Wouldn't it be nice if every time we pulled on our helmets, fired up our engines and slid into the saddle we knew with absolute certainly that we were about to ride brilliantly? Every bend would be dispatched with a flourish, every overtake perfectly timed with speed and safety. Along the way we'd squeeze every bit of grip from the tires, hammer the brakes so hard the front tires would squeal in protest but never lock and accelerate so hard out of corners that the back would squirm but never break free. We'd use our motorcycles to the limit, but never overstep the mark, without even trying. Even in the wet. That's confidence.
Confidence is crucial for quality riding. Listen to any group of trackday addicts or professional racers and confidence comes up again and again. It's about riding to your maximum, safety – getting the most from your motorcycle and yourself. So how can confidence help your riding? And how do you build it?
Psychologists say in-built levels of confidence are shaped as soon as you pop into the world. If your parents emit tense, nervous signals as you totter around discovering your surroundings, you'll pick up on the vibes and be less comfortable exploring the unknown...
In contrast, if those toddler watchers are more relaxed about the potential hazards, you possible grow into a brave and experimental person... Fear is the enemy of confidence and a double-edge sword. On the one hand it protects you from risky excesses, but on the other it hacks into reason, provoking instinctual reactions where a rapid thought process would be better. As an evolutionary aid, fear might keep us alive long enough to breed and raise kids, but in today's unnatural world it can make mangled monkeys of us all the same.
And noting is less natural than blasting a motorcycle through a corner. If anything alarms us, instinct tells us to revert to our natural upright stance. If we see danger, we stare at it until our minds have processed the threat – and at a ton that usually means until we've collided with it.
We tend to feel fear when presented with a known threat, a perceived threat or, indeed, the unknown. But when we've faced a fear, analyzed it, applied reason and found it to be unwarranted, perhaps many times over, we overcome it. And that's when we become confident in that situation.
It doesn't stop there. As social animals, humans can learn from others and tap into collective experience. We're willing to go out on a limb with people we trust, confident their experience will lower our risk. If we're open to it, we can learn about the experiences of other generations and used this information to build our own 'skills platform'. Knowing how to do things right – and understanding why you're doing them – gives a huge confidence head start, but to take the competence and confidence to the next level however fast you learn, always takes some practice.
Deep riding confidence comes in the form of automatic behavior, performing basic acts from the subconscious and leaving the reasoning mind clear to concentrate on other matters. This takes practice, repetition. Do something often enough and you develop a 'physical memory'. Even walking is a very complicated business, involving synchronizing hundreds of muscles – just watch the concentration on a toddler's face as they learn the trick.
A good road rider, seamlessly flowing from corner to corner, gives the impression of not thinking about what he's doing. And to a certain extent, he isn't – much of what the smooth bugger's doing is subconscious up-changes and steering input are all instinctive that have been brushed aside many times before. From the throttle and brakes to the indicators, not a thought is going into the motorcycle's controls.
This leaves the consciously active part of the brain free to concentrate on just two things: where he's going; and how's he going to get there. Eyes are engaged in scanning to the furthest possible point, brain making judgments on speed, assessing threats and plotting a path to minimize them.