Breaking Bad Habits | Riding Skills Series

Better yet, making new, good habits

Riding Skills Series - Breaking Bad Habits
Riders at the world level carefully avoid picking up bad habits, something just as important for club racers, trackday riders, and street riders.

We all have bad habits, some associated with our motorcycle riding and some not. And just like kicking the smoking habit, it might not be all that easy to rid yourself of a riding habit if it’s become instinct and something you’ve done for years. While we might not be able to help you quit smoking, we can certainly offer you some tips to help break you of any bad habits you have picked up in your riding.

Over the years, we have seen plenty of bad habits both on the street and at the track, and no doubt you have as well. Riders who drag their feet for a mile after leaving a stop. Constantly look behind themselves on the track. Ride with their body hanging over the centerline on a left-hand turn. Keep their heels on the footpegs and drag their toes in turns. We could fill the page with examples. The first step to eliminating a habit—and this might be the hardest part—is to identify and admit that something you are doing is a habit that needs to be broken. And quite often you will have to do this yourself, as your friends likely won’t tell you—just as they won’t tell you that you crack your knuckles too often or wave your arms around like a windmill when you talk. Identify your own bad habits by looking at pictures and videos of yourself riding, asking your friends, or separating out and focusing on different aspects of your riding.

Once you’ve identified a bad habit, the next step is to address it in a positive, active way. That means rather than thinking of it as, “I have to stop putting my body over the double-yellow in left-hand corners,” you are going to approach the solution as, “I am going to ride 5 feet away from the centerline in left-hand corners.” This automatically gives you a plan of action to form a new, good habit, rather than only reacting (too late) once you have done what you are trying to stop doing. For any bad habit, you should be able to come up with a new habit to change your riding, as we have done here. In some cases, your plan might have to be quite elaborate. For example, many riders coming to sportbikes from cruisers or touring bikes tend to use way too much rear brake and not enough front brake (if any, in some extreme cases). Your fix for this might involve some time in a parking lot and several steps to better braking habits and not be as simple as, “I am going to use more front brake.”

Plan in place, it’s time to put it in action. Habits are things that we do by instinct, without thinking, and it will take a lot of your concentration to execute your plan and not fall back into riding by instinct. On the track, this will definitely mean you will be off your usual pace. On the street, you don’t want to put yourself at increased risk from diverting your concentration too much, so finding a parking lot or empty road might be in order. If you keep finding yourself getting distracted and reverting to the bad habit, find a venue where you can focus more on your plan with fewer distractions.

Over time, you want your new plan to become instinct so that you don’t have to think about it and can go back to focusing on what’s important. Various studies over the years have shown that it can take a number of days or a number of repetitions to form a new habit, and you won’t change things overnight. Keep at it, working on your new habits every time you ride your bike.

As with any habit, riding or otherwise, it helps if you have some support from your friends. Let them know what you’re doing so that they can offer advice and suggestions from experience. They could have habits they are trying to break at the same time, and you can help each other. Setting goals or making a timeline can also help in some cases, or it may be a case of rewarding yourself at certain stages.

Bad habits can come back the next minute, the next day, or the next year, and you might not even realize it. Be ready with your plan for beating the old habits, and always be on watch for new ones. You want to do away with them as soon as you can so that you can concentrate on other aspects of your riding.