Motorcycle Riding - Off Idle

Touch wood, it's been a while since I've come off a streetbike. I've come off dirtbikes, horses and the occasional ladder, but the last 12 years have provided a nice, long stint of tumble-free street riding. Might have something to do with my last scene being such a doozy. That farm truck wasn't kidding when it ripped off my bike's front end midcorner. For whatever reason, fate has been throwing me some bones.

I have, however, been living vicariously through those of you who haven't been so lucky, and I wince at every shiny-side-down description. Lately, it seems, I've received more of these narratives than usual, and many of them describe one particular circumstance of a crash aftermath, the now-that-I'm-healed-how-do-I-get-back-on-the-horse conundrum.

It's harder than it sounds, and if you haven't been off the bike, you won't even know what I mean. Funny things happen after such trauma, and those of us who have been through one know exactly what I'm talking about. It's that first night of startling dreams, and the way the moment keeps happening in your head day after day. It's as much mental anguish as physical pain. Even if the damage was slight, it's the mental process of trying to change reality that keeps us going back over it. And each time you relive that distress, it makes it harder to get back on the bike and ride away with any semblance of self-assurance.

Of course, we do get back on our ponies because it's even more of a grim reality to walk away from the rewards of riding. And we climb ever so slowly back into the zone of comfort and confidence that makes it fun. But that can take a while, can't it? One of my first accidents was a highside caused by overusing the rear brake in a right-hand corner. It was months before I didn't wobble in right-handers and years before I didn't tense up. Truthfully, though it was almost two decades ago, I still charge through left-handers with more potency than rights.

I think there are a couple of key things that speed up mental recovery following a motorcycle misadventure, lessons that can also be used to profit from a near miss or minor incident (like dropping your bike at walking speeds). The first thing to do is embrace the lesson you've learned. Don't prolong your agony by constantly mulling over impossible do-overs, just grab that bit of reality, file it in the proper drawer and move on. The proper drawer, by the way, isn't the one marked "forget." It's the drawer of tools you use to prevent certain types of realities from ever happening again. The positive you earn from any misfortune is the likelihood that it will never happen again. People who go down overbraking the front wheel don't often do it twice. Rear-ended by a car at an intersection? Run off the road exiting a corner? Forget the kickstand at the gas stop? Unless you are seriously thickheaded, or wickedly cursed, lightning will not strike twice. So your gift, then, is the lesson-it's your shield of immunity against that particular fate reoccurring.

But what about the other 7569 ways to get hurt on a motorcycle? One of the very best ways to up your skills and your confidence-post get-off or any time you're up for enlightenment-is by signing up for one of the advanced rider courses available around the country today. The most popular is the Experienced RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org). Harley-Davidson has recently added a "Skilled" class to its dealer-based, though not brand-specific, course list (www.ridersedge.com). In this type of situation you get to ride your own mount as you learn accident avoidance and advanced riding techniques. Another smart move is to sign up for a track school. You can take some courses on your cruiser or any streetbike, which allows you to experiment with traction, clearance and overall chassis and rider capacity in a controlled environment with professionals who can answer questions and offer advice and support. Our favorite school that allows you to ride your own bike is Reg Pridmore's CLASS 805/933-9936.

The most important thing is not so much how you get yourself back on the road, only that you do. Undoubtedly, your mishap has made you a better rider. The saying goes, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." So painfully true. But every brush with chaos also makes us wiser, don't you think? And, ultimately, more grateful for every day we get to ride through life right side up. -Jamie Elvidge