The Zen of Learning to Ride a Motorcycle, Part II
Zen Motorcycle Habit #2: Look in the Direction You Want to Go, Not in the Direction You Don’t Want to Go
There is something in motorcycle riding called “target fixation”. It’s considered a reaction to panic. It is when you are focusing on something that you don’t want to hit, and ultimately end up hitting it. It happens during motorcycle racing events sometimes. One rider takes a turn too wide and goes off the track, and the rider behind them, seemingly hypnotized by what is happening, follows the rider right off the track.
When you’re on a motorcycle, wherever you are looking, is where the bike will go. If you want to make a tight turn you have to look into that turn. If you look down, the bike goes down. If you’re looking at a van parked on the side of the road, the motorcycle will head right for it.
If we are focused on avoiding the things in life we are afraid of, or what we don’t want in life, we are practically guaranteeing to bring that energy we are trying to avoid into our life.
I had a yoga teacher named Travis Eliot who would always say, “Where the mind goes is where the energy flows.” And I find this to be true both on a motorcycle and in life.
When I was shopping for my first street bike, I was having anxiety about learning to shift gears while also learning to turn, pay attention to traffic, be mindful of street conditions, and to use the brakes properly.
I wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, but I was also thinking about how I didn’t want to have to learn to shift gears on a street bike if I didn’t have to. I had gotten a Kawasaki KX85 dirt bike, and my husband felt that I should ride that bike for at least a year before getting a street bike, and to make all my riding mistakes in the dirt, instead of in traffic.
But, I got impatient. Taking the dirt bikes out is a day-long process. We have to prep the bikes, tow them about an hour outside of the city, go down some dirt roads, and change into our gear, and then ride for a few hours before sitting in traffic on the way home. I wanted more opportunities to practice than the dirt bike was allowing me.
I had taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course before taking my dirt-bike out for the first time, and was really itching to practice on a bike, any bike, as much as possible. While taking the MSF course, I got to try out several different motorcycles: a Yamaha V-Star, a Honda Rebel 250, and a 2012 Zero XU. Based on those experiences, I started shopping for a street bike.
I loved the cruiser look of the 2015 Honda Rebel 250 and the 2017 Yamaha V-Star, but I was really in love with the ride of the 2011 Zero XU, an electric motorcycle. It wasn’t the prettiest bike in my opinion, but I felt totally in control of that bike. The seat was a bit too tall for me, but I still felt totally safe and in control on it, even stopping with one foot down. Best of all, it had an automatic transmission, so I didn’t have to focus on shifting gears. I figured I could use the dirt-bike to practice gear shifting. I also took an extra private lesson with one of the MSF course instructors to focus on shifting gears after I’d gotten my motorcycle license.
So, based on my experience on the Zero XU, I started focusing on finding an entry-level motorcycle with an automatic transmission. Honda had several (The NC750X, the Goldwing, and the Africa Twin), but they were all too tall and powerful for me. Zero was no longer making the XU. But, the Zero S was one of their smaller, less-powerful naked street bikes which I thought might be comparable to the XU.
I set up a test ride, but the Zero S was too tall for me. However, they could lower it for me, as well as shave down the seat. So, I went for it. I bought the Zero. I figured it weighed less than 350 lbs., comparable to the Honda Rebel 300, but it had an automatic transmission. I figured I’d had the experience on the Zero XU, so even though the Zero S was more powerful, I’d grow into it.
But, I wasn’t looking in the direction I wanted to go when I was shopping for my first street-bike. I was focusing on what I didn’t want, instead of what I wanted.
Ultimately, what I want, is to learn to ride motorcycles. What I didn’t want, was to make things more difficult for myself than necessary. I wanted to avoid the anxiety and panic I associated with learning to shift gears on a motorcycle. I was focusing on “not wanting to shift gears” instead of “learning to ride a motorcycle”.
What I found with my Zero electric motorcycle, is that I’m spending as much time learning how to manage the 78 lbs. of torque, learning to brake with one foot down, and learning to keep my hand from accidentally hitting the throttle when I’m coming to a stop, as I would be spending time learning to shift gears on a less powerful, less expensive motorcycle.
There are no shortcuts to the process! There are no shortcuts in life, either.
I have a friend who is recently single, who found herself feeling really vulnerable as she re-entered the dating pool. She was wondering how to read into an unanswered text message after a recent date, and I recommended she not read into it at all, because it could be a million things, including, he may not have gotten it. She then asked me, “What am I supposed to do? Just put myself out there and be vulnerable?”
Well, if you are looking for love, the answer is yes. What direction are you looking in? Are you more focused on what you don’t want, which is, “I don’t want to be vulnerable”, or do you say, “I want to find love”. Because, to find love, you need to be vulnerable.
To learn to ride a motorcycle, you will experience fear and anxiety. You will need to learn to do things you’ve never done before. You will need to over-ride some of your instincts and use your skills. You will need to learn to control the motorcycle, and this takes just as long as shifting gears.
So, the direction I should have been looking in when shopping for my first bike should have been, “I want to learn to ride a motorcycle, safely and correctly.” Rather than, “I don’t want to have to learn to shift gears if I don’t have to,” or whatever fear I have about learning to ride a motorcycle is.
What do I want more, to learn to ride? Or to not be scared? There is no way to learn to ride a motorcycle without experiencing some healthy fear at some point. It can’t be avoided. Only overcome.
So, make sure your mind is looking in the direction of your dreams rather than your fears.
And always look in the direction that you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.