Princess Road Captain

As a brand new rider, I was always cautious not to outride my abilities.  I was also careful to keep that same philosophy in mind when I upgraded to a big-twin Harley.  With the Super Glide’s lower center of gravity and greater stability it was easy to forget that I had only been riding for 3 years, not 3 decades.  My confidence grew quickly, and with it my skills developed as well.  I put 10,000 miles on my new bike the first year, and fellow First State HOG chapter members told me often that I was an accomplished rider.  It was even suggested that I enter our Road Captain training program.

My initial response was that I didn’t feel ready yet – I did not have a wide enough range of riding experiences.  I had only ridden on an Interstate once, had ridden in significant rain only once, hadn’t crossed any major bridges, had never gone on an overnight trip on my own bike, and hadn’t really seen any truly challenging twisties.  So I set myself some goals for the summer, and as it happened I accomplished nearly all of them in a single week that I put over 1500 miles on my bike.  It was like a whirlwind of opportunity and accomplishments.  I decided I was ready, but all of that just went to my head.

In mid-August school was about to begin and teachers came in for a week of training and preparation.  I rode my Harley to work every day.  We got out of a meeting a few minutes early and had 90 minutes for lunch one day.  I decided to take my bike for a nice ride around a few of the local back roads then pick up a quick sandwich at Wawa. 

Not being incredibly familiar with the roads, I missed my turn.  So I rode down to the next side street and make a quick u-turn…a little too quick!  My front tire slid off the side of the pavement and dropped into the grass, my handlebars jackknifed, and I just let her go down.  I knew that I was no match for an 800-pound Harley!  Luckily, a young man came driving down the road just then.  He helped me get the bike upright, then dashed back off in his car just as quickly as he had appeared.

“When you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”

– Neil Armstrong

Then the bike wouldn’t start.  Ouch, I really did it this time.  Not only did I get overconfident and stop paying as close attention as I should, but now I am stranded in the middle of nowhere with no tools, a completely misaligned footpeg, a loose mirror that wouldn’t stay put, and a bike that won’t start!  (I was lucky nothing was actually broken.)  I honestly don’t know what I did, but somehow taking the key out and playing with the clock/odometer display cleared out the error code and I was able to start the motor.

So much for my ride.  So much for my lunch.  I rode quietly back to school with my tail between my legs, bruised ego, and beating myself up for being so careless.  I had always been so careful to ride within my capabilities and to keep a strong mental focus while riding.  Geez, I am an idiot!

As it happened, it was that very evening that our new Head Road Captain called to officially invite me to join the training program.  Then he said something that made me wonder if he was wise beyond even his own awareness.  He said, “You are a good rider, but don’t get ahead of yourself.  Overconfidence will cause anyone, no matter how experienced, to make mistakes.”

“Trust me, I know,” I replied…

10 Responses to “Overconfidence”

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing this and being so honest. It takes a lot of guts to post what you just did, but it will only reinforce what you just said, not only to yourself, but to all of us.

  2. Your post brought back a very ancient memory. I’d been riding three years or so when someone told me I wasn’t “an experienced rider” until I had at least five years of riding under my belt. I was terribly offended as I knew that I was a very good rider. In the hubris of youth I missed the connection between being able to ride decently and also being able to survive through skill born of experience, the myriad of incidents that the highway can throw at you.

    What I missed then and understand now, some 40 years later, is that there is no way to hurry up and gain the automatic, before-you-have-time-to-think, reactions that come from miles of riding, countless things going wrong when least expected, and somehow surviving it all to become “an experienced rider.”

    I’m glad you survived your little get-off unscathed. It’s a powerful lesson and I would guess you’re a better rider now because of the incident than you were before your little slip up.

    One suggestion: If you really want to develop a great feel for the bike get yourself a little dirt bike like the Honda XR100 and spend some time riding in the dirt and mud. You’ll tune up your “feel” for bike handling real quick. Even the MotoGP riders go dirt riding to polish their feel for the high speed bikes. Here’s a link to a training school with which I have no connection but I like the looks of their program: http://www.cornerspeed.net/spin.html


  3. Ah yes…variations on a theme here. Almost all of us have some version of this story. Some will admit it and some won’t. I’m glad to see you’re not afraid to tell your lesson for the benefit of others.

    I think of my overconfidence every time I take a step and feel the pain in my ruined ankle joint. Sure, it is true that a lady pulled out in front of me from a side street, that she was an illegal alien with no driver’s license, and that it was technically her fault. It’s also true that me almost avoiding her probably would have been that I did avoid her, if only I’d listened to the little voice.
    I sensed briefly something wasn’t quite right when I saw her car ahead of me, but I “knew what I was doing,” so I just pushed on. “She sees me,” I said to myself. Closer now and she’s still not moving. “Yeah, she’s definitely waiting for me to go by first…” Almost on top of her….”SHIT!!!!!…….” But then it was too late. Had I not been so sure of myself and slowed a little, covered my brakes, and EXPECTED her to pull out, instead of telling myself all was well, I probably would have made it by her or stopped in time. In hindsight.
    I learned a hard lesson that day. I’d sort of convinced myself that I’d been riding “long enough” that no matter what situation presented iteself, I’d be able to handle it. Wrong answer. I wish I didn’t have to pay such a high price for a little biker’s humility, but it is what it is. There’s no going back, only forward. Every time I get on that bike now I assume someone is going to do something stupid and there’s no such thing as riding “long enough” to avoid it. All I can do is hope that when it happens again, I’ll be able to.

  4. Great post. I appreciate you sharing it with us, we all need to be reminded about being overconfident.
    And just remember, even the bad experiences are still experience, we just need to keep the lessons we learn from them.

  5. Di,
    I don’t know any rider that hasn’t dropped his/her bike. Most won’t talk about it as openly as you did. Great story. I wouldn’t trust a R/C that hasn’t been down at least once. Peace, JD

  6. The fact that you “learn” from things like this is what makes you a better rider. You’re way ahead of a lot of riders.

  7. Dust your self off and carry on. Remember the immortal words of Will Rogers,

    “Good judgement comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement”.

    Now you just know a way not to do it. Go have fun and keep growing.

  8. I remember when I dropped my big ol’ girl (the Glide) while we were up in the Smokey’s last summer when I pulled off on one of those small paved pull offs to take a pic of a really cool water fall and creek. I was so intent on taking the picture that I didn’t notice until too late just how steep of a slope the pull of was. When I tried to put the side stand down, I couldn’t because of how uneven I was. My left leg still had a slight bend while my right leg was stretched out full. That’s when I realized I was holding my 800 lb. Harley on severe slope and I decided to abort my mission (to take a pic). I waited for an opening in traffic, but trying to balance the bike as I took off, I dropped her to the right because my right side was so much lower than my left, my stabilization wasn’t there! By the time my right foot could touch to help me right the bike, she was already leaning so far over because of the slope of the pull off… we went down.
    Like you, I was able to jump clear as I realized she was past the point of no return, but my ego was bruised big time. Not only was my beautiful girl laying on the ground, she looked like she rolled over and played dead! Her wheels were higher than her seat! Harley helped me get her righted up and trying to take off from that same spot had my adrenaline shooting through my veins like lightening. I was so nervous!
    Well.. I did it, and I realized that was a lesson that I will never forget. This is when your experience comes handy because your more careful the next time on scoping out the spot you plan to put your bike.
    Great post Diana… we all need reminding to keep our skills and confidence in balance… and in check!

  9. Thanks for taking the time to leave these great comments on Diana’s post. I’m so proud of her for writing this post, it’s one of our best

  10. Oh, I am the master on this subject. Everytime I have had a crack up it’s always been because of this. It’s taken two and a half decades to learn what I know about riding.

    Now don’t you go fretting about this at all. It has happened to all of us and praise the road gods that it wasn’t worse. Hell, I like you more because of it…you know why? Because you got your ass back up on it.

    I average at least one dump a year…sometimes two. Learn the lesson and don’t be a Dave. Come to think of it…lack of confidence can get you into just as much trouble!!!

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