Motorcycle Riding Tips: Listening, Learning and Welcoming Your Errors

Because every little glitch and error you experience while riding indicates your next area to improve.

Keith Code motorcycle riding tips
Keith Code talks, you listen. But knowing what to talk about requires a massive amount of listening.©Motorcyclist

During my most active time of instructing I was delivering around 1,000 technical riding briefings each year to our students, which taught me a few things. One was that good instructors and coaches often experience a unique reciprocity of information between themselves and their students—if one listens carefully.

Students think and talk about their riding in a variety of ways. Some are visually oriented, some talk only about the emotions they feel, and others describe their hands-on experiences with excruciating clarity and detail. Others lump their feelings, emotions, and experiences into the same bag with woes and worries or areas they yearn to improve.

My earliest coaching experience in the 1970s (a one-on-one, two-day affair) laid the groundwork for everything that has come since. After working with several dozen riders I concluded that just telling someone what to do was fruitless. The difference between what I saw, felt, and thought, and their perceptions, were vastly different. Consequently, bringing them to their own unique understanding of any particular riding skill was the only hope.

To be clear, there is a place for chalk-talk lectures. This is where riders’ understanding of the underlying reasons why they should want to master a particular technical riding point enters in. That is where the instructor makes it clear that each individual skill is in fact its own thing with its own rules and its own consequences. Lectures pave the way for a rider to be able to focus on one area of improvement at a time. It gives both the coach and the student common ground for discussion and correction; with it, they begin to speak the same language.

More Riding Tips From Keith Code:

Successful coaching is based on listening to students. It is the key to deciphering their meaning and peeling away those layers of uncertainty. Replacing that with understanding and a planned, definitive route toward their resolution is the craft of coaching. It’s a craft because a trained coach sees a lot, often too much. Where do you start to correct observed errors? Knowing when and how to “triage” corrections is a critical skill.

Back in ’84 I came up with five well-defined drills that could both be explained and coached. Students did well under this format. Ten years later there were five more drills, and we established our Level 2 training. Several years later another five and along came Level 3. Each level has its own grouping of interconnected skill sets.

A few more drills came about in the ’90s and 2000s, but even as we refined the courses there was still that feeling we weren’t handling every individual’s unique situation. My remedy was creating a Level 4 made up of an individual program for each student. With no set curriculum, we fell back on that key basic—listening to students describe their problems. Up until three years ago I thought we had this in hand with our portfolio of 22 different riding drills and assignments. Little did I know, we’d only scratched the surface.

As I began to give fewer technical briefings and work more closely and individually with our Level 4 students, I realized there was still much to discover. What transpired was more precisely identifying and dissecting the barriers that restrict a rider’s ability to improve. Fully understanding a rider’s problem involves decrypting their confusion and creating a common-ground drill, within their individual ability, to solve it.

The net result of this approach has me fired up. So far, an additional 106 new drills and assignments have evolved, bringing the total to 128—each one a tiny slice of a technical skill and each one intended to provide a fresh look and a remedy for the problem the student, along with his on-track coach.

Here’s the takeaway: Don’t become dismayed. Every little hitch, glitch, and error you experience while riding indicates your next area to improve. Listen to yourself. Welcome your errors; they are your signposts to improvement.

Keith Code, credited as the father of modern track schools, founded his California Superbike School in 1980 and currently operates programs in 11 countries and on six continents. His "A Twist of the Wrist" series of books and DVDs are thought by many to be the bible of cornering.