When I was in High School I was a sprinter and ran relay races on the track team. My coach said “Track is an individual sport performed with others.” I was recently thinking about how much this also applies to riding. Whether I’m riding to work, with a group, or on my own I’m never truly alone on the road. To ride a motorcycle is to ride alone with others.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Ride your own ride.” What does that really mean? For me, it goes to the heart of riding alone with others. There are always other cars and bikes sharing the road with me. The key is to ride to the level I’m comfortable with and not to exceed my skill level.
If I’m riding with a group I make sure I’m going at a pace that is comfortable and safe for me. This may mean I need to change where I am in the line up. I’ve realized it’s not a sign of weakness to move to the back of the line if I am feeling pressure to go faster than I’m comfortable with. It’s also not rude for me to move up the line if I’m frustrated riding behind slower riders. Having the correct pacing for a ride goes a long way to enjoying that ride. If the group is too slow or too fast I’m not going to have a good time.
On group rides, especially with new groups, it is hard to know what the group dynamic will be or what kind of riders will be participating. To solve that question in the group I ride with we have implemented riding levels we assign to each ride. This lets people know what they can expect before they even show up. We have a Pace level and a Difficulty level. The Pace Level is how fast the ride is. Level 1 is a relaxed ride where the group will stay in tighter formation. This pace caters to those wanting to take a more leisurely ride. Pace Level 2 is slightly more aggressive where every rider at least keeps the motorcycle behind them in their mirrors. Pace Level 3 is the most aggressive with a see-you-at-the-next-intersection pace. Difficulty levels range from Easy for straight roads with long sweepers to Hard (i.e. Tail of the Dragon-ish). With this system no one is surprised by the pace and difficulty of the ride they show up for. I try to remember that I ride with a group for the social stops and camaraderie, but the ride belongs to me. It’s nobody else’s fault if I have a bad ride but mine.
If I’m riding with a few friends I try to not get caught up in trying to keep up. I hear more stories of accidents where a less experienced rider was trying to keep up with a more experienced rider. The result is almost always an accident or a close call for the less experienced rider. Riding with a more experienced rider is a good way to learn from that rider, but it’s important to know where the line is between trying new techniques and pushing too far too fast.
If I’m commuting it means choosing a route that is going to get me to work safely. This may mean avoiding highways if I’m not comfortable sharing the road with that many other drivers. If I’m on a solo ride it means being aware of how traffic is moving around me and keeping my bike in a place that will keep me safe. When I ride to work or solo I use the ride rating system mentioned earlier. It helps me mentally prepare for the ride I’m about to take. Thinking through the route and what I expect to find gives me a mental image of how I need to ride and puts me in the right frame of mind. I call it putting on my mental armor. I go through the ride in my head while I’m putting on my real armor.
No matter how you look at it, operating a motorcycle is completely in the hands of the person holding the handlebars. We are, however, constantly being acted upon and interacting with other riders or drivers while on the road. Ride your own ride, be safe, and enjoy riding alone with others.