Street Strategies: Improving your riding

The next time you’re out on that perfect Sunday, Monday or any-day ride, take a minute and contemplate the following: How did my (insert here: hand, foot, knee, leg) know to apply that much force to the (insert here: clutch, handlebar, brake, lever, etc.) at this time? If this gets a little too in-depth, feel free to step away from the computer, get dressed in your finest riding gear, grab your laptop or mobile device and ride on down to the nearest coffee shop to read this Motosafe article over a delicious cup of java. Oh, and try and sit in a place to admire that beauty which is your two-wheeled transportation.

Now, get comfortable, lean back into the nice comfy chair at (insert here: name of coffee shop) and look at your hand holding the coffee cup. Imagine a bevy of little electrical sensors inside the hand at every knuckle, joint, bone and fingertip. Each one of these sensors, called proprioceptors, are able to “talk” to the most important component, your brain. These nerves let your brain know where they are in space and in relation to other parts of the body.

That way, while you are reading this article and holding it on your left hand, your right hand can reach out and grasp the handle of the coffee cup and bring it to your lips without spilling or hitting the top right corner of the BMW Owners News. But what told your hand it was holding the cup with enough strength?

Again, another set of little electrical sensors (golgi tendon nerve) gives feedback to the brain, saying the proper amount of strength has been applied and it is okay to lift the cup. Much like a closed-loop fuel injection system, these nerves give feedback and position to the brain (the human ECU) to make that cup of oh-so-good java move to the place you have imagined it to go. Great, a high school science class 101 lesson, but what does this have to do with my travels across the world, the country or the city?

Each one of those signals is the same, but has been interpreted by the human ECU over a lifetime of learning. This learning came from lots of failures; most of these failures occurred when we were very young, that being the age of first learning to crawl, walk and hold things on our own without dropping them. Try this, the next time you look at (insert here: name of sub-one-year-old relative); watch as they explore their environment and when they learn how to do a simple activity. Usually after many attempts, and many failures, the persistence at the activity creates a skill, which is repeatable. So, too, with practicing brake, throttle and cornering skill management, you can exact every last capability the (insert here: name of your motorcycle) can give you when you ask for it.

Skill management is the component of that (insert here: favorite ride) which you cannot explain, but it just happens. When you’ve achieved this level of proficiency, the mechanical skill has become ingrained into your subconscious and now is capable of being done without conscious thought. There are some little tricks to use as a warm-up before a ride. Try slow-speed U-turns within the width of a two-lane road (without oncoming traffic). This practice awakens those nerves and preps the feedback loop between the nerves–muscles–brain for future actions on the (insert here: name of future trip). This little exercise gets those nerves and muscles working back and forth – now to warm up the human ECU.

Find a roll of painter’s tape and write down one thing you want to improve on this ride: corner entry, smooth braking, smooth shifting, effortless cornering and so on. Place that piece of tape on the tank bag, handlebars, inner fairing or somewhere you will know where it is but cannot read what it says. Okay, trust me on this. You may not be able to read it, but because you consciously wrote it down and consciously placed it on the motorcycle, you now subconsciously know what you want to focus on improving and it will be ingrained into your personal ECU.

Now that ECU is telling your arm it’s time to finish that cup of java and see what the road has over the next horizon. How about you grab a (insert here: name of coffee shop) business card and write down one (place skill to work on here). Put this card into the (insert here: tank bag, forearm pocket, backside of the glove and so on).


  • Mind Driving, by Stephen Haley. ISBN 1-873371-16-0
  • Total Control, by Lee Parks. ISBN 0-7603-1403-9
  • The Upper Half of the Motorcycle, by Bernt Spiegel. ISBN 1-884313-75-2

About the Author
David Grant was on active duty with the United States Air Force when this was originally published and was working to produce a motorcycle-friendly psychology book. Most motorcycles cannot read, so this is proving to be a most challenging exercise in a human–machine relationship. However, heavy amounts of 10w-30 and microbrew porter help to make the differences appear small.

Originally published in BMW Owners News in April 2013.