action. To do or not to do, that is the question. Each twitch of the throttle hand, each stab at the brake lever, each false or mistimed steering input, each jerky eye movement, all create busywork and prevent smooth actions, speed, or confidence from increasing. Every action has an effect, especially ill-conceived actions.
Understanding is the foundation of improvement, and understanding is the most direct route to the level of skill you envision for yourself and your riding. This is one time when you definitely want to do something, then—get yourself to a track day or riding school and get to work.