ScooterFile Review: Proficient Motorcycling

For any new rider, the generally accepted due diligence of learning to ride a two wheeler includes a short list of consistent activities.

1. Get yourself a helmet (and better yet, full riding gear)
2. Take the MSF rider safety course
3. Read David L. Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling

Though I’ve been riding scooters since 2007, I’ve only recently crossed #3 off my list, and I have to say, I put it off far too long. Not only was it an enjoyable, entertaining read, but Proficient Motorcycling is a treasure trove of riding tips.

It’d be easy to simply fill a volume with haphazard riding tips. One could simply describe a thousand different situations with as many advised remedies and endless lists of dos and don’ts. While Proficient Motorcycling does contain a number of common, helpful and critical situational safety tips, the real value in reading its nearly 300 pages is in the detail Hough explores regarding the very riding of the machine itself. Personally, part of the joy of riding for me is in perpetually honing my skills. It’s like perfecting a golf swing. No matter how well I do it, I can always do it that little bit better, and in so doing, have more fun and be safer out on the road.

Now it would be an easy thing to dismiss Proficient Motorcycling as having little to do with scooters. This couldn’t be further from the case. Regardless of configuration, gears, wheel size or engine size, it’s still just two wheels and a motor. What Hough gets into is the very theory of riding a two wheeled vehicle not just safely, but well. The two go hand in hand, as it turns out. The very habits and practices that make for proper riding also avail a motorcycle or scooter operator of both situational awareness and wiggle room to take evasive action should the situation require it.

The key word in that description is habit. This is Hough’s key concept in Proficient Motorcycling, and the concept that’s stuck with me more than anything else in the book. The way we ride the bike day in and day out is the way we’ll ride the bike when that inattentive cager hooks a left turn into our path. In the thick of that emergency situation, we’re not going to think about braking correctly — with good technique to maximize our control and minimize our stopping distane. We’re going to brake the way we always brake, only harder, and the outcome might not be as good as it could have been. By building good habits of proficient riding technique, safety is maximized because we’re already doing the things we ought to be doing. When a hostile situation comes around, we simply do them more aggressively. Or better yet, good habits have us in the best posible position to avoid the situation all together.

Reading Proficient Motorcycling dovetailed very well into one of my own late winter rituals. Each February or March, I make a point of watching one of those gratuitous YouTube video compilations of motorcycle crashes (there’s usually no shortage of scooters in there too). Take this video, for example:

I do this at the beginning of each riding season to remind myself of a handful of truths.

1. Riding is dangerous
2. I, and no one else, am responsible for my safety
3. Riding well and situational awareness are pretty much everything in preventing a crash
4. For all the mayhem in these videos, there are no deaths shown, and most escape with only minor injuries.

This year, as I watched about an hour of crash videos, I noticed right away that what I’d read in Proficient Motorcycling had greatly altered my perception of these situations. I found myself quickly able to predict situations before they actually materialized. That one was going to be a car pulling out. Yup. Bam! Are those street car tracks? Edge trap! He’s going down. Sure enough, a bike on its side in an instant. With just a few days’ study, so many more situational patterns had opened up to me. I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.

Now will reading Proficient Motorcycling guarantee that nothing will ever happen to me on my scooter or motorcycles? Of course not. Yet in reading this book, I can say that this season I’ve got some work to do. I’ve got some better habits to form. I’ll be a better rider and any book that can do that is definitely worth your time. I’ll be re-reading Proficient Motorcycling periodically in the years to come.

How about you? What riding technique books have found useful? Give us your recommendations in the comments.

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