Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Lesson Pilots Can Teach Us About Riding

I've been reading a lot about general aviation lately, and it is striking how many similarities there are between flying and riding. That's probably why there are so many pilots who ride motorcycles, and vice versa.

There is one rule for pilots that I think transfers extremely well to motorcyclists: Fly the Airplane. In other words, as a pilot, your primary focus is always controlling the airplane, no matter what's going on around you. Door blew open? Fly the airplane. Your passenger is extremely sick? Fly the airplane. Airborne Zombies? Fly the airplane. Do not panic, do not get distracted, just fly the airplane until it's back on the ground and stopped.

In our case, the rule would be "Ride the Motorcycle." Ride it until it's stopped.

Without a doubt, you've heard some idiot explain a crash by saying, "I had to lay it down." It's possible at some point in your riding career, you've uttered those words. I have, when I was younger and dumber. Luckily, I'm now older and better trained, if not any smarter.

Here's the thing: There is no situation I can think of where "lay it down" is the right decision. Bailing is the wrong choice, as is freezing up and just passively sitting on the bike as it rolls toward a tree. Ride the motorcycle! You can stop in far less distance by judicious application of the brakes than by sliding across the pavement. You can swerve. You can think ahead and figure out an escape plan, though we all know some things are tough to predict, and some situations you just can't escape.

Apart from those situations, there are plenty of things that happen while riding that can be pretty distracting. Catching a big rock in the shin, for example. Discovering a bee has made it's way into your goggles. A vengeful lunch. An attractive person you'd like to impress. Distraction in any vehicle is a bad thing, but as motorcyclists we just can't afford to be distracted while rolling.

Or you could go into a turn too fast and panic. Do you give up control and go careening across all the lanes, or grit your teeth and ride the motorcycle through the turn? Maybe you lost your grip on the clutch and popped an epic, unintended, wheelie. Do you hope for the best, or control the bike?

So whatever happens on the road, remember, your job is to ride the motorcycle. Ten car pile-up right ahead of you? Ride the motorcycle. Bee sting on the forehead? Ride the motorcycle. Ride it until it's stopped, whether that's upright or on it's side.