a motorcyclist's blog

Muscle Memory and Enjoying the Ride

Enjoy the Ride

Most motorcycle riders will tell you that riding is great experience. Words like “blast”, “exhilarating” and yes, “fun” are terms often used to describe the joy that is motorcycle riding. So why is it many new riders will confess that riding a motorcycle can be a scary and intense activity?

One reason that comes to mind is experience or, in the case of the new rider, lack thereof. Let’s look at why.

Cognitive Overload

Learning to ride a motorcycle involves coordinating several actions, both in sequence and concurrently in order to safely operate the machine. Most motorcycles have five basic controls including throttle, clutch, gear change, and separate controls for front and rear brakes.

Add to those the fact that the throttle, front brake, and clutch controls are riding on bars that steer and that adds up to a lot of input required from the rider. This can be overwhelming to a new rider.

Many beginning riders, no matter how quickly they learn can end up with more input than they can effectively process. This is the point of saturation and that is when things stop working or we tend to start making mistakes.

My friend and advanced riding instructor, David Beyer, had this to say when I talked to him about this article: “In teaching we refer to this as cognitive load and it is the reason why when teaching someone and providing tips and feedback it is important to keep it short and concise. It is critical that the instructor (or observer) distill down to the key element needing attention that will help the rider improve. I call this the root of what was observed or what happened.”

The attention being given to operation of the bike is also competing with attention demanded by the surroundings. Traffic lights and signs, pedestrians, debris on the road all require consideration not to mention maintaining awareness of other vehicles. It’s plain to see how new riders might not find riding on the street a relaxing and fun experience.

Are We Having fun Yet?

Like any new skill or activity, it takes deliberate thought to perform an action. Learning to type, for instance, starts as a series hunt and press actions while learning the location of the keys. Over time one doesn’t even need to look at the keys anymore to turn thoughts into words on a screen (Ok, I still look more than I should).

Guitar players practice for hours and hours to the point where they can be play through a whole set without looking at the neck of the instrument. A lot of them can also sing at the same time. For them, the process goes from the struggle to learn to the sheer enjoyment of making music.

The point is that repeating these action like typing or playing a guitar or yes, even operating a motorcycle, develops what is called muscle memory (or muscle learning). The result is that actions can be performed without deliberate attention.

Practice may not always be fun but it is the gateway to enjoying the ride. As one practices use of the throttle, brakes, and other controls on the bike, the more that muscle memory will build up.

As those motor learning pathways are created less and less attention will be required to simply operate the bike. This will leave more attention available to remain aware of the surroundings and keep an an eye out for vehicles and hazards on the road.

With attention needs dropping below the saturation point, the rider can begin to relax. With more practice, operating the motorcycle becomes second nature. Regular riding also can improve situational awareness.

Over time riders often find that they are able to spot hazards (and potential ones) faster and more easily. We call this pattern recognition and there are exercises that can help improve this, but that’s an article for another time (and it is already in the works).


Practice practice practice. Get out and ride and practice those skills. If you’re a new rider find some places with low amounts of traffic or even go out at times where the streets aren’t so busy. Spend some time just getting used to working all the controls in concert.

Developing muscle memory not only will increase your level of enjoyment but it can also increase your safety. Practicing quick stops (not on the street!) can reduce reaction times as well as provide an understanding for how the bike will handle in that situation.

Finally, don’t let years of riding experience get in the way of practicing skills and seeking more advanced riding education. Look at each ride you take as an opportunity to practice things like smooth shifting, looking deep into turns, and correct body position. Practice makes perfect!

1 Comment

  1. David

    Great article, Love the direction and the thought process about enjoying the ride. Practice makes permanent, perfect practice makes perfect.

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