FEAR: Reasons for Feeling Fear on a Motorcycle

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

"I've been riding for a couple of years now, but I still feel a lot of fear when I ride, especially on woodsy country roads. I know I’m a competent rider, but when I approach a blind curve, I just go white and feel nervous. I’ve never had a bad crash, other than the beginner’s mistake of dropping it in a parking lot.

How do I get over this fear and start having the fun everyone else is talking about on the twisties? I swear, it’s my stomach that has the twisties in my case. I feel embarrassed that I’m still as spooked as a new rider. Any advice to get over this fear while motorcycling would be helpful."

-Kelly F.

Fear is common in motorcycle riding, but it shouldn't prevent you from riding. It's an obstacle, but not impossible to manage.

To start with, don’t feel embarrassed. You’re not alone. Motorcycle riding is a dangerous sport, and you should feel at least a little nervous whenever you get on. I still feel butterflies before a long ride, but I keep getting on anyway. The fun of riding will eventually replace the fear. Let’s investigate some of the reasons you might have for feeling spooked:

Reason #1: You can’t read the road.

A common reason a rider feels fear while motorcycling is because they have trouble reading the road. I’m guessing this may be one of your main issues from what you described. You see a blind curve up ahead, and in your mind you’re picturing a sharp curve with obstacles. So you’re spooked and treat every curve like a serious obstacle.

Here’s something you could try… take note of the clues at each curve. Try your best to remember them. For example, on a tree-lined road, which way are the power lines and tree lines going near the curve? Are they going right or left? This could indicate which way the curve turns.  Are they disappearing at a horizon? This could mean there’s a downward hill. As you take notice, you’ll start to see the patterns and recognize these clues as you come upon them.

Tip: Analyze the Vanishing Point

A term I hear every now and then is “vanishing point analysis”, or limit point (it’s the same thing). Look at the point in the curve where the lines in the road meet and disappear. Analyze in the following way:

• The point is moving towards you. This means you’re riding too fast and should slow down to take the curve at the right speed. If it’s approaching rapidly, it will probably be a sharp turn.

•The point is moving with you. When the point is moving with you as you initiate the turn, this is the correct speed. You can safely negotiate the curve.

• The point moves away from you. If the point moves away from you as you initiate the turn, you can increase your speed, it’s probably not a severe curve. Accelerate if safety permits, or maintain your current speed. Increasing speed can stabilize the bike if you feel wobbly in any way, which I'll explain next.

Reason #2: You don’t trust the bike.

Perhaps you feel the bike will slip away from beneath you. A motorcycle is gyroscopic by nature, therefore it will normally stay upright while the wheels are spinning. A moving motorcycle will be more stable the faster it goes. While in motion, it’ll right itself, unless you manipulate it to do otherwise. Here’s a video from The Science Channel demonstrating the gyroscopic effect

Tip: Examine and Maintain Your Motorcycle for Peace of Mind

If you’re worried it’ll fail you in other ways, take some time to do a pre-ride check before you get on. The usual pre-ride check involves the following…

  1. Check the air pressure in your tires Recommended pressure is usually posted on your bike. On your frame our under your seat are the usual places to look.

  2. Check that your electrical features are working. Test your turn signals, lights, brake lights, and horn.

  3. Check your fluids. Make sure your oil, gas, brake fluid, and coolant (if your bike has a radiator) are topped off.

  4. Wash your bike. If you make it a habit to wash your bike regularly, you'll be more likely to notice if anything it amiss. While being up close and personal with your machine, take a good look... are there any oil leak? Are there any loose bolts? How do the tires and the brake pads look? You get the picture.

Learning to do your own motorcycle maintenance can help you get to know your machine more intimately. Leave the hard stuff for a mechanic if you're not comfortable. But picking up a manual for your bike and performing basic maintenance is not too difficult. Just cleaning your bike, doing an oil change, and greasing your own chain will help you look over the bike closely. You'll notice if anything needs repair and have peace of mind knowing that all is well with your bike.

Reason #3: You have an active imagination.

In your mind, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. You visualize all the horrible ways you could go down. Find a way to get “zen”. Try to be one with the machine. If you’re feeling panicked, take note of what your body is doing. I know this sounds a little dippy, but it works.

Tip: Loosen Up Your Body to Help Your Mind Be at Ease

Loosen those tight shoulders and loosen your grip, otherwise you'll be constricting the blood flow to your head. Speaking of your head, lift that noggin. Looking too close at the road in front of you makes it harder to read the road. If it seems like the pavement is racing along at a frightening pace, lift your head up and look farther into the distance. You can also use your peripheral vision to help scan your environment. In addition, always look in the direction you want to go because your body will naturally move the bike in the direction you're looking.

And last but not least don’t forget to breathe. Take deliberate deep breaths. This may sound silly, but I like to sing in my helmet when things seem dicey. It calms me down, and also slows my breathing. Do whatever works for you to loosen up.

Reason #4: You haven’t practiced enough.

Maybe you live in a city and have to wait for your days off to ride out to the country roads. Or maybe you avoid them altogether until your pals make you ride with them… haha. I get it. But like anything, becoming a good rider involves time and practice. If you’re determined to be get past your newbie feelings, you gotta ride more.

Tip: Take a Course to Improve Your Skills

If you’re strapped for time, maybe try taking a class. An MSF course is a good place to start. They now offer a variety of classes in everything from basic beginner courses to more advanced skills courses. When you’re feeling rusty, this could be a good option.

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to live near a track. See if they offer courses. You may not want to be racer, but it could be a great way to improve your cornering skills. You'll be learning in an environment with no traffic or pedestrians to worry about. A track with courses on the East Coast I know about is Tony’s Track Days. I’ve also heard good things about California Superbike School.

Maybe consider trying a dirt bike if you’re constantly worried about losing traction. I tried American Supercamp one year and had an absolute blast as someone who had never been on a dirt bike before. It’s a flat-track class for all experience levels. You'll learn what it feels like to slide sideways on a bike, and still be in control. Sounds scary? It’s not, the instructors work you up to it, and their goal is to make sure you’re having fun while learning. It did wonders for my confidence level when I was a newer rider.

All in all, if you’re determined, you can become a good rider. Fear is something that will come up from time to time as you ride. Giving yourself the right tools to combat your fears  will help you become a confident rider.

In the meantime, you be you. You don’t have to be the best or the fastest rider. Ride some roads that you can handle. Give yourself a break… do what’s fun for you.

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