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Practice doesn't just makes PERMANENT... it keeps POLISHED too

The very first version of this article, written over fifteen years ago fell into a common trap. I talked about how practice makes perfect. But I quickly learned - thanks to a horse riding instructor who was took training courses with both Survival Skills Advanced Rider Training and another former trainer who remains a buddy of mine - that's not actually how it works. Repeating a skill actually fixes it in place - it makes it PERMANENT. For that reason it's vital to learn the RIGHT techniques before we start practicing. We need to practice the perfect! But even after that my ideas developed. It's perfectly possible to LOSE skills if we don't keep them POLISHED.

It all started when I was watching an online debate about the technique of 'offsiding', which is where riders cross the centre line onto the other lane to get a better 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."

I'm not going into the offsiding technique here - that's another debate altogether - but it got me thinking.

I'd noticed that when I was abroad, although I was comfortable sitting near the centre line on a right-hander (ie, the reverse of what we'd do in the UK), I really wasn't nearly so happy lining the bike up with the righthand edge of the lane near the grass for a left-hander. In the UK, I can place the bike precisely along the grass verge, but in France I was giving myself a good metre of leeway. I felt very uncomfortable pushing myself any closer, and if I tried I began to fixate on the edge of the road to the exclusion of taking advantage of the view ahead - it was definitely a mental thing.

Holding our position accurately within the lane is largely subconscious and relies on peripheral vision - or it should, if our our attention is up away and some distance ahead. But to achieve that precise positioning, we need a 'mental map' of the lane so our peripheral vision has something to refer to.

Riding all the time in the UK, constant practice generates a clear mental map of how my position should appear in peripheral vision. So when positioning left-of-centre to see around a right-hand bend, I 'knew' where I was in the lane, which allowed me to get on with looking further ahead.

But once I switched sides of the road in France, the mental map was clearly missing. As soon as I lined up right-of-centre near the verge, I began worrying subconsciously about the position of the bike.

As soon as I realised this, I began working on moving position bit-by-bit, rather than trying to take up the mirror image position. It took a bit of effort, but I was soon overcoming this mental block.

Now, here's the reference to 'practice keeps polished'. If I don't ride abroad for a while, the problem comes back. But if I ride abroad regularly, it goes away quickly. If I take a break from riding abroad - as I did some years back - then it takes much longer for the issue to vanish again.

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

...when was the last time you performed an emergency stop?

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

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