Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tangible versus Intangible reasons for riding a motorcycle

For motorcycle riders, the question "Why do you enjoy riding a motorcycle?" seems pointless. The stock answer from an impatient rider would be, "If you want to know, why don't you ride one and find out?" The question may be hard to answer because the answer requires a rider to communicate his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions and connect with the listener. And the listener may have never ridden a motorcycle, and may have no interest in doing so. This is not easy.

If I were to give it a try, my response would be, motorcycle riding generates the right balance of tangible and intangible feelings in the rider. If you care about this sort of thing. Caveat: For those who have substantial barriers to appreciating motorcycles (fear, preconceived notions, bias, indifference), this or any other explanation will seem completely pointless. 

(Which leads me to the best possible advice I can give--do not try to convert anyone to be a motorcycle rider or make them like it. But that is a topic for a different blog)

You entire body and mind is engaged when riding a motorcycle. You have to maintain your balance, constantly use your hand-eye coordination, you hear and feel the motorcycle's engine and change gears to keep it smooth and comfortable, I could go on and on.

The intangible part is the sensations that are generated when you view a beautiful scenic route, smoothly taking a curve, and the feeling of independence.

It is crucial that you observe the thoughts, feelings, and emotions with complete equanimity. I have noticed more than once, if I give in to the pleasant sensations, if I relax to much, or my concentration wavers, I am swiftly brought back to reality when my motorcycle twitches because I went around a curve too fast, or hit an unseen bump on the road. This generates a lot of unpleasant sensations, which I have to observe with complete equanimity as well. In simple terms, avoid panic and rash moves when moving at high speeds.

The tangible and intangible feelings perhaps sum up the value proposition of riding a motorcycle. You can get these feelings from other sources, some may say this is true of flying aircraft and sailing boats. Yes, that is true. But you are here because you have an interest in motorcycles, so I will proceed with that assumption!

This leads me to the general principles of communicating with your fellow human beings. How to provide the information required by your listener, whether at work or at home, how to assess readiness for change and action, and how to deal with the pleasant and unpleasant sensations that arise when communicating with your fellow human beings, is a vast topic and takes years of practice to master. Numerous books have been written and more continue to be written. Most of these focus on the "how" and the "mechanics" and very few try to teach the "feel" part of communication.

Ultimately, mastery in communication requires skill and taking an interpersonal risk. The ultimate skills of communication--knowing when to be quiet and not say anything, and knowing when to listen, and knowing when to speak--can only be learnt, not taught.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Escaping from/to Reality (on a motorcycle

As I begin to ride, I feel a sense of calm come over me. I am not wildly excited about riding, nor am I petrified with fear. I feel calm, or, if you prefer, equanimous. This is the zone where I can truly enjoy the ride, without anxiety or fear or over-confidence.

When I lose equanimity during a ride, I tend to take risks that prove disastrous (yes, it has happened, but I recovered quickly) or I tense up and open myself up to the possibility of mistakes.

As a fellow motorcyclist put it in his post somewhere, when I ride, the "layers of bullshit" just peels away, as I get away from the ups and downs of my daily life.

This troubles me. I wish to ride because it requires me to be equanimous, and there is joy in being equanimous. But I do not wish to run away from reality to get this joy. I wish to enjoy my day-to-day existence as well, with the same joy that I get when I ride. What I am trying to say in a roundabout way, is that I am trying to be equanimous in my day-to-day life, but succeeding better when I am on a motorcycle.

Why is that?

For one thing, when I am on a motorcycle, I have to pay complete attention to what I am doing. It is a matter of life and death. I plan ahead, but also adjust and go with the flow. For another, I take action or take evasive action without judgment. There is no room for losing my temper or being critical of events and people. People around me treat me with respect and caution because what I am doing is very clear. I ride to enjoy myself, they don't want to spoil that. I could be of danger to them, so they are careful around me on the road. I train hard, practice my skills, read a lot about motorcycles, but ultimately, the tasks on a motorcycle are simple.

Reality is different, tasks are more complex, there are multiple personalities at home and work, thoughts (cravings and aversions) crowd into my mind and paralyze me, I lack skills in a few crucial areas, and I have trouble decoding the contradictory and critical feedback from my fellow human beings.

This means I have to work harder in my day-to-day life. If I accept this reality (hard work), then the situation begins to resemble a motorcycle ride. It actually feels like a lot of little motorcycle rides, and so I need to stop between rides, clean my bike, check fluids, give the engine a rest, and then continue. 

One way my day-to-day life is "better" (not a satisfactory description, but you'll get the point). I can afford only one bike, and that bounds my capabilities. In real life, I can become a bigger bike with my efforts.

Perhaps this is too simple an analogy. I know there is more to it. But for now, this gives me some calm.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to pass a motorcycle written test

First, let me make it very clear, I despise and dislike tests. Second, let me also make it very clear that tests are necessary.

Why this oxymoronic observation? Read on to learn more...

I prepared hard for the motorcycle written test at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I read the California Motorcycle Handbook end to end. I read the California Driver Handbook, both the iBook and PDF versions. I took the sample tests in the iBook version and on the DMV web site. I downloaded apps for my iPhone and took those tests as well. The online tutorial was helpful as well.

I did not make many mistakes in the practice tests, but it really bothers me when I don't know the answer or if I have to guess. I went back into the Manuals, and occasionally the YouTube videos to seek clarification. The thought at the back of my mind was, questions I've never seen may appear on the test and I have to have all the information I need in my head so I can get to the answer by using common sense and first principles.

Having taken the Basic Rider Course sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I was exempt from the skill test at the DMV, but I was determined not to let that lower my guard. While you cannot learn how to drive by reading books and manuals, the information provided will save me time when learning on the bike.

Fast forward... I passed the written test. I was pleased, because my plan worked. My plan is described below:

  • I accepted that tests are necessary and it will keep me and others safe if I go thru the process. This foundational and fundamental belief cleared the way for me and every obstacle to preparing and taking the test suddenly become enjoyable.
  • I separated "knowing how to ride" from "taking a test." Knowing how to ride will save my life. Knowing how to take a test will get me a license. No license, no ride.
  • Knowing how to ride is also foundational and fundamental. Otherwise I might pass the test with guesswork, and that will result in my forming bad habits. If I can guess my way out of a test, I can guess my way out of tough situations, right?
  • I noticed most of my issues were with the vocabulary used in the manuals and by the instructors. The concepts were easy and intuitive, after all I have the experience of riding motorcycles. So if I did not understand what was spoken or written, I would take extra care to research and learn it.
  • Some of the questions were phrased ambiguously. At such moments, it is critical for me to suspend judgment and focus on what the answer needs to be. This taught me how to focus on eliminating the wrong answers or selecting the best one. Getting upset at a poorly worded question is pointless.
  • I looked for and used all the free resources. There is quite a bit available. I almost paid for iPhone apps to get additional practice questions, but their design did not inspire confidence and ultimately it did not matter.
Here is the tipping point for me: On the morning of the test, I watched a few YouTube videos where actual tests administered recently were posted. After going thru a few, I felt really well prepared. Was this cheating? Not in my case. I was determined to be knowledgeable and the written test was just a mere "check in the box" at this point. If I did not pass the test, I would spend time preparing for the next one, not to mention added cost and a loss of confidence.

Psychologists will have a field day with my line of thinking. They will tell you about my "fear of failure," "obsessive compulsive behavior," "perfectionist," "anal retentiveness," and perhaps an esteem problem. Napoleon Hill will tell you it is perhaps a "fear of success."


On the one hand, such coaching and feedback is distraction. None of these people are experts on who I am. It is critical that I understand what makes me comfortable, what makes me tick, how I learn and retain information, and what test taking strategies work for me. Once I understand myself, I will be a high performance test taking machine. 

On the other hand, such coaching and feedback is a description of how I come across. To that extent, it is valid and useful. There is no way to keep everyone happy along the way, but I try not to do anything to make it worse. For example, if I am studying hard, I try not to ignore my duties (doing the dishes, walking the dog, take the garbage out, put the laundry away) and try not to be irritable in my demeanour. No one should feel I am under stress from studying for a test. 

Focus and dedication will pay off. I can only get better.

Day to day interactions and incidents in the workplace are also tests. A dysfunctional co-worker, micromanaging boss, irrational executive, demanding customer, you take your pick of what causes you stress in the workplace. Your task is to treat each interaction as a test and learn how to pass it using systematic methods and without stress. 

Add to that marital challenges and teenagers in the house. In my case I have a spouse who is 99% perfect and kids who are near role models of good behavior. So why do I have trouble with "tests" at home? See above for some reasons.