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Four life lessons from motorcycle riding

Some riding tidbits that just make sense

You might be surprised at how true this statement is. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

“Make life a ride,” so BMW says. Well, as it turns out, this mere marketing slogan is correct. Whether or not you try to make it so, life is innately akin to riding a motorcycle. We all know we start at point A, and the journey will inevitably end at point B. But what really matters is how we navigate situations in between.

There can be some curveballs along the way. Maybe some gravel, a wet patch, or an unexpected breakdown. But as we go along, we learn and adapt. Every kilometer you ride is a kilometer added to your experience.

Motorcyclists come up with all sorts of catchy phrases to encapsulate specific concepts that pertain to riding skillfully and safely. Here are four lessons that I have found to be useful not only to riding but also to life in general.

Waiting at a gas station before dawn is a very common thing for riders. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

Where am I? What am I doing?” The very first thing they teach you at Yamaha’s online riding course “Champ U” is the mindset with which you should approach riding. Right after you lock the double-D rings on your helmet, ask yourself the aforementioned questions. At 5am on a dry summer morning, the answer to those questions is probably: “In a gas station, about to take off for a ride.”

The purpose of this exercise is to help you focus and ground yourself in the present moment. What do I need to do to succeed in what I am doing right here and now? How do I need to think to minimize mistakes? Use these questions as a trigger, as a call sign to shift you into the exact state of mind you need to be in for any given task.

Motorcycles require your full and undivided attention. There just isn’t any room for anything else, which is why intentionally placing oneself in the present is so important. Whether it’s as simple as typing in a password or as daunting as pitching to the biggest client of your life, snapping into the moment and being fully present mentally is always going to bring better results.

It’s also a useful tool in case you need to refocus. Maybe you lose the rear riding through a wet strip of pavement, or stutter during a big presentation and the nerves just start to take over. Bring yourself back into the present by asking yourself once again: “Where am I? What am I doing?” Click back into focus and move forward.

ATGATT, folks. Don't forget it. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

All The Gear, All The Time. Or ATGATT for short. Thankfully, my safety gear hasn’t yet needed to serve as anything other than apparel. But even then, I try—to the best of my abilities—to wear all my gear all the time. Just like an insurance policy, safety gear is something we put on but hope never comes in handy.

They say change is the only constant in this life. My track record could be that I have never endangered myself on a motorcycle before, but my safety is not a guaranteed constant. Things come and go; good times turn into bad. We don’t know when, and sometimes we don’t even know why.

Be it in motorcycling or in life, preparing for a rainy day is always a good idea.

Even with an instructor, it's a very difficult habit to learn. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

Look where you want to go. Target fixation is a tricky thing to master, but a vital habit to nurture. It sounds silly, but locking onto a certain object on a road will steer you toward it.

When cornering, we are taught to point our heads to the exit and look through the corner because that is where we want to end up. As we brake to a halt, we look ahead so we can stop with the bike pointed straight and standing perfectly upright.

On the flip side, it works to steer us into the wrong things, too. Fixating on a patch of gravel will inevitably drive us toward the gravel. The correct thing to do is focus on a point beyond the obstacle that can provide a safe path for you to traverse.

Problems and obstacles can sometimes overwhelm us. Fear and anxiety can set in, and can give us tunnel vision—making it seem impossible to look forward. It can feel like the problems are so big that there’s literally no seeing past them. But we must look to the other side, at the exit where a solution lies. Or maybe look up sometimes. I’m sure the Maker is interested in helping you out.

Peer pressure can be hard to resist sometimes. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

Ride your ride. Solo rides are fun, no doubt. But group rides are even better. The combination of camaraderie, some good-natured ribbing over the helmet comms, and just the feeling of belonging to a pack make the experience just a little more special. However, not everybody is going to come in with the same level of skill, speed, and experience.

There are definitely going to be a few fast riders in the bunch, some that will lag far behind, and others who can just about keep pace and stay somewhere in between. And then there’s the matter of what bike you ride. Some bikes are naturally much faster and more capable than others.

But regardless of all that, ride your own ride. It doesn’t matter if you belong to the slow bunch. It doesn’t matter if you have chicken strips and they don’t. Sure, they made fun of you after they had waited 15 minutes at the tolls for you. It does not matter. Never ride outside your skill level; go at the pace you are comfortable with.

The important thing is we all get to where we’re going safely and in one piece. Maybe it hurts your pride to be last or to look like a total noob, but pride isn’t worth gambling your life for. Hubris kills. Quite literally, in fact.

Comparing yourself to others who have maybe gotten a little further ahead in life is useless in the same way. We all have our own journeys and our own struggles. There are unique circumstances that surround each and every one of us.

Others may have a bigger house, a faster bike, or a better job. But the fact of the matter is we are all following our own path just trying to make sense of the world. Peace and happiness in this life are far better measures of a meaningful existence.

Life has been likened to many things. According to Rascal Flatts, it’s a highway. Some say it’s a journey. Others still draw parallels to a game, a maze, or a struggle. Well, for motorcyclists like you and me, life is a ride. A zigzagging, up-and-down trip we try to have fun with.

If we’re being honest, riders love the danger. We love the challenge. We love the uncertainty. Because making it home to ride another day only proves we had the guts, the skill, and the stamina to overcome it all. Life is so much like that. So gear up and make life a ride.

Simonn Ang

Simonn is just a regular guy who happens to love cars and motorcycles. He also loves writing about them, too.