One of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard someone say to me was, “What I don’t know can’t hurt me.” My immediate response to this statement was, “What you don’t know can kill you.”
Almost conversely to the 7-P Principle, lesson #4 teaches us the value of awareness and knowledge. As we learn to plan properly, and as our planning is ever refined to be more and more proper-the motorcycle teaches us that it is our knowledge base, combined with creativity that become the tools with which we overcome the inevitably uncertain.
In cooperation with the 7-P principle, lesson #4 teaches us that we can only plan properly and create proper habits by having an extensive knowledge-base. If you don’t know about counter-steering, you certainly can’t plan to do it, and thusly cannot make it habitual.
In this way lesson #4: What You Don’t Know, becomes much like the final drive of the motorcycle-all the way through to traction of the tires. This lesson is “where the rubber meets the road”, and in that effect, it is responsible for both forward progress and engine braking.
One little piece of information can completely change everything. After a 1.5 decades of riding, I finally made it to the racetrack. One single piece of information, “to always choose the higher gear in a turn when you aren’t quite sure”, completely changed the way I ride. Interestingly enough, learning this piece of information sent me into a series of further research into the reasons behind WHY to make that choice. Those learnings continued to help me refine and improve my cornering skills everywhere I ride, AT ANY SPEED!
Even more interesting is to note that because of what I learned, I now have dramatically more fun on my motorcycle at low speeds as well as high speeds. I’m more confident as I ride, because I know why things are happening.
The nature of motorcycling is that the motorcycle operates in the world of “extreme physics” by our everyday standards. The gyroscopic stability of the motorcycle produces forces greater than the force of gravity, which is why the motorcycle can do the amazing things it does. It’s part of why the motorcycle seems magical. While the magical nature of the motorcycle can be debated, the physics to understand it can be learned by a high-school student.
Usually, when it comes to learning, all you need to do is care. If you care, then you’ll put in the effort. If you are actually interested, then it won’t even seem like much effort.
Motorcycling teaches us to never stop learning. The fun of the motorcycle keeps pushing us forward, and deep inside there is something we sense when we see a great rider operating the machine that viscerally tells us, “I don’t KNOW how to do that.” Great riders have that controlled, confident, smooth, and razor-sharp way about their movement that seems to highlight the fact that it is not something supernatural about them, but rather their knowledge and experience that are giving them seeming superhuman riding skill.
I know it’s true, because I used to not know.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I call this “The 7-P Principle.”
I’ve talked about how the motorcycle teaches us to Just Keep Going, and make No Sudden Changes. We started the discussion “during”, and now we want to back up to the “before.” In this situation, however, the “before” can also happen “during.” These are life lessons, so I guess it’s always “during.” I have to be careful here, I might be starting to confuse myself. Luckily, time is relative!
The most critical part of this life lesson is to understand that there are a number of reasons/times when the 7-P Principle applies. First, and perhaps most obviously is the simple act of “not screwing up because you didn’t do the work.” This is as straightforward as checking your tire pressure or making sure you packed rain gear. In life, just as in motorcycling, preparation on the physical plane is critically important.
But there’s more in this lesson. It’s about planning. Planning is far more than just physical realities, and that’s where the life lesson comes into play. Making use of the power in the lessons of “Just Keep Going” and “No Sudden Changes”, the 7-P Principle acts as the transmission; where we constantly evaluate and re-evaluate whether we’re in the right gear.
When moving at speed, we are destined to “Just Keep Going” and if we adhere to “No Sudden Changes”, then we need to have planned beforehand. The faster we move, the further ahead we need to plan. This is where we truly learn proper use of the mind. Moving at speed, we learn to look farther down the road. You decide where you want to go, let your mind calculate, and trust your body to do what the mind tells it to do. At this moment, we find that the 7-P Principle is also directly integrated with our habits. If you failed to properly train your habits at prior moments, you can expect piss poor performance.
Interestingly enough, there is another valuable truth about prior proper planning that prevents piss poor performance. That truth has to do with worry. When we don’t take the time to plan and prepare, the mind tends to drift more towards perseverating on what could potentially go wrong. Whether our opinion of facts is that they are good or bad, we don’t worry about what we know ... what we know is just “what is” regardless of our opinion. What we worry about is uncertainties. Being preoccupied with uncertainties when we need critical focus on this moment can have disastrous consequences at speed. Despite the reality that an infinite number of uncertainties in life await - when we have planned properly, we tend to focus on the moment, not the uncertainties. When we focus on the moment, and every step towards the plan in that moment, worry dissolves and things tend to go as planned. Even the unexpected often seems to be within accepted tolerance of the plan.
While there may be dramatically more to say about the 7-P principle, motorcycling also teaches us not to waste time on excessive planning. Excessive planning is improper planning. We learn which things we need to have in the plan, and which things we can’t control. This fact, combined with the natural physical limitations of the motorcycle leads to the flexibility and creativity which are part of the great joy in motorcycling.
Perhaps the most visceral, difficult, and severe life lesson we can learn from a motorcycle is this: Don’t Freak Out!
In life, when we freak out and panic there is a tendency to make a sudden change. On a motorcycle, making a sudden change due to a panicky freak out is likely to result in a crash, which could potentially result in an end of life, whereby life lessons would cease to be relevant.
This critical life lesson is less philosophical and more spiritual ... or at least psychological. However you shake it, whatever you call it; this lesson has to do with emotions and how you learn to face the truth about yourself and what you feel.
The plain and simple fact of the matter is that you can crash your life just as easily as you can crash a motorcycle, and it happens in the exact same way. While I’ve only crashed one motorcycle, some might consider me an expert in crashing my life ... at least I used to be.
I stopped crashing my life thanks to crashing my motorcycle. Somewhere in the longest week of my life; the week between my motorcycle crash and the purchase of my second motorcycle, I realized a great truth. The great truth was this: The underlying cause of ANY crash is GOING TOO FAST!
Going too fast for what? The road? Conditions? The operator’s skill? Perhaps one, perhaps all. But that isn’t a great truth, what philosophers refer to as an ABSOLUTE TRUTH. An absolute truth is always true ... it’s not conditional. The absolute truth of every single crash that has ever happened in the history of humanity from the first crashed wagon to the most recently crashed fighter-jet is this: The [object] was moving too fast for the [sudden change].
Absolute truths are really fun because absolute truths also end up being relative truths (what philosophers term analytical truths). This means that we don’t have to consider speed as the problem, but rather, we can consider sudden change as the problem.
Now we have to evaluate the sudden change. Was the sudden change internal or external? That is to say, was the sudden change due to the situation, or the rider? We are dealing with life lessons, and the corollary of “no sudden changes” was “don’t freak out.” We can’t control external circumstances changing rapidly, we can only control how we respond. Moving at speed can sometimes cause us to need to respond rapidly. However, a rapid response isn’t a sudden change. A rapid response is a prepared plan of action with the presumption of external change which is inevitable. The great lesson of life here is that the external change is rarely what causes the crash. It is rather the freak out and unprepared reaction (sudden change) to the external “change” that causes the crash.
The deeper reality that the motorcycle teaches us is that the external change wasn’t really a change at all. The deer that jumps into the road wasn’t an external change ... it was a different event in the next moment THAN how you imagined the next moment would be in your mind. In the crash I described previously, the mustang (car, not animal) that leaped in front of the truck wasn’t really what caused the crash. What caused the crash was that I assumed the mustang would stay put until after the truck passed. Had I truly accepted the possibility that the mustang might make that left turn in front of the truck ... I probably would have at least backed off the throttle, and would have probably stopped the bike just before impact, instead of having a crash at 10 mph.
Moving at speed, we learn to look way ahead of where we are, and we make decisions long in advance. Then we have to stick with those decisions. The deeper truth of my crash is that I freaked out ... not when I saw the mustang turn, not when I responded rapidly by applying the brakes, but when I was braking so hard that I became concerned about losing traction and/or getting rear-ended ... I let off the brakes and attempted to swerve at the last moment.
Almost hilariously, the initial contact of the crash was my engine guard and the rear bumper of the mustang. Just enough to throw me “over” the handlebars and into a tuck and roll. The fact that the bike didn’t get run over by the car behind was proof enough that I probably would not have gotten rear-ended had I continued braking ... and my subsequent 30,000 miles of riding have taught me that even on those crumby tires I had enough traction to stop the bike before impact.
When I reflected on all of this during my week of agony without a motorcycle, I came to realize the unequivocal fact that the crash was entirely my fault, and that the absolute certainty of that fault rested squarely on my freak out.
Life is no different, and that is the life lesson that the motorcycle teaches us. If you freak out and make sudden changes every time life throws something unexpected your way, then you’re going to crash. Sometimes there is truly nothing you can do. Sometimes you are simply destined to crash. Sometimes you need a crash to learn. Nonetheless, for the part of life we can control: don’t freak out, don’t make sudden changes. Most likely, even if you need to respond rapidly to external conditions, if you don’t freak out everything will be okay.
In philosophical contexts, one of the greatest challenges we face is: where does one begin? Thought, and the study of thought with all its intricacies doesn’t have a finite beginning or end, so where do we begin?
I think the answer is that we begin “during.” That’s kind of the crux of it in life, isn’t it - this moment, the “during.” Where does life start? Conception, the moment before, the moment of birth, the moment of a thought, a word, the moment of reason? The past but a memory, and the future uncertain, what is real but now, this moment, the “during?” Riding a motorcycle makes this abundantly clear. At the beginning moments of riding, before the bike obtains gyroscopic stability, it’s hard to say you are really “riding a motorcycle” because the machine isn’t yet operating in the way a motorcycle typically operates. It’s not until you’re rolling along “during” the ride that you’re really riding.
If I had to build a toolkit for proper thinking, the motorcycle would be among the first items on my list.
We live in a world of thought and ideas. We are inundated by the unimportant, the meaningless, and the absolute waste. Worse off, we are led to believe these things have value. How can one learn to sort the truth from the dross? Experience is the answer, dear reader, and there are very few experiences a person can have that will refine the mind in the way riding a motorcycle can.
So let’s begin at the “during.”
During the ride, the motorcycle teaches us lesson #1: Just Keep Going. This isn’t an operational lesson, it’s a life lesson, but we learn it through operation. The Motorcycle only does three things: GO, STOP, and TURN. That’s it. Even when stopped, you’re about to go again, unless you’ve made it to your destination. So, everywhere between the ambiguous “start” of your ride all the way up to your destination... Just Keep Going.
Wobbly start? Just Keep Going. Rock In Boot? Just Keep Going. A Bit Chilly? Just Keep Going. Hip Cramp? Just Keep Going. Turned Too Wide? Just Keep Going. Cell Phone Fell Out of Your Pocket? (I saw this happen to a guy on a big Harley wearing shorts and sandals. I don’t usually laugh at the misfortune of others, but that time, I laughed really hard). Just Keep Going! Itch on Your Back? Just Keep Going. Wind Gust? Just Keep Going. Sudden Rain Just Keep Going. Driver on Cell Phone Almost Kills You? Just Keep Going. Wish You Wore Different Underwear? Just Keep Going. Highway Speed Grinds to Gridlock? Just Keep Going. Accidental Wheelie? Just Keep Going. Oh Crap, That was a Cop? Just Keep Going...But maybe slow down, or maybe speed up; it’s situational...
There are times you’ll need to Stop, Rest and Wait (see rule #6), but for the most part while you’re riding, you Just Keep Going! The bike doesn’t stop rolling just because conditions change. Life doesn’t stop rolling either. So just keep going. Most likely, you’ll survive. And, if you don’t survive, then you don’t need life lessons anymore!
#311, Matthew J. D'Anca, Sr. shares the life lessons he's learned since he became a motorcyclist in 2005. Though the knowledge he has gained has been paramount to improving his skills behind the handlebars, it has been even more critical in improving his life.