Top five things you can do to instantly ride better in 2014
My new year resolution is to ride better. Riding better means making better decisions, riding quicker without altering my safety envelope and riding better means having an even better time than I already have everytime I ride a motorcycle. If you'd like to ride better, there's lots of things you can do, not just all the ground we have covered in Better Riding in OVERDRIVE. Here are the five things you can work on which will instantly improve your ride. Happy new year!
1. Wear ear plugs
I tell everyone I meet to wear earplugs on the bike. The usual reaction is pretty much disbelief. But it is the single most lifechanging thing you can do physically to your riding experience.
Contrary to your expectation, ear plugs don't block sound. They reduce its volume. If you look at the packaging you'll see a dBA rating for each kind of plug. The bigger the number the more sound the plugs will block. And they tend to be more effective on bassy sounds than treble-y. I tend to use no higher than 29 dBA plugs though as much as 33 are usually available easily. Higher ratings than that are usually the preserve of industrial safety.
What the earplugs do when you wear them on the bike is turn down the volume on the world around. Initially you do feel like you can't hear at all but give it 10-15 minutes and you'll notice that the ambient world comes back to you but quieter.
On the highway the plugs cut out almost all the wind noise making hours of high speed riding as quiet and serene as it should be. On the commute, it reduces the volume of all the honking around you and calms you. Believe it or not, the calm actually makes you a better rider and allows you to ride quicker and just as safely.
You should be able to find them at big chemists and industrial safety shops. Personally, I like 3M's E-A-R Soft brand which I get in packs of 200 at a time off amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/3M-E-A-R-Earplugs-Yellow-Neon-200-Pack/dp/B000J05EYI)whenever I'm abroad and running out.
I use them all the time now and I've got fresh plugs in all my motorcycle bags, all my jacket pockets, all the time.
Finally, there's a trick to wearing them. The foam needs to be shaped before you insert them. Use your fingers to roll half the length of the plug into a thin cylinder so that it enters the ear canal easily. Then hold the end sticking out while the end inside the ear canal expands and fills the canal - you'll feel and hear the sound fading out. If you look carefully, you'll notice that Valentino Rossi wets his ears with spit before he puts his ear plugs in before a race. What this does is simple. If you wet the plug after you roll it, you will notice that it quickly expands back to its original shape. Wetting the ear canal creates a tighter seal and it happens quicker than if the plug is dry.
If you're wearing plugs for the first time, it is a good idea to put them in as much as half an hour before you actually start riding to give your brain time to recalibrate to the lower volume levels. You can usually use a pair for a week before throwing them away. I store mine between the shell and cheek pads of my helmet when in use.
2. Get your head up
Getting your head up is a neat little trick. What it does is raise your eyes and forces you to look further away. And while this seems ridiculously easy to do, you'll find yourself slowly reverting to a lower head position until you get used to it. When you look up like this and start looking further away, what happens is that you reduce the sense of speed your brain perceives. Which has the effect of giving your brain more time and space to react to stuff and to make decisions. When your brain gets more time, it tends to make better decisions and your riding gets safer and usually quicker without changing any other thing. It's magic.
3. Create space
Most motorcyclists tend to ride too close to vehicles around them because they trust in the agility, manouverability and acceleration of their machines. The truth of it is that you cannot use any of those three attributes safely unless you can see where you're going. Creating space means hanging back and away from stuff around you so that you can see more. If you're following a truck, for instance, if you stay three or four bike lengths behind the truck, you'll see more of the road ahead than if you're two inches from its tail lamps. Good riders also become good at making and maintaining space behind them as well. Just like with the previous tip, the more you see, the slower your brain will think you're going and this give you more information and time to make better riding decisions with.
4. Pay attention
I believe motorcycles are the most amazing things on Earth because they require your full attention. And they require this all of the time. I think it is the only way to ride a motorcycle. Next time you are on the motorcycle, forget family, forget what you need to get done when you get there. Focus on riding. Focus on the sensations your bike is sending you, focus on the road and traffic ahead of you. Focus hard. This is exhausting initially and you'll find your brain wanting to wander. I know this sounds familiar. As strange as it sounds, motorcycles bring together kevlar, armour, titanium and meditation. That's why they are the most amazing things on Earth.
5. Ride more
Riding well needs practice. Only geniuses and aliens can ride a motorcycle two times a year and be really good at it. All of the rest, including us, have to practice. And unfortunately, there are no sims that can replace being out there on two wheels. Thank the lord. So if you want to ride better, get out and ride. The more you ride, the better you'll ride.
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