Many people learn valuable skills using trial by fire methods. These methods work fine in many situations. Let’s say that you’re at work and a project lands on your table that is outside your normal duties. After pondering a bit, you decide to tackle it and learn as you go. For most people, there is minimal risk involved with learning on the fly. For us stubborn folks it is perhaps one of the few ways that we actually learn.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) learning is great when the relative level of risk is low. Dr. Mark Barnes tackles this subject in his article, “The Five Phases of D.I.Y. Learning” in the February 2012 issue of Motorcycle Consumer News. This is one of the few periodicals that I eagerly await the arrival each month. Dr. Barnes brings to life far too familiar phases while tackling mechanical maintenance tasks on motorcycles. If you haven’t read the article, then I suggest you check it out.
The phases that he presents had me nodding and chuckling along because of their familiarity. That is when it dawned on me that DIY learning is valuable, but the overall cost compounds with the increasing risk of the activity. More specifically, his article took me from pondering the learning of mechanic skills to the learning of motorcycle operation skills. There is risk inherit with both types of skills, but the latter proves to be the riskier activity with more than 3,600 motorcycle crash fatalities on U.S. roads in 2010.
The following are the five phases of DIY learning as presented by Dr. Barnes with a brief summary of each phase. Then I’ll apply each phase to the riskier activity of learning to ride a motorcycle on the fly.
Phase one: Diving In – You have made the decision to jump the gate into the realm of something new.
At some point we all decide that it is time to take on a new project. This likely includes telling friends or family that you’re interested in learning to ride a motorcycle. Some of them will call you crazy. Others will pontificate on their experiences riding motorcycles. Those that do ride will all have strong opinions on the best way for you to go about learning.
Some will say it is time to head down to the dealer and pick a small bike on which to learn. They may suggest anything from a “small” Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 to a scooter or small displacement bike as the perfect first motorcycle. You may consider a local basic rider course, but ultimately you decide it is just time to dive in and make it happen.
Phase two: Happily Splashing About – Research is complete, tools gathered and you begin taking on the project.
Some people grew up riding motorcycles. It was a natural transition from pedal-power to engine-power. For others it was a strong yearning for the two-wheeled experience that put them on the saddle. In either case, far more people are self-taught and take the DIY approach to dive in to riding a motorcycle for the first time.
At this point we have decided that we will be riding, have picked a method to make this happen and our giddiness rises as the bike is fired up for the first time. The first wobbly feet traveled with a tank of explosive liquid between our legs likely stabilized as the speed increased. After realizing that the wheels were turning, we rolled off the throttle and lurched to a stop with awkward use of the brakes.
This is the first phase with real risk involved. With careful movements it can be managed. The lack of muscle memory and experience on a motorcycle could quickly increase risk with too much throttle, abrupt braking or our inability to maneuver a moving motorcycle. With any luck, this splashing about won’t result in your splashing onto the ground.
Phase three: Sinking – Tackling the project brews troubling waters. Problem solving skills and ability to find the right tools in the tool box come into play.
This is the stage where that friend calling us crazy rings all too true. Why do we insist on putting ourselves in harm’s way? The answer to that is that we don’t intend to screw up. As we learn basic operation of the primary motorcycle controls (throttle, clutch, front brake, rear brake and gear shifter) there is ample opportunities to do just that; screw it up.
Speed typically builds with confidence. Risk climbs in the shape of a hockey stick with each mile per hour indicated on a speedometer. Keep it under 10 mph and the bike won’t be too stable, but it also shouldn’t hurt too bad when we hit the pavement due to some silly reason. Above 10 mph and risk climbs very fast. This is an interesting dynamic of motorcycles. They are unstable at speeds with low risk and more stable with higher speeds with higher risk. Early in skill development, this dynamic can bite back hard.
Let’s say that we’ve gotten out on a “practice” ride in front of our house a time or two. We are more confident in throttle and brake operation. It’s time to attempt the corner at the edge of the neighborhood in second or even third gear. Just as we up-shift and enter the corner smoothly a car pulls out of a driveway and into our path of travel.
At this point we can sink or we can resurface and swim. Let’s say all goes well and we come up for air.
Phase four: Resurfacing – All storms eventually pass. Take a break, rest the mind and solutions come up. Settling down clears the stormy skies.
We are in the midst of a hazardous situation with this car pulling out of the driveway in front of us. Our level of risk is quite high. Luckily, somehow we manage to straighten the bike and come to a stop with our feet firmly on the ground. This is the type of situation where I typically take a deep breath and decide to call it a day.
After taking it very easy on the short one block ride back home, we park the bike. Sitting on the couch that night we can’t help but to ignore the boring sitcom on the boob-tube as we run over the earlier situation on the bike. It is this analysis that makes us realize that we were likely going too fast for our abilities, too fast for the corner, didn’t look far enough ahead and vow to take it as several valuable lessons learned.
We chalk up the situation as something that must happen to everyone that is just learning to ride a motorcycle. To tell you the truth, new situations constantly come up when riding motorcycles — even for experienced riders.
Phase five: Recovering – The crisis, um project, is over, problem solved and you have gained wisdom to carry through life. Satisfaction replaces regret and reproach.
Riding a motorcycle is a complicated task. There is a lot to learn at first and then we continue to learn the rest of our riding life. I think we make it through the first four phases and just as we touch recovery we inevitably find a new skill to learn and start the process all over again. Over time we build many skills and begin to feel satisfaction with our abilities. With any luck, nothing major will occur and we can continue to become a proficient motorcyclist.
It is at this point that many riders decide to take a motorcycle safety course. They have a realization that DIY learning can be risky and there might be something to having an experienced rider in a closed and safe setting help them learn new skills. The funny thing about this realization is that DIY learning is great, but for high risk activities it is worth the few bucks paid to a professional to learn in a safe environment. These same phases of learning will still occur at the local motorcycle riding range, but it is closed to other traffic. That last point means that when we arrive to Phase Three: Sinking, no car will be pulling out in front of us. This drastically reduces risk while new riders are first developing basic motorcycle operation skills.
Yes, I just took you for a long ride to make a strong point in the second to last paragraph. It you’re anything like me. Such things are required to actually help you get the point. We certainly are a stubborn bunch. Enjoy the ride!