Of my hobbies the one I enjoy, almost as much as motorcycling, is playing the guitar. I even garnered some regional success as as solo artist in the late 90’s. For me there are a number of parallels between playing the guitar and motorcycling. It’s a subject I think about quite often while I’m riding. Both the guitar and bike connect me, in a very physical way, to what I’m doing. The guitar is one of the few instruments where music is produced by touching the parts of the instrument that produce the music. Similarly, in the operation of a motorcycle the rider is in direct control of the bike. There are exceptions to this, as there are to most things, but I tend to focus on the similarities.
The best way I’ve found to become a proficient guitarist or motorcycle rider is to practice. There’s no substitute for it. Sure, there are books and classes that teach the basics. One may even learn enough to play a few songs or operate a bike from these tools. In my experience It takes more to realize the full potential of either. Once the basics have been learned, continuing education, practice, and application are needed to move to the next level. This is an aspect of both playing and riding that appeals to me. No matter how many times I play or ride I’m always learning and (hopefully) getting better. It’s a progression and not a destination, so for me it never gets old. Admittedly there are times when I hit plateaus. In these instances I realize that I’ve learned as much as I can on my own and need to turn to friends who also play or ride (or both). Playing guitar or riding with others is the most pleasurable way to pick up new ideas and techniques to help move past my roadblocks and revitalize my learning process. It’s astonishing what just one session or ride with others can teach me about my own skills and how to improve them.
Steering a motorcycle is akin to playing cords or notes on a guitar. It is a direct input into the direction the music or the bike is going to go. Like a guitars fret board, there is nothing between the rider and control of the bike except the handlebars. Even in the most sophisticated bikes steering is a completely manual process. It is a direct conduit to where the rider wants the motorcycle to go. Steering, like playing, also takes the most practice. Figuring out cords, notes and scales takes time and a bit of finesse as dose learning the mechanics of taking a bike into a corner on the right line and back out to setup for the next turn on a curvy road.
What pulls all the notes and cords together to make a song is rhythm. Playing notes and cords is great, but it’s not really a song until those elements are combined with a rhythm. On a bike the rhythm is set through shifting and throttle control. These combine to create a pace, fast or slow, for a ride. In the right combination they create an undulating flow of highs and lows as the bike runs up and down the gears and the speedometer swings left to right. In the wrong combination, just like a song, they create a jerky staccato of missed shifts and revving engine noise that’s just as painful to the hear.
Listening, both in playing and riding, is essential to working out where corrections need to be made. This is the hardest part in both playing and riding. Once the basics are there it’s time for practice and fine tuning. Listening to a bikes engine can lead to better shifting, an alert to a problem, and keep the rider better in tune with the bike. Just like a guitar, when the notes are wrong adjustments need to be made. A finger placement can bend a note out of tune just as an incorrect throttle input can put a rider into a corner too fast or slow. Bad cord changes can slow down a song and make it jerky just as bad shifting can interrupt the flow of a ride. Listening and learning for what the proper sounds a bike or guitar are supposed to make can lead to better playing and riding.
A small note about playing and riding. All the education and practice in the world may not transform a person into Eric Clapton or Casey Stoner. Natural aptitude for either endeavor will be a limiting factor insomuch as there will be a ceiling to what can be accomplished. For the guitar, this just means that not everyone who plays will be a famous artists. However, in riding this is more serious. Bombing in front of a open mic or friends when you’re not ready to play out can be embarrassing. Riding beyond ones abilities on the road can be life threatening. It’s exceedingly important to understand your limits. Pushing those limits to become a better rider is OK, with the appropriate education and guidance, but exceeding those limitations may end in disaster.
As with all things that are rewarding, work and perseverance are necessary. My favorite hobbies keep me challenged but are also immensely satisfying. When I head out on a ride or pick up my guitar I am not only practicing but I’m having fun doing it. Really that’s the best goal.