The mental side of motorcycling training

This is a note that appeared on the One More Mile Bulletin of April 2001 following a MC training course that Hans Heinz Dilthey gave to Turkish riders in March of the same year on the road and at the historical Izmit Korfez Circuit.

Bike racer in and off-road, passionate of sidecars, a consultant for top Motorcycle brands, instructor of great talent and international experience, Hans Heinz Dilthey lives now in Cairo managing his own companies and still riding with friends on the desert when not scuba-diving on the Red Sea.

I met Hans at the Nürburgring circuit toward the end of August 2000: he was the organizer and director of a very exciting and very educational course on the “Green Hell”. From then on we developed a sincere friendship and Hans contributed in many ways to the development of my riding skills and competence of many riders in Turkey.

Hans’s riding and training “philosophy” is based around the classic concept of self-knowledge, self-awareness. The ancient Delphic imperative “Know Yourself” reveals, with Hans, a new meaning for modern bikers. “You must be always aware of what you and your bike are doing… The perfect biker is the upper part of the motorcycle… Everybody can ride from 0 to 100 km/h, not everybody knows how to go from 100 to 0 Km/h. Instead of kilometres we should talk of meters per second …”

Hans words still resonate in my mind every time I drop the clutch.  It is a way of riding in harmony and fusion with the machine.

Hans summarizes his program in “Five basic ideas for better riding”.

  • Ride relaxed. Hans will always open a riding session with a set of exercises designed to relax mind and body. Sitting on the bike the riders are invited to contract and relax the major groups of muscles combining the muscle-connection with deep, relaxed breathing. ”Only relaxed muscle can react fast and the best rider is the one still relaxed at the end of the ride”. Breaking, accelerating, cornering must be done in a “soft relaxed way” holding the handlebar “as a new girlfriend”. By gripping the bar with tense strength we transfer to the bike unwanted orders magnifying every vibration or movement in a sudden, dangerous way.  Relaxation does not come natural and to help it Hans suggests the “Smile test” or the “Beans test”. The first one consists of keep smiling while keeping the tongue between teeth during a hard section of a ride. The second one has been created by a doctor friend of Hans; this expert uses to give to riders at the entrance of a Nürburgring Circuit five beans to keep in the mouth for the duration of a lap returning them uncrushed. Tension on the mouth, arms or shoulders is the most noticeable symptom of a general tension of the entire body and it is the easiest symptom to spot. “Keep smiling under the helmet to be sure that you ride relaxed.”
  • Realistic self-evaluation. Every rider has to strive for a realistic self-evaluation of his own riding style. “Humans do not react to reality but to the imagination of reality. Your perception guides your riding”. It is easy for all us riders to operate on a non-realistic self-evaluation: ignorance of the technique, pride, big egos, excitement and inexperience often bring bike and biker in that tragic spot where reality-situation and perception-imagination do not match: the accident spot or the call of physic laws. “We think of ourselves as riders in control…but we are not and professional biking is to develop a determined performance at a determined time”. In order to achieve this level of consistency Real Situation (the way I ride) should perfectly match Perception (the way I imagine myself riding). Realistic self-evaluation is not only the guide to ride within personal limits but it is as well the platform for continuous improvement: only the rider well conscious of his riding skills and riding performance can objectively work on improvements every time he hit the road.
  • Separate Vision Direction from Bike Direction. We all know about Target fixation and we also know that the bike goes where we look. Still, in critical situations, we tend to look where we do-not-want-to-go instead of targeting the way out. Think of a corner coming too fast or picture in your mind that car coming out on your path without seeing you. “We look at the problem instead of turning our vision toward the solution.”  Problems in cornering? If the vision is focused on the obstacles, the mind closes the throttle and applies brakes: nobody in a good state of mind wants to rush against a guardrail. In a situation like this one, it is beneficial to look at the exit of the corner, at the empty space of tarmac available for completing the line. “And not only the eyes but all body has to follow the vision”. In simple words, we have to “raise our vision” getting a larger and generic view of the situation we are riding. During panic situations (hard braking) the vision tends to drop to concentrate in front of the bike. “Raise your head, raise your eyes, raise your vision. Look to where you want the bike to go and you will find the solution”
  • Mental training. Self-evaluation is not the only aspect of thinking- riding. “More you think… better prepared you are” The setting of the mind is the essential element for safe riding: we have to figure out, pre-form in mind the ride ahead, picturing the difficult situations that we are likely to encounter. Planning the trip is not an exercise reserved for long rides: when commuting the brain should be alerted of what is coming to be instantly ready to react. Time should be dedicated to this preparation before starting the engine: the action of mental training is an element too often forgotten in riding courses.
  • Make the right kind of rest at the right time. “Your body is like the battery of your bike. If it is almost discharged, it takes a long time to get back full performance”. Resting is as important as riding: we have to start the ride after a good rest and we have to know (realistic self-evaluation) when to stop for rest before the “battery” runs too low. Frequent rests allow better recovery maintaining a good level of “charge in the battery”. Hans specifically insisted on the need for water for long, hard rides. “Do not wait to feel thirsty.. when you feel the need of a drink your body is already in critical dehydration”

Brain application makes every activity more interesting, safer, and more entertaining: this I learned from Hans Heinz Dilthey and for this, I will be always in debt.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

One thought on “The mental side of motorcycling training”
  1. Very nice article for riders, always we need to remember of why we ride and it’s philosophy. Life saving advices I found on the part of “Separate Vision Direction from Bike Direction” and I belive in that we should make so many mental practices to get first our brain and later our body ready for unexpected conditions that we may face during our ride. Thanks Paolo.

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