“Freedom” and “Adventure” are the typical answers you get from bikers when asked about why they bike. And that is the same for me, but there is more, much more. And that “more” defines how well, how safe you drive and how much you appreciate your drive. You can actually actively enhance all of these points quiet easily. Keep reading.
Reading time: 8 minutes
Some bikers have a personality that is all the time assured, relaxed, in control and they achieve great things at the same time on the bike and generally in life. Personally, I tick some but surely not all of these boxes to a full extend (work in progress and btw: I find it hard to document to the world that I am actually not perfect… my wife will probably put this statement of me in a frame and hang it over our bed … the worst place of all to hang this).
Who I am influences how I feel which then reflects obviously on my driving style. What? Here in short:
Who I am = how I feel = how I drive
99% of the time on the bike I feel secure, assured, in control, in a meditative mindset, completely enjoying the drive. Let’s call this the 99% feel-good mode. But there is this annoying 1% mode as well, like when I have a bad day or whatever. I am then not even close to any of the positive adjectives in the previous sentences.
When I have a bad day, when I am tensed or when I let my driving style be influenced by others, when negative emotions spoil my pleasure, then freedom, adventure and all the other good emotions won’t come in. Only when I am in the 99% feel-good mode, I can appreciate them. That is why “who I am” is coming before adventure and freedom. For myself I found a way to get into then 99% feel-good mode mindset and stay there. It is actually a mindset. Something you can influence and control. Keep reading.
Going back in time, for me there was a lot of biking emotions during one of the peak times of my motorcycling life, when I was between 18 and 30 years old. I went riding with different groups in parallel. One of the groups were my childhood buddies and we traveled together parts of Europe on our bikes. I still get shivers just writing about this, such a great experience this was for me.
Another group was more on the sportive side of driving, and I am happy to report I survived this time period. To give you an idea: at the time I often rode my BMW R75/5 with drum brakes front and back. Slightly going downhill, with a bit of tailwind ideally, some optimism and well synchronized carbs and being on the optimistic side of things, you could interpret 50 hp. With revs up as much as your ears allow the engine to go, the bike would lift the back just a little due to the forces of the cardan.
This slightly higher back part of the bike would allow then for just a few degrees more in turns, so the unavoidable scratching of your valve covers in most turns would come in ..well just a few degrees later. At the same time you are trying to calculate where your wobbling frame will let you drift in the next turn (it is a “Gummi Kuh” after all … for those who know the term) and the only good thing with the drum brakes was that trail-braking was a must anyways, as you were hitting them hard for a long time to get the bike to slow down to the appropriate speed for the next turn.
Here I must add a special “I love BMW paragraph”. I need to stress that I have and had a very deep love for my BMW’s and BMW’s in general, and they were fab to drive. You can do amazing things with them once you know how to ride them, and their advantage is that their behavior is quite predictable. They only once let me down in 30 years (probably anyway my mistake) and each time I see one today my heartbeat goes up. This statement is valid for BMW’s between 1970 to 1985 as this is what I was driving. Today’s BMW are outstanding motorbikes, but I prefer the style of my Triumph Tiger 1200 XRT whilst I could be open to a discussion about the BMW GS being a touch a better drive. (Note to BWM and Triumph owners: please continue to debate the previous statements in your respective forums)
So back to the story: we were driving from Germany over to France to chase locals on their Asian superbikes on small curvy mountain roads with lots of traffic. Actually, both up- and downhill! We had to find a way to make up for the lack of engine power of our mainly 50-70 hp bikes versus the 100+ hp superbikes and also for the massive lack of breaking power. Uphill we took advantage of what we assessed was our superior driving style. Downhill we applied what at the time I thought was courage. Today I use a different word for that mindset. We also had the game changing advantage of much more agile bikes, mainly because of smaller tires which, as you surely know, let you do a lot of things in turns that you cannot do with a 180+mm superbike tire. Stuff like braking whilst already in that turn that you just took too fast (so much for courage) and easily changing angle without much impact on your trajectory left a strong impression on our local competitors.
You can have much underestimated speeds through a turn with a 40 year old BMW and a bit of experience. Today and with a little pride, I can report that we achieved very good results on the sportive side of things during this time. But also, during this longer period in my life, I could not really explain how I made it home in one piece each time. This made me stop driving like this (oh … my wife is proof reading this…).
My BMW R75/5 from 1975 (left) in action in the Swiss Alps in 2003 with a BMW GS 800 from 1987
When I take the bike today to go to the closest post office, I feel like mix of Steve McQueen, Schwarzenegger and Ironman all in one person. Each time. Because of all the positive emotions and expectations connected with it. I am also still each time a little nervous when I start and drive off. I rode a few hundred thousand kilometers on many different bikes across many countries over decades. But I still have this feeling each time. It is because I am so happy to be able to take this machine and be free. At the same time, I think about my family all the time. No more challenges accepted from others (despite very rarely, when I have the perfect 100% day ☺), no more coming home and trying to understand how I made it.
So how do I stay in the 99% feel-good mode?
When you look at this movie you might understand better why, each time I ride I do a retrospective of the positive experiences of the past and try to visualize how the future is going to be, what kind of experience I want to create during today’s ride.
Basically, I visualize the ride before I go riding to the point of feeling how I want to feel during the ride, and then I go riding: I visualise some turns and how I want to take them, how the air feels, how much I want to appreciate nature, the speed I am going to take, etc.
Then I reduce all of this to just one basic, positive feeling of how I feel when I do all of this. This basic feeling is what I memorise before starting to bike and I leave all the rest behind. Then, when I bike .. and when the road allows, I check in how I do against this basic feeling, without judging.
So even during a longer ride all I do while on the road is 2 or 3 quick check-ins to see how I feel versus how I want to feel. If they are the same, I just take a mental note, if not … I also take a mental note. That is all whilst driving.
Back at home I check how I did versus the initial basic feeling and that is it. Nothing more. Doing more here would do more harm than help. The brain does the work on its own for the next ride. Doing such preparation helps me to respect the road, centers me around myself and my values and augments massively the joy of the ride. For me a good bike ride is like a meditation and coaching session all at once. Doing this exercise became a habit before each ride, and it takes just a few seconds once you are in the routine. Not a big investment for the potential impact.
However, I do such visualizations already since I am a child (another story – another day) and also after lots of beers (there will be no story about this …), so it became a habit and I do this automatically and very fast, like in the movie. If you are starting with this, you might have to slow down speed and take a bit more time initially.
If I am aware of who I am, I know why I bike.
This influences how I bike.
This is my life insurance.
Two scenes from the movie
In part 2 of this blog, I will share a simple exercise I do before each ride that helps me to stay grounded and increase my driving experience. Maybe you want to try it – stay tuned.
And you? What is biking about for you?
How do you get into your 99% feel-good mode?
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