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Fear of Flying

Posted on Sunday, August 17th, 2003

Dave!I've started to get a bit of traffic from other newbie riders wanting to share their motorcycle experiences, ask questions, or just say "howdy." That's pretty amazing to me, and it's great getting e-mail from new friends... so thanks to those of you who have taken the time to write. One e-mail I got a couple of days ago has kind of stuck with me, and I thought I would post my reply here in the off-chance that it might be of interest to somebody else who is just starting out.

Basically, the guy wrote to say that he is also a new rider and, like me, had taken the MSF Basic Rider Course to get his endorsement (highly, recommended). After a few days, he found a used bike he liked at a price he could afford, bought it, and had jumped into the world of motorcycling with an enthusiasm he had never felt before. But all that quickly changed once he realized that riding in the real world is a big difference from what had been practiced in class (where you don't have morons cutting you off or turning into you, obstacles thrown in your path, or any of a hundred other hazards that motorcyclists experience every day). At the end of his e-mail, he summed it all up with a question... "Are you as scared as I am when you go out there?"

My answer? Sure. But it's getting better every day. Do I think it will ever go away entirely? No, but that's probably a good thing. When you ride a motorcycle, you are far more vulnerable, far less visible, and far more unstable than driving in a car. A little fear could be what keeps you alive in a crisis by making you err on the side of caution as you make each decision that comes up.

The biggest mistake I made in starting out again was buying a brand new motorcycle (and no cheap thing either, I went for my BMW dream machine). Had I been smart, I probably would have bought some inexpensive used motorcycle to practice on until I was comfortable riding on the street. So a great deal of my fear sits with not wanting to damage the $9000 thing of beauty that's between my legs (hey, I'm single... double entendres like that are all I've got right now!).

Setting aside the worry of damaging my Beemer... yeah, there's still plenty of room for fear. In my first three hours of on-street riding, I had two emergency situations pop up that scared the crap out of me. The first time I went on the highway, I was terrified. Last week my bike suddenly seized up as I was taking off into a corner, causing me to tip over (no damage, thankfully) and I was pretty shaken. Not knowing why my bike seized up... and knowing it might not be something I did, but a defect that could strike again... is scary stuff. My first time riding in gusting wind yesterday was a nail-biter to be sure. And I'm already working up a bit of nervous energy about the 360 mile trip I've got planned for next week.

But every time I try something new, or have something unexpected come my way that gets me rattled. I think back to the day before I took the first ride on my new motorcycle. Pure terror. No sleep at all that night. I woke up at 5am (wanting as little traffic as possible!) and went to my grandmother's house where my ride had been stored while I took the MSF Course. Not wanting to risk pulling out of a driveway, I walked the bike 2 blocks to the high school parking lot for practice, the dread growing with every step. But just 10 minutes later, I was in love with riding... even if it was just around a parking lot. It's a feeling that just doesn't leave you, and it's a feeling I still get every time I a hop on my motorcycle. It's a feeling that I've been missing in my life for 14 years, and the fear of losing it again is far greater than any worry I have about what's going to happen when I'm out there... and that's how I deal. If you are more afraid of riding than not riding, then maybe you shouldn't do it (hey, life is hard enough). But if you love it as much as I do, there's really no choice... be careful out there, practice your MSF training, remember why you love it, spread your wings... and fly.

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