If there’s one thing I know about riding a motorcycle, it’s that it demands good judgement.
In any given ride, motorcyclists make hundreds, if not thousands, of judgement calls. Everything from “How fast should I take this corner?” to “Is that car ahead of me about to brake?” to what gear we should wear or whether we should get on the bike at all that day.
Some are more trivial than others, some you don’t even have time to think about, but the upshot is the same. They’re judgement calls. Other riders can offer advice, tell you what they would do in your place, but the final decision is yours.
I run into this all the time with new or potential riders. When someone asks me what kind of motorcycle they should get, I can offer general advice, but I can’t choose the perfect bike for them.
When I encourage new riders to take things slow and find “appropriate challenges,” I can’t tell them exactly what those challenges should be. They have to be able to use their judgement to choose those challenges for themselves.
Good judgement is a slippery skill, though. You might know it when you see it, but it’s hard to talk about and harder to teach. Experience is the only tried-and-true curriculum.
Good judgement isn’t a static skill, either. It changes and evolves as we learn new things about the world and ourselves. And because it’s so dependent on individual circumstances, our needs and desires, skills and limitations, it’s deeply personal.
Which is why, whether you’re a new or experienced rider, it’s critical to cultivate an attitude of deep self-awareness.
“Know Thyself”: Why inner self-awareness is important for motorcyclists
The most common definition of self-awareness is to understand your inner self — your motivations and desires.
This kind of self-awareness is essential for riders, first and foremost because riding is something you do for yourself, and nobody else. Every time you throw a leg over a bike you take a risk. It’s your life on the line, so you have to make your peace with why you’re doing it.
But even smaller decisions can become dangerous when you’re motivated by the wrong reasons.
Back in my scooter days, I was at a massive event in Dallas with hundreds of riders. I got it into my head that I needed to loop back to see the end of the group, so I made an illegal u-turn and lane-split — during a chaotic event on a busy street.
Fortunately, the worst that happened was I got a middle finger from the driver I passed. But it wouldn’t have taken much for that badly-motivated decision to become a disaster, for me or the riders around me.
So, while it’s crucial for each rider to understand why they want to ride in the first place, it’s also important to pay attention to your instincts, and ask yourself what’s motivating those decisions.
I know now that being in large groups can trigger some of my dodgier impulses, so I’m careful to keep those in check. We all have patterns and triggers that bring out the less-than-savory in us, and the more we pay attention to our feelings and motivations, the better we’ll be able to manage them and be better, safer riders.
Getting some perspective: external self-awareness
While inner self-awareness is undoubtedly important for motorcyclists, it doesn’t quite provide us with everything we need for good judgement.
Good judgement requires perspective, an awareness of the broader context. That’s where external self-awareness comes in.
While studying self-awareness in a business context, psychologist Tasha Eurich realized self-awareness had not one, but two sides.
“Self-awareness isn’t one truth,” she noted. “It’s a delicate balance of two distinct, even competing, viewpoints.”
There was the classic internal self-awareness, yes — understanding your inner desires and motivations. But there was also external self-awareness, which means you understand how others see you and how you fit into the broader context.
You can have one without the other, but Tasha and her team found that successful executives had both.
From a motorcycling perspective, external self-awareness is most important when it comes to riding skills. External self-awareness helps you be honest about where need to improve, what skills you’re proficient in and which skills you lack.
If you’re a new rider, no matter how conscientious you are, it’s likely you need to develop your external self-awareness. After all, most people don’t know what “good riding skills” are. It’s a specialized area of knowledge. To learn more, you have to educate yourself.
There are hundreds of ways to improve your external self-awareness as a motorcyclist. I’ve learned so much by just talking to other riders about riding. Often, they have ways of thinking about riding or skill they’ve honed that I’ve never considered. And the best way to put your riding skills in perspective is taking an advanced class or attending track day.
No matter what you do, though, you have to keep an open mind. External self-awareness is about understanding a landscape and being honest about your place in it.
The more you educate yourself about riding skills, the more you practice, and the more types of riding you try, the better equipped you’ll be to gauge your own limits.
Taken together with internal awareness, this kind of honest self-assessment will help you make decisions from a place of self-confidence rather than insecurity, and will push you to become a better, safer rider.
Good judgement takes honesty and courage
Above all, using good judgement requires you to be honest with yourself. Strong internal and external self-awareness can help you build that honesty, but you have to be willing to take the first step — to dig inside yourself and expand your horizons to see what you find.
It’s not easy, to look critically at yourself in this way. It takes courage, but it’s a critical skill for motorcycling, and for life.
This year, I hope you all find the courage to be more honest with yourselves.
I hope you learn to see your limitations more clearly and work to overcome them. I hope you chase risks and challenges for your own reasons, do things you are proud of, and conquer your fears.
For my part, Team Oregon launched a new batch of advanced riding classes to the public this year, and I can’t wait to try them all.
Happy 2019, riders! Keep the shiny side up 🙂