The sun had recently risen and we were on the road. It was my first time riding with anyone since I began using this mode of transportation and, as such, I wanted to stay behind my friend (who is far more experienced than I am) as much as possible. We were riding under the canopy of Hawaiian trees that are trimmed to cover the roads and provide some shade. I was the picture of attention, with my eyes darting from speedometer, to the road way ahead of me, to a brief glance at the more immediate road hazards, and then to my mirrors, and back to doing it all over again.
I watched as my friend, riding a Triumph Speed Triple R, adjusted himself into more of an upright position and took his hand off the left bar to relax a bit. We passed plastic road pillars that emerged to introduce a new lane going in our direction and keep us separated – at least for a little while – and I saw my friend’s left hand reach out and come within an inch of touching one.
He wasn’t trying to hit it – he was just enjoying the ride. He wasn’t in a hurry and he was very relaxed about the whole event. He was alert and taking in everything, but he was also experienced and calm.
I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. I was worried about the times when I was in the lead when I knew the way to our destinations better because I didn’t want to lose my bud or look like a total idiot somehow. I was worried about the times when I was behind because I wanted to maintain a good enough distance that any mistakes I could possibly make wouldn’t transfer to emergency actions on his part, but I still wanted to ride with my friend and not be a football field away from him.
My grasp on the handlebars was tight and exhausting and I’m sure it would have been fun if it weren’t so nerve-wracking.
We pulled off for breakfast and knew we were going to separate so I could watch my kids at gymnastics. Sitting there eating, the fun began to soak in. It felt like leveling up. I began to calm down and realize that we had made it to our destination. We had ridden around and no-one was injured. I did it. And, if I could do it once, I could do it again but maybe the next time I could do it with less of a death-grip on my bars.
That was months ago and I’ve ridden with him since. We’ve gone out and pushed my skills as a rider a bit more each time – never being dangerous, but just trying to get better. It wasn’t a prescribed academic course with sections dedicated to shoulder-checking or doing U-turns – it was just riding and the lessons came naturally. He would go close to my speed, but stay ahead of me and I had to safely keep up, safely changing lanes and occasionally leading to a different spot. It was never hard, but it was always a slightly larger challenge than the last time. I don’t even think he was aware that he was teaching me.
But since that first ride, I realized that we need more mentors in our riding lives. Someone who knows way more than you and is willing to share their knowledge in a non-judgmental way. The kind of person who will make time for a new rider to answer all their dumb questions and maybe take them out to a parking lot to help nail down the stuff they learned at their safety class.
Also, the type of person that will insist you take a safety class.
They should be the kind of person that will ride with you at your speed and where you’re comfortable and slowly push you to a better level of riding – not the idiot who pushes you to do stupid things.
Most importantly, though, they should be someone you want to emulate. I wanted to emulate my friend, who exuded confidence and alertness. I wanted to develop my own skills to be that calm in my riding and knew the only way to do that was to get out there and ride better – not just ride more – with a focus on developing my skills and learning from my mistakes regardless of how big or small they are.
Maybe one day I can be a mentor for someone else but I know I never want to stop learning how to ride better.
The end goal of all of this is to ride with your friends, but to make everyone around you safe and strong enough in their riding that they won’t get hurt and you could ride with them for even longer. When we push an atmosphere of education and safety, we’ll build the motorcycling ranks and have more riders out there and there is nothing wrong with that!