Overcoming Rider Fear: What to Do if It Won’t Go Away

written by David Mixson

For most, rider fear will disappear or become more manageable as your riding skills improve. But for some, rider fear will never go away. 

In fact, it might become even more intense over time. 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that will make rider fear vanish. I go into more depth in Motorcycle Smarts. But here, I’ll make the point that rider fear is usually rooted in a lack of confidence in your riding skills—and the best way to become a better rider is to learn how motorcycles work, why they crash, and how to effectively control it. 

In the Beginning

When I first started riding, all my attention was focused on operating my motorcycle. I didn’t have anything left to prepare for what-if scenarios, and I certainly didn’t have the riding skills to avoid stupid driver mistakes. 

My anxiety decreased as my skills improved. 

It wasn’t immediate, but it was steady. After every new experience (rain, cold, traffic, interstate), I became more confident in my abilities. 

Once I understood countersteering with my head (and practiced it), I knew I could use it to make my motorcycle go where I wanted it to go. Once I understood what triggered lowside and highside crashes, I had more confidence that I could avoid these crashes because my motorcycle had ABS and ESC. Once I understood that my front brake was my friend, I knew I could stop more effectively in a panic situation.

As the mechanics of operating my motorcycle became easier (a part of my muscle memory), I was able to devote more of my attention to riding defensively and enjoying the beauty around me.

But undoubtedly, this won’t be the case for every rider.

When It Won’t Go Away

When rider fear won’t go away (or at least become manageable), you have two options. The best course of action for many is to push through it until you master your craft. But for others, the best path forward is to stop riding. 

Some are shocked when I say this. Others are relieved.

I hesitate to give specific advice to riders who can’t shake rider fear. On the one hand, I believe that fear robs us of our dreams, and it needs to be overcome and destroyed, regardless. I pushed through rider fear, and tons of other riders have too. But on the other hand, rider fear is an amazing teacher and friend—and it must never be silenced.

My Best Advice

As you move through this journey, your riding skills should improve, and your rider fear should become less intense. Give yourself some time, and then reevaluate how you feel. 

The most important thing to look for is steady progress. Progress means you’re on the right track. If your rider fear stays about the same (or gets worse), then I want you to ask yourself this question: 

Do you really want to continue riding a motorcycle? 

If you don’t, take a deep breath and smile. I give you permission to stop riding. Your soul is telling you to stop, so stop. 

It’s not the end of the world. I promise.

Two months after my first ride in traffic, I reevaluated how I felt. The fear was less intense, and I still enjoyed riding. But I was prepared to follow through on the promise I made to myself to stop riding if it didn’t. 

* This article is an excerpt from my book Motorcycle Smarts.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about the topics other motorcycle books gloss over. He worked as a NASA engineer for over thirty years and is the author of three books.

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