I purchased my first motorcycle less than 2 years ago. I purchased the bike, a used low-mileage 2012 Honda Shadow, at a motorcycle dealership less than 5 miles away from where I lived. Aside from a motorcycle course I had taken about a month prior to the purchase, I had virtually no motorcycle driving, or even riding, experience.
I rode mostly in the downtown area where I lived. I learned to navigate around the city streets of Chicago and became skilled with my starts, stops, 90-degree turns and riding over the nearly-unavoidable slick metal grate bridges. I became really good at city driving, however I rarely got my cruiser into, or even more rarely beyond, 3rd gear.
This spring I made a promise to myself that I would get myself comfortable on the highway and going at highway speeds. For those who ride a motorcycle, you know the difference of how the faster speeds change the experience. The wind resistance makes the helmet feel as though someone is forcing your head to turn further away than you want as you check for vehicles around you. The high wind pressing against the upper body and helmet creates a sensation that when first experienced, you naturally tighten your grip for fear of being blown off the vehicle! The speed at which the road approaches you has you constantly looking for any potholes or other road failures. These feelings, reminiscent of fear, denote the boarders of a comfort zone that only begin to subside with experience.
A couple of weekends ago, I realized I could drive a few miles from our condo, hop on a westbound 4-lane highway, drive for several miles, pickup another 4-lane highway that headed south and then a few miles later pick up a third 4-lane highway that brought me back east. The whole “loop” (really more of a trapezoid) was about a 40 miles. Early one morning, determined yet still cautious, I hopped on my motorized two-wheeler and set out to get comfortable on the highway. I had weekend visitor traffic and rain, both coming from the west, eager to greet me within the hour so I knew that once I committed beyond a certain point, I had to complete the loop. I was nervous and not all that confident to be quite honest, but I kept going until I (proudly) completed my ride.
The next weekend, which was last weekend, I went at it again. The edges of my comfort zone had increased since the previous weekend’s ride. Again, I left in the early morning to avoid the predictable oncoming weekend traffic. No precipitation concerns this time thankfully. The winds were still present but my confidence was higher and the resulting experience was fantastic! I felt so much more comfortable as I quickly brought the bike up to highway speeds. I had no issues moving my head to survey the surrounding traffic. I was able to loosen my grip and relax my shoulders as I rode.
After finishing that initial 40-mile loop I connected to a north-bound highway and rode for another 20+ miles until I looped myself back around returned south. I came up to my original 40-mile loop, and rode it again, confident, and still somewhat cautious of course as one always should be on a motorcycle, before I finally lifted myself off the seat, 130+ miles after I had started! I’d never driven that distance even in an entire week prior to that point!
Reflecting on my accomplishment and breakthrough in my personal riding skill, however small it may seem in the whole scheme of things, was the realization that in order to really break through and get ourselves beyond our current comfort zones, we must get on out there and try it. This is not to say we should be completely reckless, particularly in instances where physical harm is truly possible, but this is to say that to we often limit ourselves based on what we think we can (or can’t) do and we’ll stay there in that mindset and that comfort zone until we decide to take and then do take action to go beyond. Only then can we really begin to test ourselves and expand our comfort zones.
Have you tested yourself lately?