I was fortunate enough to get a leave pass to ride to Phillip Island for the Moto GP last year. When leaving from the Hunter Valley all the riding is good riding, with very little time spent on the long straight highways.
As we started to enter the Snowy mountain passes the motorcycle traffic increased, and inevitably we found ourselves overtaking, being overtaken, or increasing the size of the riding groups. When this was happening through the windy sections of road I couldn’t help but think of a phrase I heard when I first started riding on the road: "Ride your own bike".
This does not refer to lending or borrowing bikes, but the attitude you take and decisions you make while in group riding scenarios. When following another rider or having riders follow you there is always the possibility of you ignoring/forgetting basic systems of control and making dangerous errors. You can find yourself being either pushed or pulled into poor tip-in points, or selecting a speed and gear that you are not comfortable with. You must remember to say in your head, “Ride your own bike”.
Let’s take the example of following a rider into a series of corners, and this rider is a more competent rider and a little more relaxed with speed limits than yourself.
More than likely you will be target fixating on his bike, looking for brake lights, choosing your speed by maintaining a gap. All of this takes your mind away from assessing the oncoming bend for yourself, judging your first tip in point, scanning road surface conditions and constantly reassessing road position,speed and potential hazards.
When you notice them pull away a bit you increase your straight line speed to catch up the gap. For the next corner you now have to brake harder than before which can unsettle suspension, tyres and your mind. You know he’s faster than you so you think to tip in when he does… or so you think. More often than not you've tipped in too early. Add this to your increased speed and unsettled bike you can quickly find yourself running wide into leaf litter, barriers or oncoming traffic. If you are lucky, you come away safely. But so often people's luck will run out.
The best fix to avoid the scenario above is to swallow the pride, back off or pull over, and get to riding with clear road ahead and no headlights in the rear vision mirrors. With the time and space to "Ride your own bike" you will again focus on your safe systems of control and improve your chances of arriving safely. With more time in the saddle you may find yourself "that" rider that people are trying to keep up with, but until then, focus on the important bits like identifying lines, tip in points etc.
Remember that even by doing everything right you can have wildlife and oncoming traffic cause an accident. Cars with trailers, trucks and other motorcyclists are all serial offenders crossing lines and removing your safety margin, don’t give away even more space by Riding Someone Else’s Bike.
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