I started flying in 1994 and received my private pilot license in 1998. In 2006 I obtained my instrument rating and in May of 2022, I passed my commercial pilot check ride. I never wanted to be a professional pilot, but I do enjoy flying and work in the aviation industry, so it made sense for me to continue my training and pursue the next level. To achieve this latest rating, I had to accumulate a number of hours acting as Pilot-in-Command (PIC) of the aircraft as well as receive dual instruction from a certified flight instructor.
In the end, my training flights added up to about 50 hours in an airplane – most of which were doing precision take-offs, landings, and numerous aerial maneuvers performed within tight parameters. The weeks leading up to my test with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner were very stressful and there were many hours spent studying and going up on my own to practice the exacting test maneuvers. I was so relieved when I passed my check ride, that I decided to take a few weeks off from flying completely.
Since then, I’ve done about one flight a month. Legally per the FAA, I’m still current, and as long as I keep up with my monthly flights, will remain legally current for the next 24 months in accordance with FAA. Coupled with the fact that I have been flying for over 25 years and even owned an airplane for a while, I consider myself a very experienced pilot. But does that make me proficient?
If I’m being honest, the answer is no – even if I did just complete a myriad of challenging skills tests less than 12 months ago. That’s because I know what proficiency feels like; I’ve been there before, and proficiency is like a muscle that constantly needs exercise to be maintained. If I don’t bench press every Thursday, I’m not going to be able to maintain my personal best in as little as 1 month from now. So imagine if I don’t bench press for 3 months? Or more? Just like if I don’t practice those flying maneuvers consistently, I’m not going to be at the top of my game when or if I want to perform those maneuvers.
This mindset and personal assessment before every flight is commonly practiced in the aviation community, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I made the connection between aviation and riding.
I could tell by June that the skills I had possessed just six months earlier were not as sharp and they hadn’t magically returned even though I was riding every weekend.
In the fall of 2019, I was at the top of my riding game. Earlier that year I had taken second place at the GS Trophy U.S. Qualifier and made the U.S. Women’s Team followed by a 10th place finish at the International Female GS Trophy Qualifier in Malaga Spain later that year. The experience and training throughout the year helped me become very comfortable on my machines (R1200GS and F850GS) and my skills were sharp. When I returned home, I attended rallies and rode with groups on terrain that would put my skills to the test. People wanted to see just how well a 5’2” girl could ride on that big bike, and most the time I didn’t disappoint. My goal was to inspire others on what was possible on a motorcycle and felt like I was doing just that.
December through March in Denver doesn’t have a lot of good riding days, but when they’d show up, I was out there. Mainly riding roads at the lower elevations, but I was riding. Come spring, I was itching to get up into the mountains and start riding some dirt again. I knew my skills would be rusty, but I figured they’d be back to “normal” after a few weeks. They weren’t. I could tell by June that the skills I had possessed just six months earlier were not as sharp and they hadn’t magically returned even though I was riding every weekend. That’s when I made the flying connection. Both are perishable skills! And in order to maintain those skills, you must make a conscience effort to practice those skills at a high standard on a consistent basis.
I wasn’t as skilled on the motorcycle then as I was right after the Qualifiers, just like I am not as skilled at the maneuvers now that I just flew last May. Even if I were to fly every day, I’m not necessarily practicing those maneuvers within tight parameters, just like I might ride my motorcycle every day but I’m not necessarily practicing tight maneuvers in a parking lot or setting up my course in the dirt. Proficiency is conscience effort, and just because we do something every month, every week, or even every day, doesn’t mean we’re proficient. It’s the same reason professional airline pilots are required to go to recurrent training every 6 months to train even though they fly all the time. So why not have this same mentality with riding?
If you make an effort to consistently improve your skills, you will enjoy riding even more than you do right now!
GS = E3
Greater Skill = Exponentially More Enjoyment!
Never mind the pun. Those who know me know I’m a huge GS fangirl and think they are the Swiss Army Knife of motorcycles. But now “GS” also means you will have exponentially more enjoyment on the motorcycle! Seriously though… this equation might seem like a clever way to catch your eye, but I can honestly tell you this was a game changer when I figured it out. It doesn’t matter if you know you want to achieve greater skill or think your skills are just fine where they’re at; if you make an effort to consistently improve your skills, you will enjoy riding even more than you do right now! So how do you apply it in your own life? First, you have to understand the difference between experience and proficiency. Experience is something you have or gain simply by doing it; proficiency is something you have or gain because you make a conscience effort to be good at it. Proficiency means learning and maintaining the skills you don’t necessarily use on a regular basis, like lock-to-lock turns or riding up a steep, rocky hill. The two are not the same and the question you have to ask yourself is where do you fall?
Experience is a product of time. Whether you ride every day, or you ride once a month, you are gaining experience as a rider. It’s only the rate at which you gain experience that is variable, but you will always achieve an upward trend. Your “enjoyment factor” (E3 in the equation) however, fluctuates some after an initial climb, but generally stays the same as you gain more experience without a conscience effort to improve skills.
Alternatively, Proficiency is a product of a conscience effort to improve and maintain skills over time. Proficiency fluctuates based on your experience and ability to set aside time to practice and maintain physical and mental skills that aren’t necessarily a part of normal, everyday riding. And with increased proficiency comes exponentially more fun!
So, how do you adopt a pilot mentality to achieve proficiency? First, you need to establish a baseline. I learned long ago that no matter your skill level on the motorcycle, there will always be someone better than you. The sooner you realize that, the better off you will be (trust me).
So where does the measurement begin? It actually begins with you. The only person you should ever measure yourself against, is you – but you in the past. Measuring your skills on a motorcycle takes no more than a tape measurer and a few cones (or tennis balls cut in half). Find an empty parking lot and do a couple warm up drills. Then, test your skills for a few maneuvers. Everyone, regardless of your riding style, should attempt figure 8s as tight as possible, as well as threshold braking exercises (front brake only, rear brake only and then both brakes) and record your diameters and distances. The next tests are a little more subjective. On a curvy country road, ride at a comfortable rate of speed and make a personal assessment of how comfortable you are in the turns. Are you tense? Do you feel safe? Does the bike feel stable? Do you think you could go faster (or would you want to go faster) if you had the proper technique? If your riding style takes you off road, what sort of trails do you ride now and are you comfortable on them? Would you like to do more technical terrain? Write everything down. Use road names, trail names, speeds and parking lot dimensions, and write down the distances and how you felt. These are your baseline measurements.
Next, write down where you envision your skills being in a year from now. Do you want to be able to turn tighter in a parking lot or getting turned around on a busy city road? Do you want to carve the canyons faster and with more confidence? Do you want to take your GS on the fun dirt trail that you hear everyone talking about? Set your goals.
I can’t even begin to articulate how much I have benefited from these courses. Not only because I’m a “safer” rider; but because I enjoy riding so much more today than even 3 years ago – as if I thought that was even possible.
The next steps are really up to you. How do you get the skills you seek? There are countless YouTube videos out there to teach you how to do something, but you’ll lack the personal feedback that someone who is watching you can often give. You can also set up your own parking lot or dirt field courses to help you train and practice. I do all these things, actually. But the best way I have found if I want to progress my skills, is to get training from a qualified and reputable riding instructor. I am such a huge believer in professional training in fact, that I attend a different training course every year. I can’t even begin to articulate how much I have benefited from these courses. Not only because I’m a “safer” rider; but because I enjoy riding so much more today than even 3 years ago – as if I thought that was even possible. Greater Skill (“GS”) definitely equals more enjoyment!
Now you have a pathway to achieve the skills you yearn for and a benchmark to measure your progress. Or maybe you’re happy with the skills you currently possess. So… how do you keep those skills and stay proficient? This is the conscience effort piece. You have to set aside time to consistently exercise those skills. You don’t normally practice threshold braking on a normal ride, and you don’t do figure 8s on a normal ride either. You have to set aside time to go do this on a regular basis. For me, I put this on my calendar just like I do with my practice flights. And just like I have to get a proficiency check for flying every two years, I schedule a training clinic for myself every year- something new that I want to learn.
Just like I have to get a proficiency check for flying every two years, I schedule a training clinic for myself every year.
“That’s great, Kandi, but some of us don’t have hundreds of dollars just laying around to be used on training”. Well… that’s where your MOA membership comes in handy. Sign up for a course and the MOA will reimburse you $250 towards training! Furthermore, some of the training providers offer discounted training for MOA members (like the BMW Performance Center if you sign up for one of their courses at an MOA rally). There’s really no excuse. Affordable training is out there if you want it.
I may be odd, but improving my skills by taking a training class each year or setting up a practice course every other month is really enjoyable to me. If done correctly and often enough, you will slowly but surely see the braking distances get shorter, the turning radiuses get smaller, the curvy country roads get more enjoyable, and that technical dirt trail become a blast. I never thought I could enjoy riding more than I did last year, and yet each year, I love it a little more. And you can too with the right approach. Just set a course and fly the heading.