An honest rider will look in the mirror from time to time and remind themselves of their skills and limits — something different than the summation of years and miles on the road. This morning while sitting in the Pump Station Cafe after a brisk ride on the Vespa I was quizzing myself on the creeping of complacency into my rides. It was time for a personal riding lesson.
Complacency equals disaster on two wheels.
Riding experience is seductive and the more comfortable you become the easier it is to believe you’ve gained some magical riding power that will keep you safe. Things happen on the road — other vehicles behave erratically, animals rush about, weather transforms the day, expectations of the road surface prove false or any of a thousand little things waiting to complicate a rider’s life.
A lot can conspire against me when I ride and if I’m telling myself I’m experienced and ready I might be kidding myself. I may have what I need between my ears but if I don’t apply it constantly its not much use. Attention is required second by second when you’re riding otherwise complacency surfaces. Pile it on a little daydreaming and all the elements for a little personal riding lesson are in place.
That’s what happened on a little ride this morning.
Tearing along a forest road this morning like I didn’t have a care in the world. When I first ventured onto gravel with the Vespa many years ago it was an exercise in slow speed creeping. And now, with lots of gravel roads behind me I can ride a little faster. Despite the thermometer hovering at 31F I had dismissed most concerns with ice. The gravel road was clear as far as I could see and besides — what better traction than gravel.
So on I went on one of those rides where you just have to smile.
Thankfully I was only going about 20mph when I became aware of the ice. My gut wants me to hit the brakes but it was far too late for that. Same with maneuvering toward a bare strip on the road. Had I been paying closer attention I would have seen the ice in time to slow down or stop and pick my way through the hazard.
I was certain I was going to dump the Vespa.
So I’m left applying experience in a hurry. I knew enough not to brake, swerve or scrub off speed. The best course was to keep my eyes up, feet on the scooter, stay in a straight line and head for the ice free section about 60 feet away. No panic or sudden moves — just keep going. I understood how it would work and did what I had to do.
No slip, no slide, no fall.
Still, a personal riding lesson was in order. Riding in sub-freezing weather regardless of how tame the road looks always has a risk of unexpected ice.
So some more deliberate looks in the mirror, reminders of who I need to be on the road, and acceptance that my experience is only as good as my willingness to apply it.