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BACK TO BASICS - IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

by Jerry Palladino (MOTORMAN)

Last week at one of my citizen's classes, I had 10 enthusiastic riders, ready and raring to improve their skills. I always start them off with the slow cone weave, which consists of 6 cones in a straight line set at 12' apart. This is a great exercise to get the riders used to turning the handlebars quickly from side to side to avoid hitting the cones. It also teaches the rider where their focus needs to be, which is on the very last cone in the line. This exercise also simulates obstacle avoidance, such as, in a case where a truck in front of you drops his load and you must weave around the obstacles.

Generally, it takes the average rider 5 or 6 runs through before they can complete the exercise without hitting any cones. But, on this day, I tried something a little different. In an effort to teach the students that the proper techniques for riding are mainly in your head. In other words, mind over matter.

Instead of using 12" traffic cones, I placed 6 tennis balls, cut in half on the ground. Still set of course at 12' apart. I then stood down at the end of the line and told the riders to focus on me at about my eye level and not to look down at the tennis balls. Every rider made it through the weave without running the tennis balls over. I had them perform about 5 runs through the exercise. I then placed the 12" traffic cones on top of the tennis balls and had them run the exercise again. Low and behold, every rider struck at least one of the cones. They all swore that the cones were set closer together than the tennis balls, even though they saw me place the cones right on top of the balls. It took another 5 or 6 runs through the exercise before all the riders could complete the cone weave successfully. Thus proving, that it was all in their head. The exercise hadn't changed one bit. What was actually happening of course, was that they were now looking at the cones and of course, wherever you look, that's where the motorcycle will go, so the riders struck the cones. Once I convinced them of this fact, and got them to focus on me standing at the end of the line, they breezed through the slow cone weave without error.

I then set up the U-turn exercise at 24'. I had the riders turning to the left. I removed the right side line of cones so the riders could not see the actual edge of the 24'. All the riders made it through turning their bikes in 24' or less. A few were even able to make the turn in less than 20'. As soon as I put the line of cones on the 24' mark, once again, everyone had difficulties making the U-turn. It appeared to them that the size of the U-turn had been reduced. Once I explained to them that they had all made the U-turn previously in well less than 24' and repeatedly told them not to stare at the cones on the 24' line, they once again were able to make the U-turn with no problem.

The moral of the story is, focus only where you want the motorcycle to go. If you look at the edge of the road or the curb when making a tight U-turn, you will surely hit it. If instead you focus where you want the bike to go, you'll make that turn every time. Remember, motorcycling is 90% mental and 10% physical.

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More articles by MOTORMAN:
Back to Basics Series:   About Jerry Palladino:
A "Motorman" is the term used in police circles to identify a motorcycle cop, or any law enforcement officer assigned to the motorcycle division. Prior to
becoming a Motor Officer, Jerry rode for enjoyment for about 25 years. Then one day, he saw a 5 minute segment on a television show which depicted motorcycle officers training on their Harley police bikes. The way these officers could maneuver these full size motorcycles around like a child's toy, made it appear as if they were defying gravity. At that moment, he knew that he had a lot to learn about riding a motorcycle. Shortly afterwards, the agency he worked for started a motorcycle unit. he was sent for training to Tallahassee with the highway patrol. The training consisted of 120 hours of intensive motorcycle training, focusing mainly on low speed handling. Jerry says, "When I finished this training, for the first time I really knew how to ride a motorcycle."
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