Riding with Fear – How Do You Deal With It?
January 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm #2457
I took my MSF course and bought a bike back in November. It was against my mother’s wishes, but hey, I’m 30 years old now and I’ve been on my own doing what I want with my life for a while now. But still, whenever the topic of motorcycles comes up during family holidays and such, she insists on regaling me with her fears that one day I’ll be side-swiped off the road or T-bone some distracted or ignorant driver and end up dead.
I hadn’t ever used a clutch before I took the MSF course, but I’ve got good reflexes (all those years of video games are paying off ), I bought a decent bike (a blue ’09 Ninja 250R), and I bought good gear. In the beginning, I would ride only with my friend on weekends, and all in all, my skills were improving and I was getting more comfortable.
And then, one day in December, I had a little spill. I hadn’t even shifted out of first gear yet, thankfully, so it wasn’t really serious. But it was definitely jarring. The clutch lever was twisted (but still usable), at least 3 of the plastic fairings on the left side were cracked, and the rear-left cowl fairing had a chunk of plastic missing from it. When I picked myself up off my butt, my first thought was, “OMG! My bike! What have I done to my bike?!”
Then I remembered reading MegaSpaz’s crash analysis a little while ago, and I tried to think about why the heck I had just allowed that to happen. The honest conclusion? I wasn’t looking for the exit-point, which is one of the first things they try to drill into our heads at the MSF course when learning cornering. I was pulling out of a gas station into a very large intersection, and I made a big noob mistake: I looked over to my right at traffic while I was trying to turn left, and I became fixated. So my bike didn’t turn left. It just kept going straight toward the ditch on the other side of the road, with an “OH $*#@!!!” moment right before I was flung off the bike and onto my back.
I was very lucky that I’d been riding with my friend and not by myself, that I hadn’t been going fast enough to seriously hurt myself, and that all I suffered was a couple of slightly bruised ribs, a slightly sprained ankle, and a hit to my wallet which will come when I get around to replacing the cracked fairings. It wasn’t even so bad that I couldn’t ride it right back to my friend’s house.
At the risk of making myself sound like a bit of a wuss, any time I go near my bike now, I instantly have a flash-back to that moment, and I am terrified that some day my mom might turn out to be right. It’s ten times worse every time I start putting on my gear and get ready to go out for a ride. My heart jumps up into my throat whenever I see a patch of gravel on the side of the road or when I know I’m going to have to move carefully to make a turn or merge into heavier traffic.
It hasn’t stopped me from going out on rides on the weekends when I can, though. And after a while, when the initial wave of fear passes, it gets better, and I start enjoying it a little more. They say that a little bit of fear and paranoia is healthy, but is there a point at which it can become unhealthy? If I didn’t think riding was fun enough to be worth experiencing a little bit of fear and trepidation, I wouldn’t do it any more. But is there more I should be doing or thinking about when I ride? I honestly don’t know.
How much fear (or over-confidence, even) does it take to push yourself too far? Do most people experience this in some way? And I have to wonder how many others have had minor “incidents” to learn a lesson from fairly early on in the learning process, too.January 13, 2009 at 8:10 pm #15653
Fear is good but dont let it control you.
Everyone takes a spill at least once in their riding career. The fear you feel is actually better than overconfidence at this point. I had a spill early in my riding experience. I guess I was more “mad” than “fearful”.
I took it as a learning tool. It is like everything else – mistakes are part of learning. This same fear will keep you at check with your limitation.
In time it will subside, the more ride. I suggest go out on the parking lot and keep practicing the MSF manuevers. This will give you more comfort on the actual road.
Everyone is different and have different learning curves. Soon you will be riding in less fear and more confidence. In my opinion it is more dangerous to ride with no fear than some.January 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm #15654
Low speed is the easiest way to screw up, because it’s a lot harder there. So keep doing the parking lot practice. That will help build confidence. I had a church parking lot down the street from my house where I practiced a lot when I first got the bike, and every other long-term rider I’ve talked to has done the same. The practice is also fun, and a good excuse to fool around on your bike.
As for worrying about getting hit, there’s nothing special about a bike that makes that more likely. I was hit four times in one year in my Honda Accord. I was never at fault. Twice by deer who decided that jumping from cover into the path of a vehicle was a good survival move (once in town), and twice by drivers who were not looking where their cars were going. In the case of the two hits by cars, I had no viable escape route that would have avoided the situation, and it wouldn’t have mattered how big my vehicle was, because they weren’t paying attention to what they were doing.January 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm #15655
…many years ago (bicycle), I had a REALLY bad crash in a pack that broke my collar bone and bruised a rib, along with a lot of road rash. Happened in May and took me out for that entire season. The next year when I came back, I had a hard time engaging in the pack. After several weeks I was able to be active, but I still would start to lock up any time I had riders on both sides of me. It took me three years to get over it.
Fear riding? I think if you don’t have SOME fear, you’re either ignorant or stupid. But I’m not talking about the kind of fear that petrifies you into inaction. I’m talking about that little bit of fear that makes you hyper-aware.
You know what you did wrong, so just don’t do that again. Take it as a lesson. It’s good that you’re getting back out on the road, and the fear you’re feeling is a bot normal. Like Sangria said, don’t let it control you.January 13, 2009 at 8:44 pm #15657
Not sure I can help you much as I have not had to go through this myself, but I think you have taken the first important step in analyzing why you crashed. Once you understand that you can take steps to make sure you don’t do it again. Also, I would think going back to the basics such as parking lot practice might help. Regain your confidence in your ability to control the bike etc.
I would only go on solo rides. That way you can ride within your comfort level and even call it a day if it is just not happening for you (I’ve done that myself). Maybe even take the BRC again, or sign up for extra riding instruction. The way I look at it is this is a skill that is going to take years to master, so I am in no hurry to force it along. I ride within my comfort zone but that zone gets bigger as the months go by.
As to your question as to how many other have incidents to learn from, I think we all do, all the time. You don’t have to fall off to learn valuable lessons. Early on I was nearly hit by a car and it shook my confidence. By posting about it on another forum it forced me to think about ALL the reasons it happened and I realized it was a chain of events (just like they teach in MSF) that started long before the near miss. By understanding this I was able to change my riding habits and regain my confidence.
If the fear does not go away then it might be that bikes are not for you, and there is no shame in that.January 13, 2009 at 10:19 pm #15659
Fear is personal, but I can tell you how I have reacted to similar situations:
I dropped my bike once during my first month or so of riding. My reaction was to be totally pissed, followed by days of practice riding over the same wheel trap where I fell. Eventually, handling that specific trap became second nature. Did my heart skip a beat everytime I later rode it? Probably, but I no longer felt afraid.
Lastly, I don’t ignore the fear. Several years into riding, I found myself living in Guam where rainstorms are frequent, the wet roads blossom algae that turns them unbelievably slick and the skills of drivers is uncommonly low. At the time, my wife was pregnant with our first son and I began to feel real fear around riding. Part of it was fear of crashing and getting hurt, but it was also fear of getting killed and not being around to see my son born and to support my family. My wife never said a word against my riding, but I sold my bike and temporarily gave up riding.
I don’t look at it as being too afraid to ride. It was that I was too smart to ignore rational fear. Everyone needs to decide what’s right for themself and their given situation.January 14, 2009 at 12:14 am #15663
OK ok…. I gotta say it…. just cowboy up and hammer at it. If there is any time you don’t feel a tinge of caution, which is likely what your feeling seeing that your getting on still, your becoming dangerous to you and some around you. Just my personal opinion. Confidence is great in riding …. but conceit that you know what you are doing turns quickly into disaster.January 14, 2009 at 1:21 am #15667
And dont get too down on yourself…obviously you got your Class M license and passed the MSF, so all you have to do now is practice!January 14, 2009 at 3:06 am #15669
A question for those with more experience than I. I rode a dirt as a kid,I rode a Honda 650 Nighthawk for about 20 hours in 2001, I took the Motorcycle safety course in 2008 (Honda 250). I am 54 years old, 5’10 and 168 lbs. I am looking at a Kawasaki Vulcan 900. If I go slow and practice in the parking lots and local streets for a while is this a good choice for a bike?January 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm #15673
A 900 is OK to start on… me personally I have about the stats as you except the age. Personally I started on the Vulcan 500 and it is quite more forgiving then 900 will be for you. I would personally suggest getting a 500 first. She is as quick as a bigger bike but the pwer band and torque is more beginner friendly. Not to mention she about 200 lbs lighter which will help getting you used to parking lot maneuvers and U-turns. I rode my 500 for about 6 months before I jumped up to the 900 and quickly realized that I had made the right decision with the 500 first. At highway speeds the 500 will keep up and pass the bigger bikes if needed.
Start with a 500 there should be some used ones around that won’t hurt your wallet but will gain you much needed experience to handle the heavier 900. I am running late for work but somewhere on here is a post where I got my 900. You can also read that to get my first impressions. Good Luck and stay safe!January 14, 2009 at 3:51 pm #15675
Thanks for all the encouragement, guys. It’s much appreciated. I guess I’ve got a lot to think about, but I’m pretty determined to keep at it.January 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm #15676
I was putting my bike into the back of my truck after getting my endorsement, so I was still a little nervous after taking my tests. I hit the ramp at a little bit of an angle and when I gave it too much gas the ass end swipped to the side and my bike skid into my bed, which threw me over the side of the bed and skid along the ground a bit. It damaged my plastic sidings but other than that the bike is ok. I hurt my elbow a little, and really shook my confidence, it also really hurt my pride as I was in public heh.
To overcome my fear and to ensure I don’t doubt myself next time I put my bike in the bed, when I got home I put it in and out of the bed three or so times to show myself I could do it, and the slip up was a fluke of nerves and not hitting the ramp perfectly straight. I put it in perfectly all three times.
So as many before me said, practice makes perfect and builds confidence.January 14, 2009 at 5:12 pm #15679
I sort of know what you are going through, I was in a motorcycle accident a little over a month ago that ended up fracturing my right shoulder blade in multiple places and giving me a small bit of road rash even though I was wearing full gear (leather jacket, leather gloves, textile overpants, jeans underneath, moto boots, full face helmet).
I always wondered how I would react if I was ever in a ‘serious’ accident, and if I would stop riding motorcycles. I liked to think that I was very aware of the consequences of what could happen and didn’t have any false illusions of safety or invincibility. I’m happy to say that the accident has enlightened me quite a bit.
1. Gear is more priceless than gold. Had I not been wearing gear there is a chance I might not even be able to use my right arm right now. Luckily I had leather AND armor to protect me as much as possible, but even that wasn’t enough to stop all the damage.
2. Dying isn’t so bad, its the recovery that is the worst. Where I am spiritually is a really great place but I won’t get into that. I always thought death is the worst thing that could happen on a motorcycle, but now I think that living with a lifelong injury is. What if I had hit a guardrail and it had severed both my legs? Or if my helmet hadn’t protected me and I dropped my IQ by 50 points? That is just my opinion and thoughts.
I find that when I ride now (and I just started riding again last week) I am a little nervous, and I put my gear on with even more thoughtfulness. I am more cautious when it comes to riding, but when you ride a motorcycle you still have to be more aggressive than cars. You can’t just sit around in the slow lane, but I am of the mindset that you should ALWAYS be going 50-10mph faster than the flow of traffic so most danger is behind you.
The fear hasn’t stopped me from riding, and it doesn’t look like its stopping you. It might eventually if the benefits of riding outweigh the risks (like if I had kids and a family to support) then I might cut back, but even then i’m not sure if I would.
I think if you stack all the odds up you can in your favor (gear, proper motorcycle, proper training etc…) then riding can be a relatively safe activity. It won’t ever be as safe as a car, but it might be safer than walking in central park at night.
Well this has been a very long and rambling post, I hope it helped!
-BBM adminJanuary 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm #15693
I started on a 750 (and still ride it). You can do it. The little bikes are way more forgiving though, and you will have mistakes. The smaller bikes are easier to maneuver a slow speed.
Also, you can buy a used 250 or 500, ride it for a season, and sell it with no significant loss at the start of the next season. Little bikes hold their market value really well. At your size, a small bike like the Ninja or a Rebel will have enough power to move you quickly. A friend of mine who is a lot bigger than you takes his v-star 250 on the highway without any trouble, and absolutely loves it when he’s driving downtown. Also, you’ll love the ability to park pretty much anywhere. If it can park a bicycle, you can probably put a 250 in it.January 16, 2009 at 4:33 am #15720
I passed my MSF course and got my M1 back in June. I didn’t get my bike a 2006 Ninja 250R until mid October. I took it out to a parking lot to do some practice on my turns when I went down.
After I picked myself up and my bike which only had damage to the front fender and side fairing, I evaualted what went wrong. When I was making my turn I was coming in too fast so I over braked, I was mainly wanting to avoid the grass so I was fixated at the grass and not looking at where I wanted to go and I had a low side fall.
I was fine only thing was I was wearing my jeans and just at like 30mph they had a hole at my knee where I hit the ground. So I’m really looking into getting some good over pants now. From now on when ever I make turns I be sure to look exactly where I wanna go.
I did notice after my fall I was worried the first few times I was riding but after that I just was able to overcome my fears
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