Overcoming Anxiety: A Motorcyclist’s Guide

Overcoming Anxiety: A Motorcyclist’s Guide - Motorcycle Magazine - Racext 1

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Overcoming Anxiety: A Motorcyclist’s Guide

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The battle cry of motorcyclists everywhere.

As ridiculous as it might sound, I’ve always been a bit envious of people who have that kind of (excessive) self-confidence. The ability to look at any obstacle, no matter how big, fast, or death-defying, and firmly believe that everything will be fine.

It might be surprising to hear this from someone who races and has traveled extensively on motorcycles, but I am an over-thinker. I have anxiety, and it always seems to take me twice as long to feel comfortable doing things that the rest of the world can figure out in minutes. I’m an intellectual, not an athlete. There’s probably a lifetime of trust issues and psychological intricacies to unravel here, but instead, let’s talk about how this applies to motorcycle riding.

Imagine, if you will, sitting atop a dirt bike in the backcountry. You’re a new rider. You don’t really know what you’re doing, and your mind constantly reminds you of this fact. You see a pile of rocks down a deceptively steep slope. In a fraction of a second, you’ve envisioned every possible thing that can go wrong. You’ve imagined all the ways you could get hurt, all the mistakes your inexperience is likely to cause. You haven’t even attempted the obstacle, but you’ve already decided it’s too much.

You’ve hit the brakes. You stare at the rocks. And now the fear is even worse. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, your worry makes it more likely that you’ll make a mistake.

Your friends might urge you to stop being a wimp, and you want to stop being a wimp too. But that doesn’t change the fact that your body is paralyzed with fear. This is the easiest way I can think of to explain what it’s like trying to learn to ride when you’re an anxious person with a hyperactive imagination. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome an excess of self-preservation that aren’t as barbaric as yelling “Send it!”

Training and Education

It’s easy to simply say “seat time,” but it’s more complicated than that. Even if you’ve been riding for a while, your brain might still mock you because you know you don’t actually know what you’re doing. Maybe you’ve fallen a few times, gotten hurt, or are just humble enough to know your knowledge limits. Seat time is extremely important, but quality seat time requires understanding the fundamentals.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to seek professional education. I’ve attended many schools in my 12 years of riding. I started with the MSF course and practiced the suggested drills in a parking lot until I was confident enough to start commuting. After six months of canyons and highways, I started thinking I was a good rider… until I nearly threw my bike off the edge of Glendora Mountain Road in Southern California.

The next time I got on a bike, I trembled every time I saw a curve. I had no idea what I did wrong, but I knew I didn’t want it to happen again. So, I bought a lot of riding books to try to figure out my mistakes, from “Twist of the Wrist” to “Proficient Motorcycling,” and decided it was time to hit the track and learn how to corner properly. I signed up for an introductory class (most track day organizations have control riders on staff who provide help and extra instruction to new riders) and headed to Streets of Willow. I was probably one of the slowest riders to ever grace the back straight, but the more laps I did, the easier it became to implement the techniques I’d read about.

Once I started racing, where progress is clearly quantifiable, it became more apparent that I’d hit a plateau between my speed and my fear threshold. What you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing don’t always match, so taking lessons with Ken Hill and Jason Pridmore, where they analyzed my riding and showed me ways to stay in control even as my speed increased, was all I needed to keep improving.


When I decided last year that I wanted to learn dirt riding after years on pavement, I suddenly felt like I was back at square one, even though I’ve been riding for over a decade. The feeling of the tires sliding terrified me; rocks, hills, and sand triggered the worst fear I’ve ever swallowed. At one point, I literally cried while looking down a steep hill that I had no choice but to overcome if I wanted to get back to the truck.

It’s easy to simply say, “Well, if it’s that scary, then maybe it’s not for you.” But I wanted it to be for me, and I knew that if I could get through the growing pains, the reward would be worth the struggle. While telling myself “You can do it!” didn’t silence my inner demons, telling myself “If you do it, you can get some of that awesome handmade ice cream with the peanut butter cups” did.

Treat yourself. That hill you conquered or that rock you climbed might not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but don’t underestimate how significant it was for you. Conquering your fear deserves a reward, and having something positive to associate with the tough moments is a surprisingly useful mental exercise. You’d be amazed at what you can achieve if you can make yourself smile in the moment instead of frown.

At the end of the day, it’s okay to be scared, especially when you’re learning. That initial fear doesn’t mean you don’t belong on a motorcycle, and no matter how easy all your friends make it look, you’re not the only one who feels this way. Be patient with yourself. And when you overcome those hurdles, the thrill of the wind in your hair will be all the more satisfying.



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Overcoming Anxiety: A Motorcyclist’s Guide


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