Riding Tips: Making Mistakes and Learning Lessons

Because even a seemingly minor riding error can result in a serious problem on the street.


We’re human beings and we make mistakes. Some mistakes are minor faux pas, while others are major screw-ups. When it comes to riding a motorcycle, even a seemingly trivial blunder can result in a serious problem.

Think back to a moment when you misjudged a corner, impatiently darted into traffic, or failed to spot a patch of sand in the road that resulted in a close call. At the time, did you accept the significance of the flub and admit that you messed up, or did you pretend it never happened? Brushing off the incident is a problem because if you can’t recognize and learn from mistakes then you’re likely to find yourself facing a similar situation in the future.


It’s tempting to blame another driver or the road condition when a close call or crash happens, but where does that get you? You know the roadways are rarely perfect, and I think we can all agree that the humans we share the road with are also imperfect. To survive, you need to be a master at predicting and identifying hazards and be more attentive, smarter, and less prone to mistakes than the average Joe.

Many mistakes stem from miscalculations caused by a lack of experience and knowledge. Both new and not-so-new riders get into trouble when they are slow to recognize danger and then react late and poorly. Over time much of the required knowledge is obtained either by paying Hard Knocks University’s high tuition or by choosing the cheaper and less painful method of preemptive study and training.

Even smart riders are not immune to mistakes. Human frailties like faulty perception, lapses in judgment, and carelessness are to be expected. Mistakes occur when we let distractions, impatience, peer pressure, or impairment influence our decisions. It takes discipline to keep attention sharp and emotions at bay.

It’s not reasonable to expect our awareness and attention to be 100 percent at all times. Self-awareness can tell you when you’re not at the top of your game and that it would be smart to pick a less challenging route and a slower pace. Are you able to recognize when you’re not at your best? Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought, but recognizing when you’re tired or distracted is a critical part of avoiding mistakes. Identify your lapses and ask if fatigue or distraction played a part. Do it without blame-storming.

Another common cause of mistakes is letting peer pressure influence behavior and usurp your better judgment. We humans instinctively want to fit in, often going out of our way to avoid looking bad. The next thing you know, you’re riding way too fast trying to keep up with the pack or taking unnecessary risks. If you can’t resist this powerful influence, ride with a more responsible group or fly solo.

So far I’ve talked mostly about mental and emotional causes of mistakes. That’s because the absence of good judgment and perception is a sure-fire way to end up in the ER. But, the inability to brake, swerve, and corner are also contributing factors. Trained riders deal with unexpected occurrences by utilizing all the brake power and cornering prowess their machine can provide. In contrast, untrained riders tend to either skid and crash, never making contact with the car (which ends up as the “I had to lay it down” story), or they fail to apply the brakes hard enough and plow into the car even though there was room to stop. They are also known to run wide in corners after entering too fast and then running out of talent. Braking and cornering mistakes can be mitigated through training and purposeful practice, in combination with good judgment.

Mistakes are part of being human, but the consequences of even small goof-ups can cause a lot of pain and expense when you ride a motorcycle. Pay attention to areas where you can use improvement, and get cracking at reducing the number of mistakes you make.