Look both ways before crossing the street, use sunscreen, don’t run with scissors, and wear long trousers when riding your bike—all things we heard as kids, regardless of generation or geographic location. It isn’t until later in life that you realize that nuance permeates our daily lives in the most profound and mundane ways imaginable.
A friend who grew up in Montana had firearm discipline baked into his pre-K education, so he was stunned by my complete lack of it when taken to a shooting range. Meanwhile, this born-and-bred Southern Californian deeply distrusts anyone who mentions astrology, thanks to hippie-adjacent parents. I’d consider both life teachings valuable, on par with avoiding exercise while holding sharp objects.
Yet, within that sphere, it is keen to observe that words do tend to lose their zest. After we’ve read the “Danger: High-Voltage” sign enough times and never achieved a crispy metamorphosis, all that well-meaning advice takes a comfortable seat in the nose-bleed section of our minds. That conveniently ignores the reality that warning signs exist for a reason, and more than one person found things out the hard way.
These are known to be true in our lives, and my conscience doesn’t allow me to suggest throwing caution to the wind with a mighty heave-hoe. Though, sometimes, a light toss in the airstream is necessary and done in the name of progress.
Thinking back to when we all started this motorcycling thing, I’d wager that our comfort zones were drawn closer than they are now. Our skills and experiences were limited, leaving plenty to the imagination of those that tend to overthink outcomes. Call it skill, call it complacency, call it what you will. Our comfort zones are constantly in flux.
Growing as a rider, professional, or, well, a person does require a leap of faith and rolling back the self-preservation dial momentarily. My personality isn’t equipped to jump from a perfectly comfortable plateau without knowing where landing is, but yours might. In the spirit of that, an alternative exists—the scooch of faith, a gentle but persuasive nudge in the direction of personal progress.
Timing sheets can throw a wrench in the works of even the most cautious track rider. Being beaten out by a fellow rider, or even when comparing to yourself, can transform the demurest into a wild-eyed maniac. That is an exaggeration, sure, but it is certainly a familiar feeling that one bathes in during those moments. With a few track days and club racing events under my belt this summer, it’s a timely reminder, we’ll say.
Now, there are no trophies for winning the track day. While club racing does have the opportunity for mantle memorabilia, we’d all do well to remind ourselves that jobs are waiting for us when we leave the paddock. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve and add to a list of accomplishments.
That’s where the Venn diagram between fear and cautiousness starts to overlap. As someone with quite a bit of room for improvement, I can certainly appreciate how those things can work against picking up the pace.
Minimizing variables on hand is a strategy with cascading positive impacts mentally and physically. Take your average lap at the track or Sunday ride, then segment it into sections. Where are you most confident? Where do you see room for improvement? If we’re satisfied in certain areas, we can bank those sections and rest easy. Those particular sections won’t get balled up.
For everywhere else with a question mark hovering above it, select two or three that you deem the most crucial and begin chipping away at them. Over time, they’ll move from the “improvement” list to the “confident” section. Even when it seems downright daunting, this compartmentalizing strategy works impressively well, and more so when you’re simply trying to figure your way around a new circuit or road. In those situations, it’s all fresh, it’s all new, and it all needs some work.
As confidence builds, the throttle is held open longer, brakes are applied a little later, lean angles increase, and the lap times begin moseying downward.
Risk is built into this sport of ours, though we should always recognize how and when to move those boundaries we’ve created. For some of us, and after years in the saddle, those comfort zones are set in stone. That’s perfectly okay. Everyone needs to focus on themselves, even if it’s hard to not get caught up in the moment. For others, adjusting those demarcation lines is done without a second thought. I think the majority tends to fall somewhere in the middle. To quote the wise words of John the Baptist, wear your long trousers.