What did you learn?

What did you learn?

By George Tranos


After every lesson or course that we give at Big Apple Motorcycle School, we ask our students to tell us what they learned. This is most illuminating as it provides insight into how the human brain processes information and relates it to motor skills. Learning is not always straightforward. Some students understand and turn thoughts into actions quickly and in a linear fashion. For others, it takes a while to grasp a particular concept and then the proverbial light bulb goes on. Once comprehension is achieved, it is interesting to hear the thoughts from the students.


People say the darnedest things! One of the most common things we hear is, “I didn’t realize I had to look that far ahead.” Others state it much more simply by saying, “When I turn my head, it’s much easier to see where I’m going.” While some of these statements could come directly from Yogi Berra, they all contain truths that the student experiences and now owns.


Many are surprised that they have learned anything at all. Comments like this typically come from experienced riders who have never had any formal training. For these riders, miles and years of doing things the same way have made them complacent and unaware that their riding could improve. “I’ve always done things that way,” “I didn’t know that I could (insert statement here regarding a change in their riding habits – for example, slow down without squeezing in the clutch).” These are typical statements from longtime motorcyclists who take courses or lessons. At the end, most of them leave as better riders and admit that if they started out the right way they wouldn’t have had to compensate for their poor habits acquired over the years.


Some skills that many newcomers have trouble with are starting and stopping using the throttle and clutch; and shifting up to higher gears. For many drivers today, a manual transmission and a clutch are unknown concepts. They are used to automatic transmissions in their automobiles as very few cars today are sold with standard gearboxes. The concept of partial engagement of the clutch to regulate power going from the engine to the rear wheel is something that must be felt to be learned. The same holds true with shifting from first to second (and higher) gear. The student must absorb the fact that it becomes easier to shift if the drivetrain is first slackened (by rolling off the throttle and squeezing in the clutch) before shifting.


When asked what they learned about the shifting process, some respond that it is hard to shift. When asked why, they state that they feel that it takes a lot of force while others say it takes little or no effort. How can two people shifting the exact same motorcycle feel two completely different things? The answer is that the one having trouble still hasn’t completely grasped the concept.


Knowing what to do and translating that knowledge into action is another dichotomy that frequently occurs. Many times, the rider will state that they know what to do but they still have trouble doing it! Some of this happens because the person is not prepared or doesn’t have their hands or feet in position prior to beginning an action. Then because they are not ready, they try to rush the subsequent movement. This typically causes abrupt or panicked response which can cause roughness at best and a crash at worst. “How can you smooth that out?” is something that we ask our students to ponder after such an action.


Of course this whole concept of self-assessment can be applied to any rider regardless of experience level or proficiency. For long time motorcyclists, a close call or a crash can damage the self-confidence needed to ride smoothly. It is important to be able to look back at a situation that occurred and determine what could have been done differently – what did you learn? Someone once said that a smart person learns from their own mistakes and that a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Self-assessment will help you get smarter as a rider. Observing and helping others learn from their mistakes can make you wiser.


Every time you ride you should think about what you can do to improve. Complacency and over-confidence can be deadly. This is especially true as we get older and our vision and reflexes slowly deteriorate. We can use wisdom and judgment to compensate to a degree but we should constantly be aware of the unforgiving nature of the environment that motorcyclists are subjected to. Simple questions like, “what did you learn?” can help you survive and prosper.

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