The Journey

Always learning

It’s been relatively quiet on the motorcycle front lately. I’ve been working more and have been really struggling to get things done that are important to me, i.e., write. The knock-on effect is that I don’t find myself too often going anywhere other than work. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, I prefer to commute to work via bicycle.
There have, though, been a handful of short trips through town in the last week or so, which have taught me that all important lesson of getting your head right before getting on the machine. 
We don’t tend to do that with any other vehicle, do we? With a car, you just sort of get in and go; the safe, stable nature of the vehicle means you can get away with not engaging your brain for a while. Hell, some people never engage their brains. They just point the car in whatever direction their SatNav commands and never fully consider their place on the road, the fact that they are a human amongst humans, and that all those humans — even when inside cages — are extremely fragile and subject to actions of others.

I suppose I engage my brain when I’m on my bicycle. On some level. Certainly I am alert enough that I can recall minor details of the journey. For example, the black BMW that was behind me as I crossed Windsor Road this morning, or the waiting bus and three cars that passed before I turned onto Bute Place. Whereas I’ll bet the BMW driver has no memory of me. Being able to remember what you’ve done suggests you were paying attention. But I can’t say I notice myself being alert.

I’m certainly not very alert to the bicycle itself. I don’t really consider its positioning, how well it is going to take a corner or various other things. Because the bicycle is basically just an extension of my physical self. It will do little more than I am capable of.

A motorcycle, however — especially a lovely 600cc one like Aliona — is capable of producing far more power than my little legs. As such, my attention must not only be on that which is around me but also that which is beneath me. Because if I’m being inattentive, a motorcycle can hurtle me into a corner at 100 mph with ease.

Your head needs to be right before you put a helmet on it. That’s a little truth of which I was being reminded on those short trips through town. I was reminded as I came toward a sharp corner and suddenly realised I was doing so way too fast, causing me to instinctively set out my right foot as if flat tracking on city streets. I was reminded of it again when I misjudged the actions of a car, had to brake hard and stalled in the middle of a roundabout. And once more when I was too hesitant whilst filtering and found myself caught between two lines of accelerating traffic.

Thankfully these learning experiences have been relatively painless — just a bit of soreness from all that butt clenching. But I’m keen to do what I can to avoid them in the future. So, I’ve been thinking about and practicing basics.

The other day, for example, I spent about 45 minutes in the Cardiff City Stadium parking lot, practicing U turns. On Sunday, I took part in my very own Go Slow Challenge, to work on manoeuvring. Over and over on rides I think back to Andy Smith (a) yelling in my ear, and I try to think of the things he would be identifying in given situations.

I have no doubt that I must look silly, riding around in circles by myself in parking lots. But experience and skill are a person’s best defense. We’ve had two motorcyclist deaths in Wales this week (one in North Wales and one in West Wales), which is a reminder that luck won’t always be on your side.


(a) Andy was my instructor. He’s a top-quality motorcyclist, and if you screw up he swears like a sailor.