Practice makes Permanent*

I've been discussing some riding techniques with a friend by e-mail, and he wrote the following, whilst discussing using both sides of the road for maximum view ahead:

"It helped me get over my reticence for going over the white line onto the wrong side of the road approaching corners for more visibility.... The thing I noticed in France was that I could easily move to the left for a right hand corner, because then I was on the 'correct' side of the road for home, therefore it didn't feel as awkward. I think it's just a mental barrier I have to overcome."

This got me thinking. I'd been riding for a number of years before I really started to work at improving my riding and by the time I started to put advanced riding skills into operation, I had already had a lot of experience riding abroad. It took me a little time to get the hang of using both sides of the road to maximise the view ahead, but probably for me it was much less of a problem because before I started using both lanes in the UK I was already used to riding on the right of the white line.

The thing I noticed when riding abroad some years ago was that I had a problem lining the bike up tight on the right for a left hander (ie. on my own side of the road abroad). In England I can align the bike a foot from the left hand edge of the road without any problems. In France I was giving myself a good yard leeway.

When I realised this I worked on moving closer to the edge and found I felt very uncomfortable pushing myself any closer, and began to fixate on the edge of the road to the exclusion of taking advantage of the view ahead - it was a definite mental thing and I had to work very hard at overcoming it.

Positioning the bike is largely subconscious and clearly relies on peripheral vision, as your attention is (or should be) some distance ahead. I assume that because of constant practice, I had a good mental map of how the situation should appear using peripheral vision when tight on the left, which allowed me to get on with looking ahead and not worrying about fine-tuning the position of the bike. This mental map was clearly missing when I lined up tight on the other side of the road...

If I ride abroad a lot, the problem goes away. After a week of driving round Drome Proven├žal in France in August 98, the problem had largely vanished and I felt confident positioning the bike tight to the right, but on the way to and from the Le Mans 24 Hour race in April the following year (280-odd miles each way of mostly D class roads) it had reappeared!!

An excellent demonstration that you need to constantly work on riding skills to keep them honed and in tip-top condition.

* When first written, this tip was titled 'practice makes practice' but swapping ideas with other instructors (one was actually a horse riding instructor who was one of our motorcycle training students), we realised that repeating a skill actually makes it permanent - which is why it's important to learn how to carry out the skills first. Practice makes permanent - so practice the perfect!