Ah, the ‘friction zone’ – that illusive sweet spot between the clutch and the throttle, your left and your right hand, smack dab in the middle of stalling the bike and keeping it upright. Instructors call this “the friction zone” and it’s similar to learning to drive a car with a manual transmission, except the clutch, gas, and shift control are in different places.
I know some of you have been riding since you were old enough to mount a dirt bike, but I got kind of a late start, so I took an endorsement class. All the bikes were 250 cc and the one I happened to be assigned was a Kawasaki. It was easy enough to handle once I had it going, it was the starting and stopping and moving through slow turns at low speeds that really got me.
The friction zone is all about fine control.
Almost anyone can control a bike at highway speeds, but the low speed turns are all about control. Weight distribution. The look. The lean. Putting it all together takes some getting used to.
At first it’s easy to be too timid. Give the bike too much throttle and it’ll jerk right out of your grasp, but going too slow can be just as scary. Your first instinct is to put your foot down, but that’s a bad habit that starts with fear and ends with the loss of a limb. The instructors were hard on me, but I needed to learn to trust in my own abilities. It was a lot to remember, and it all had to happen at the same time.
It’s easy to start doubting yourself, but you have to push through the fear if you want to break through to freedom.
I remember making extra-wide turns, crossing too many lines, wondering if I’d ever get the hang of it. But let’s face it, waiting until you're in a tight turn situation on a big, heavy bike is not the time to be wondering if you can keep it between the lines. It was harder than I thought, and there were times throughout the class that I really wanted to quit.
Learning to keep your bike upright is a lot like keeping your life upright. You can’t focus too much on the road underneath you, you have to keep your eyes up, and look ahead to where you’re going next. Scale back, center your weight, lean into the curves. Steady your speed. More throttle, ease the clutch.
The struggle is real – it’s a battle for balance.
In some ways it seems easier to find your balance at high speeds. When you're zipping along on a bike at sixty, a small adjustment makes a big difference. It's when life slows down that most of us have an issue. Slowing life down takes more control. More concentration. More awareness.
The reality is, if you don't practice balance, you'll always feel nervous when life slows down. You'll always wonder if you're going to tip over or stall out. Muscle memory will kick in after a while, but it’s kind of like practicing your scales on the piano. You have to want it enough to sit your butt down and put in the effort to learn a new skill.
You have to decide that you want it more than you’re afraid of it.
Most of us hate the slow turns of life – the painful transitions that come with new jobs, new relationships, inevitable injuries and health issues. We’re always itching to pull the throttle so we can go fast again, feel the wind in our hair, and let the road swallow our troubles. But the reward is real too. There’s nothing quite like the confidence that comes from mastering that machine.
Trust me, that confidence is the sexiest thing you’ll ever put on under your riding gear.
Life is hard sometimes. No one likes to ride in the rain, and accidents happen, but a well-seasoned rider is ready for anything, even bad weather. Building confidence takes time, but it all becomes worth it when the thing you used to fear becomes the thing that sets you free.
The friction zone becomes your happy place.
Balance comes easily.
And you get to sit back and enjoy the ride!