Tag Archives: Risk

The Psychology of Motorcycling, or; Risk and Reward

“There is a common
misunderstanding among the
human beings who have ever been
born on earth that the best way to
live is to try to avoid pain and just
try to get comfortable.  A
much more interesting, kind and
joyful approach to life is to begin to
develop our curiosity, not caring
whether the object of our curiosity
is bitter or sweet. To lead to a life
that goes beyond pettiness and
prejudice and always wanting to
make sure that everything turns out
on our own terms, to lead a more
passionate, full, and delightful life
than that, we must realize that we
can endure a lot of pain and
pleasure for the sake of finding out
who we are and what this world is,
how we tick and how our world
ticks, how the whole thing just is.
If we are committed to comfort at
any cost, as soon as we come up
against the least edge of pain, we’re
going to run; we’ll never know
what’s beyond that particular
barrier or wall or fearful thing.”

~Pema Chödrön~

Pema’s words stayed with me today. I’ve been thinking on the emotions that run deep in the motorcycling world. Why we enjoy the increased vulnerability and it’s physical hardships and odd constraints of using a bike for routine events; take commuting for example. I rode from south west London to north west London and back, every working day for 18 months.  The route involved crossing the Thames, negotiating between arterial motorways and A roads hunting the urban short cuts and rat runs. The planning of each day’s route was a strategic business; what the traffic was doing, where were the roadworks, what was likely to happen. Then on the road it was an intense experience. There’s basically two ways to ride in London: 1. Pretend you’re a car. Stay in lane, be predictable, don’t deviate. Filter at junctions and traffic lights at slow speed and under control. 2. Ride like a courier. Make progress at every opportunity, make the opportunity when it doesn’t exist, get ahead (and clear) of cars and buses as quickly as possible.  Stay ahead of the law and watch out for the ubiquitous cameras. Ride feral essentially. I, ahem, did a bit of both.  I learned a lot about the craft of urban motorcycling and importantly I learned a lot about the peace of mind that comes from regular bike riding. Every evening I was more relaxed and able to make sense of the daily grind in a more holistic way. To be fair I was also pretty tired and now definitely look my age!

Flash back to your motorcycling experiences, the times when it got tough; maybe caught in the rain, or a freezing ride to get somewhere at night, perhaps lost in an unfamiliar place. You know the time… My point is that we gain lots from those experiences as well as the easy ones. Those are the ones you tell your mates about or lodge on that familiar ‘shelf’ of motorcycling memories that define you and your interest in riding.

Photo (and sentiment) copied from a fellow blogger at http://groundupcaferacer.wordpress.com/page/2/
Photo (and sentiment) copied from a fellow blogger at http://groundupcaferacer.wordpress.com/page/2/

So I’m exploring the concept that motorcycling offers a twenty first century short cut into the human psyche, a two wheeled screwdriver across the battery terminals of life; enhancing a base drive to explore your own limits. The challenges are real, the risk is always very high (even if the probability of an ‘off’ is low, the impact of coming off is always massive) but crucially, the rewards are equally high. You know a little more about what you’re capable of when it gets tough and that makes you a fully paid up member of the human club.  Nice one.

[This is one of what is turning into a series of posts on ‘The Psychology of Motorcycling’.]