The Ends of Your Fingertips and Toes

The ends of your fingertips and toes is about how far you can reach out and physically change things.  It’s true, beyond your true bodily reach things get changed by idea and persuasion. Granted, you can extend your reach through technology like guns and  knives, or threats and extortion, but those are often promises or threats of projected physical reach.

I’m talking about how you influence those around you even though folks aren’t  close enough for you to reach out and ring their necks.  It’s the encounter with the faceless that I speak of; those times when you’re in the immediate company of people who get/have to make snap decisions about who and what you are because you’re just as faceless to them.  By your appearance, attitude and action folks will make snap decisions about you, your intention and your ability.

Dirty secret time:

I have been able to grow a respectable beard and mustache since I was 18.  I’ve got Viking blood and a wonderful dirty copper beard (now striped with silver).   As a young man  I trimmed it into a fu manchu because it looked bad ass.  Yes, was driving a semi and wanted people not to mess with me…honestly.  In fact it’s fair to say I wanted them to take a step back and not bother me.  I allowed my ‘stache to influence beyond my reach and encourage people to move over and get out of the way.  In essence I wanted to scare people back.  I also rode a  Honda XL500S that I had piped and put twenty-three rings into, and if you know what I’m talking about,  you know that’s just about as close to a straight pipe as you can get.  If I was trying to be stealthy on return to my parent’s house I would shut down about 1/4 mile away and try to coast it all the way home.

I know a thing or two about loud pipes.  I know they send a clear message.  I know that effectively shouting down all other traffic is a good time.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about mustaches.  I”m talking about does the inside control the outside or does the outside define the inside?

My mother used to say, “You’re too mean and orn’rey to get married” so she taught my brothers and I  to cook and wash and wax.  Here’s a bit you wouldn’t guess:  I used to bake and decorate birthday cakes for the young ladies I wanted to impress.  I can make pretty good biscuits and cookies too.  One night a little over 25 years I was cooking a lovely young lady dinner.   I had as much mustache as the university’s dress code would allow.  My hair was too long for the code and I have been to the Dean of Students because I punched in a couple of ear rings for a video shoot I was “acting” in.  (Turns out that at a straight laced university with a film department they were woefully short on shady characters).  To the point, during dinner this young lady informed me that she “would never, ever kiss a man with a mustache”.

Game on.

Before dessert I excused myself went to the bathroom, turned on the fan for cover and took out my electric razor and removed my ‘stache.   Suffice it to say that 25 years and 4 children later it was a pretty slick move.  When I shaved off the mustache there was no trepidation.  I was not emasculating myself or surrendering my freewill or somehow compromising my ethics.  I wanted a kiss this hot chick and shaving did the trick.   The lip caterpillar has been on and off ever since.  I grow it every year before I start training other riders because there’s this idea that “If you don’t have facial hair you can’t ride.”  I turn it to my own purposes…plus I like it.  Kids in my classes at school are confused because I shave it off sometime in December and they ask, “Shouldn’t you grow it in winter and shave it off in summer?” Losing it makes me look 10 years younger.

But I do it because I want to.

Here’s the point:  If you dress, act and ride like a badass, if you’re pushing to influence folks outside your real, human reach with how you look, there’s a danger that you’ll also change on the inside.  It’s called Cognitive Dissonance, the idea that you can’t hold contrary beliefs in your mind.  You can’t simultaneously be for something and against it.  Your brain will pick one or the other and cast off the remainder.  You’ll see this phenomena clearly in riders.  Eventually the grimy angry biker becomes what he advertises.  That guy with that day-glo bike?  He becomes that patronizing, annoying know it all who’s out to save you regardless of your need or desire to be saved. Remember the guy hung up on the physics and minutiae of riding?  Yup, they won’t enjoy riding anymore they only enjoy arguing about it–they stop being a rider and become a physics major nobody wants to deal with.

It’s OK to send a message beyond your fingertips and toes–the real question is, “What if you become what you appear to be?”  You go where you look and you can end up becoming what you are.

Be careful, be safe.

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On Giving Advice

In light of some recent conversations I’ve had I thought I might give some insight into what goes through my mind when I give advice, solicited or not. No matter what style you ride if you can show some proficiency you will get asked for advice. It’s just going to happen. Be flattered, it’s ok to be good enough at something to be asked for help but you need to ask yourself a question before answering.

Who is asking and what’s the right answer?

Sounds kind of silly but remember, when we are born we go from a place of complete dependency to complete independency. This is done by process; we crawl, we walk, we run. If you are asked for advice the single most important thing to remember is this: where on the path is the the person who is asking and where am I? The value of this calculation cannot be overstated. If you’re working with an advanced rider you give a different level of advice than you would to a novice. If you are talking to a rookie about getting moving from a stop vigorously you’re going to say, “Bring the revs up, ease into the friction zone and as the engine starts to get dragged down and the revs drop, slowly open the throttle to keep the revs up as you fully release the lever.”

You’re not going to tell a noob to “Park the throttle at six grand, half drop the clutch, stay on the throttle and let the clutch go.” In fact, I am not sure that’s the best drag launch advice ever. You might want to ask someone who can really drag launch a bike, someone like Galaxieman, if you’re going to the drags–that’s his thing, proven. If Galaxie reads this then the advice he would give me would be predicated on what I just told him I know by what I said, and I would take his advice because he’s better at launching than me. Yup, when you’re giving or taking advice it’s good to know the curriculum vitae of the person you’re dealing with. In the heat and passion of learning to ride we often forget that fact. A new rider is hooked and I mean hooked in the worst way. Gill hooked, or they’ve even swallowed the hook. It’s set and it ain’t coming out. A new rider is excited, they want to learn and they will listen and implement that advice.

And that’s the rub. What’s the right advice and how much is too much, or too early, or too deep? In education we call this “age appropriate” and that’s about what you teach and when you teach it. You might notice there’s not a lot of algebra being taught in kindergarten–however the foundations are being built. Strange as it may seem your child is getting age appropriate math instruction at age 5 that pays off when they are 15. Good education builds on itself laying a lattice that eventually supports a profound skill set.

So what’s the right advice to give? That’s a question that like most motorcycling advicedepends on the situation. There are folks I do not question when they give me pointers. There are folks who give me advice and I smile and nod and say “thank you” and throw their words overboard. When asked and if I don’t know your skill set I will give you foundational answers. Want to corner better? Head and eyes up, look through the turn, get your braking done before you enter, steady to increasing throttle, press on the inside grip if you feel you’re running wide.

Ya can’t go wrong with the basics. Every freaking body gets better if they maintain their base skills. I’ve had the pain/struggle/pleasure of writing a couple of books about motorcycles, their effects on me, and how to ride them. When you write a book or make a video (I’ve done 47 and have over 800,000 views) you have almost zero control over who reads or sees them. Likewise the only control over what they hear is what I say–and how I say it so I am very careful about what and how.

We don’t often think about it but Bad advice is as easy to give as it is to get. A simple bit of wrong information won’t kill someone at the moment it’s given. It can, however, fester and eventually bring down the whole system. Let me give you an example of bad advice that was given years, maybe generations ago and is still maiming and killing riders to this very day.

“Don’t touch the front brake, it’ll crash you.”

Ask any instructor and they’ll tell you that little bit of false information is pernicious and tenacious and continues to be passed along as scripture. Somewhere in the primordial soup of original riders someone who others respected (deservedly or not) uttered those fateful words which have now flowered into an entire worldview on how to properly brake. I’ve ridden drum brakes and they are pathetic–but the front still works.. Amazing. That’s the macro view, bad advice as cultural infection. You need to realize that it started as micro advice, a conversation in a bar or at the clubhouse or over the kitchen table. It could have started with, “The front brake is useless” which mutated and sfter a couple of generations became “Don’t use it.”

The power of the spoken word.

Now, imagine you’re talking to a new rider (or an experienced one) and you put out of context or inaccurate information into their head. To the body of motorcycling it could turn out to be benign going no further than the infected cell. To that cell? It could be harmless or malignant. Either way, it was put there by the well intended and embraced by the innocent. If you’re looking for tips make sure you multi-source and be diligent, make sure you get quality information from quality sources. Apply the advice you get as it is intendednot how you decide it should be. Think about who you are and where you are in your riding journey.

If you decide to give that solicited or unsolicited advice then consider your audience. Who are they? What’s the best information to give them? How do you best present it? What words do you use? How do you use them?

If you ride you will be asked for advice from riders or non-riders; the question you really need to answer is what level of advice are you qualified to give.

Be safe.