• Sarah Merrell

Turning Fear Into Confidence: Replacing Emotions with a Technical Approach

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Riding highly technical motorcycle roads like The Dragon has perks. One of the most important is that the complexity allows riders to work on numerous skills from braking to cornering to body positioning, just to name a few. As a 10-year veteran riding these mountain roads, they've taught me valuable lessons and skills over the years, but I found that after a while, I hit a plateau, as many riders do. So this season I decided to do something about it. I participated in Yamaha Champions Riding School. And suddenly the plateau diminished and I saw real progress on both the track and the road. But that's not what this blog post is about. It's about how newly acquired speed and progress can come with their own sets of challenges--and how to handle it--with advice provided by the best: No, not me (I wish)! Nick Ienatsch. A motorcycle racer, writer and renowned instructor.

My DRZ supermoto had been sitting in my garage all season and was barely touched the previous season. It just needed some maintenance and love. Following Champ School, it was finally back up and running and I couldn't wait to ride it. I was already aware that Champ School had made me faster on my sportbike, but what I wasn't prepared for was how it would translate to the supermoto. The faster speed meant I was leaning the bike more, and the first time, the pegs were dragging. Although the pegs are supposedly foldable, in one corner, the peg caught on the pavement and nearly launched me. I'll be perfectly honest: It scared the crap out of me.

In the past, this would have made me afraid to lean the bike and I would have slowed down. But at Champ School, I learned an important lesson. We need to be technical riders, not emotional riders. And to ask ourselves "why" and how to fix it. I reached out to Nick and asked him if he could provide his insight.

"When our Champ School students grasp a technical understanding of how the rider's actions affect the bike, they become more able to coach themselves through problems based on technical solutions," Ienatsch said. "They don't say 'I hate this corner,' they think, 'My bike's not turning well here because I'm off the brakes too early...I've got to trail brake longer to control my speed and steering geometry another six feet.'"

You need to understand that when Nick gives this insight, it's not his personal opinion alone. This technical approach is based on habits of championship-winning racers. This is something Nick explains:

"Eddie Lawson, America’s only four-time 500GP world champion, recognized early in his career how emotional riders would be hot one week, cold the next…no consistency. He used to joke about it, knowing that those emotion-based riders would never be a threat for the  championship because they had no sound, reliable, repeatable approach. On good days they would be on the podium, on bad days they’d be 13th. High and low. Hit and miss."

This type of "hot and cold" rider is not what we want to be.

Nick also urges riders not to misunderstand. Riding is all about emotion, but your approach aboard the bike should be as the on-board engineer and based on technical knowledge linking your actions to the bike's performance.

"With this technique-intensive approach, your during and post-ride emotions will be through-the-roof positive whether you’re on a racing podium, just set your personal best lap at a track day, or arrived at breakfast with your friends after placing your bike exactly all morning," Ienatsch said.

So going back to my issue with the DRZ, I pulled over and thought about Nick's advice. I asked myself, what can I change about my riding to maintain speed without a fear of catching the peg? Two things:

1. If I practice good body positioning and lean off the bike towards the inside of the corner it enables the tire to lean less.

2. If I stick my knee out, I can use it to gauge my ground clearance and my knee will drag before my peg drags.

Once I had this plan in my head, I turned my bike back on and tried it. I didn't know if it would work, but it made sense in my head when thinking it through. And guess what? It did! I found that working on my body positioning and touching my knee down solved it. Once I realized this was working, it was a huge confidence boost. If I hadn't pulled over to think, and instead let my emotions win, my fear would have negatively impacted my progress.

When it comes to riding, everyone's fears and emotions are different. It could be a road, track or corner we don't like or a specific skill we're struggling with or just "not feeling it" today. And like I found, sometimes changes like newly found speed can create unexpected situations. It's inevitable. But regardless of the circumstances, when it happens, take a time out and set the emotions aside and think about what you, as a rider, can do to change the performance of your motorcycle. After all, the motorcycle only does what we tell it to.

Interested in Champ School? Use coupon code Sarah10 to save 10%!

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