Motorcycling Makes Team Players


a man and women riding a motorcycle

John and I ride a lot together, which is to say, I rarely ride alone.

When we ride, although we don’t have helmet communicators, we do lots of communicating.

When I’m leading, especially on a highway, I’m very aware of traffic: how it’s moving, deviant vehicles, road conditions, construction, and potential hazards. As a leader, I need to establish a speed that’s comfortable for me and those following. Inattention on my part forces others to make quick corrections. Planning and forethought are essential; otherwise, I create my own crises. Knowing the bike’s limits as well as the power band keeps riding interesting while removing the scariness. For example, I know I can accelerate instantly, get in front of two cars in the right lane, and be well-positioned for the exit ramp. No need to put along in a line of exiting traffic, and also no need to elicit unwanted hand signals.

When I’m following, I’m looking for indicators about the road ahead. I learn from John’s riding to mitigate if not avoid hazards. I watch to see how his bike is handling the road.

When the pavement is bad or wet I do a lot of talking inside my helmet: “He is taking some bad bounces. I’m finding my own path over this gravel!” And, “What caused his bike to fishtail? Ah. Sand at the intersection.”

I’ve gained experience just by gritting my teeth and saying, “If he can handle this stupid piece of road, dirt path, bridge, etc., so can I.”

I notice traffic slowing. How slow? I watch his left foot, anticipating a downshift. That’s how slow. On an exit ramp if his brake light signals a quick correction I’m warned of a decreasing radius—expect the turn to tighten up. “Stay to the outside, allow some room.”

Watching brake lights ahead, I also go to school on his downhill riding. I see how far in front of the curve to apply the rear brake and transfer weight from the front to the back of the bike. I envy how he leans in low–left, then right, so smooth and graceful. I do my best to imitate.

I’ve only dumped my bike standing still; going slow is a struggle when I’m not going straight ahead. The slower the speed the less stable the bike, so I hate tight U-turns. When the leader heads in the wrong direction forcing us to make a U-turn, I need to stay calm, not blame and focus on improving a weak area of my riding.

Takeaways for the business teams:

  • Whether you are leading or following, pay attention to all the signals, especially subtle ones.
  • Some challenges can’t be avoided, but drawing on experience helps us manage to the best of our ability.
  • Learn everything you can from those in front of you. They are breaking new ground.
  • Often the outcome is best if you talk to yourself before saying anything aloud.
  • Blaming has no merit, but forgiveness advances the endeavor.