Warning: long, potentially boring post
Reading the posts of both Michael and Ralphael getting more closely acquainted with the asphalt made me think about experience, motorcycle safety, our riding limits and riding mistakes generally. A few things stuck in my mind:
In terms of surviving the urban jungle: spatial awareness and sound judgement are critical in this environment if you want to survive. That is a whole different topic.
But I really wanted to talk about what is the whole raison d’etre for most of us having sportbikes: riding outside of town and particularly on twisty roads.
A lot has been written on this forum about “riding at x% of my abilities”. This is a great concept. However, experience is a key factor in all of this.
In Ralphael’s post he stated that he was riding at what he believed was around 60% of his ability. Once he started scraping the pegs of his R1, he was clearly way beyond 60%: probably quite some way beyond 100%. There was no margin left and when the smallest external influence (bump) showed up, that was it.
In considering the x% approach: in the first place, when we start out riding, we have no idea what 100% of our abilities are. Ergo: how on earth can we judge whether we are riding at 50% or 100% of our abilities if we do not know what 100% of our abilities means?
Secondly, riding at a set level of our abilities depends on our ability to judge riding conditions (road, bike, operator etc). With a lack of experience, our abilities to do that are limited. So, while we try to ride at 50% of our abilities (for instance), we end up at 50% + or – 30% (somewhere between 20% and 80% of our abilities) on 9 bends out of 10 because we misjudge the radius, the camber, the road surface, circumstances, operator condition (that’s you, the driver, in case you missed it. Refer being tired, not concentrating hard enough, being cold, having a cold etc.), whatever. Even so, the +-30% is still OK if we start out at a low enough target and use this to learn.
Note that at this stage, on the 10th corner (the remaining one left over from my “9 corners out of 10” above), things can still go horribly wrong, especially when we end up in a corner at 50% + 60% = 110% = flat on our butts with bruised body and ego (best case) or an RIP thread (worst case).
Incidentally: in principle this is where I believe Ralphael ended up.
Good riders are much better at judging conditions, so if they aim for 50% they would typically end up at 50% +-5% for 99 corners out of a 100 and on the 100th one at 50% + 10%: still OK.
The problem of course is on the 1,000th corner when the good rider is aiming at riding at 90% and has that rare 15% miss in judgement and ends up at 105%!
This in principle is where I believe Michael ended up.
So my belief is that we should start out at the 50% target and expect the +-30% variance and strive to get to the +-5% variability. That way, whatever our target of “riding at x%” is, we will be that much safer. Of course: learning to judge what an appropriate target % (be it 20% or 80%) should be under what circumstances is also a critical part of learning.
Hidden message: we all make mistakes!!!! Experience and competence only reduces the frequency and size of the mistakes and equips us better to deal with the mistakes when we make them.
As an (tongue in cheek-ish!) aside about our learning processes:
We start off not even knowing what we do not know: this is unconscious incompetence. At this stage we pretty much do not realise how badly we ride and how big of a danger to ourselves we are.
As we cover the miles, we start realising what we do not know: this is conscious incompetence. We still do not know what we are doing but at least we know we are doing badly. This is the stage where we can (and should) learn the most.
Then we start knowing and at the same time knowing that we know: you can now ride pretty well but you still have to concentrate and focus on what you are doing. But you do it pretty well. This is conscious competence.
Finally we get to being good without having to think about it: unconscious competence. The risk here of course is that on the road we go onto “auto pilot”: bad news!
We also have to recognise that we all have different innate abilities/competences. We all like/love riding motorcycles: we are just not equally good at it. Our natural abilities cover a spectrum: on the one hand there are the Giacomo Agostini's (for us oldies) and the Valentino Rossi’s (for the younger ones) of the world: the have the natural fluidity and skill to make going fast look so smooth and easy.
On the other hand there are the total incompetents. Never mind for how long they have been riding, they remain the wobblers, the fallers over, the ones that approximate the radius of a turn by a number of iterations of different lean angles and turn rates. The ones that are at the apex when they should be at the outside of the curve and vice versa.
Then in the middle you have the large mass of us. We are the common practitioners: the ones that, irrespective of how hard you practice and try, you will never get better than a certain degree of competence.
Recognise that there is a continuous spectrum of abilities: from the sublime to the scarily bad. Being ruthlessly honest with yourself and knowing where you fall in this spectrum is critical for your wellbeing and survival.
Much has been made of experience. Actually, in all of the above, I believe it is more of a competence thing. Commuter boy wrote “I've had the argument with more than a few LDRiders that miles under the saddle don't mean a lot unless they're teaching you something.” This reminded me of someone commenting on work experience: he said he did not have 10 years experience: he just had one year’s experience ten times over!
On top of that, our inherent competence sets a limit on how quickly we get to what level of riding skill. The best level that I may ever achieve with the greatest amount of training and practice might still only be 80% of my buddy’s: remember that!