TOTW: Practise your mental technique when not riding

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

In our climate, we must spend a lot of time not riding. Aside from missing an activity we love, there is a more serious problem: riding requires a great deal of mental and physical skill, and these skills will fade through lack of use. When you do get a chance to resume riding again in the spring, critical skills such as identifying hazards, picking the right path, and controlling your bike, will be weak. This increases your risk, especially considering that other drivers will also be out of practice in noticing and avoiding motorcycles.


There is not much you can do to keep your physical skills honed during the winter months, other than staying generally healthy, and deliberately practising your skills in a controlled environment when you are ready to begin riding again in the spring.

However, riding well also involves mental skills such as choosing an the best lane position, picking the best path through curves, identifying potential threats, and planning emergency responses. It is quite possible to practice these skills even when you are not on your bike. When you are travelling by car, or even walking, deliberately practice the same mental skills such you would use on your bike. Not only will this help keep these skills fresh for spring, it will make you a better and safer driver or pedestrian.

For example, threat identification and response planning are important skills for any mode of transportation, but we sometimes rely on them less inside the safer confines of a car. Driving your car around town, remember your scanning technique and force yourself to do the same scanning for potential hazards that you would do on your bike. Watch for hazardous situations, dangerous intersections, uncertain road conditions, and erratic drivers, and ask yourself “How would I react to this situation on my bike?”

When driving a car, you can also visualize the path you would take a through a curve on your bike. (Don’t try to follow this same path in your car! It won’t fit. ) You can also use the same strategy for selecting the best lane that you would use on your bike, and think about the position in your lane you would choose for any given situation. (Again, don’t try to vary your in-lane position in a car the same way you would do on your bike, just imagine it. )

Finally, driving a car is a good place to practice another critical riding technique: shoulder-checking. On your bike, there is no such thing as “too much shoulder-checking”. You should do it not only before changing lanes, but before any turning manoeuvre, before moving off from a stop, and, most important, immediately after stopping. There is no reason you cannot shoulder-check at all these times when driving your car, and it is an excellent reinforcement of an important habit.

Practice your bike-riding mental technique while driving your car all winter. It will help you pass the time away from your bike, it will help you be more alert when you resume riding in the spring, and it will make you a better car driver too.

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