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Where's My Friction Zone?

What I learned about myself when I learned how to ride a motorcycle.


As far back as I can remember I have loved things with motors. Maybe because my family owned a huge auto body shop and I would go there on Saturdays with my father and answer phones and pretend I worked there. I remember the sounds and the smells and how it all just looked so cool. My first job was at a local gas station with a service center. I filed all their back and current work orders. I loved that job. In 10th grade I started a new high school. On the first day I stood outside a classroom door because the teacher was late. The other students quietly just looked at me a little confused. This was 1985 and all the other students were boys. Finally one of them broke the silence and said, "I think you have the wrong class". Hiding the shake in my little 15 year old voice I asked, "Small gas engines 101?". He replied, "Yes". "I have the right class." I said. By 18 I had a 1969 Camaro and had no problem getting under the hood and getting my hands dirty.

Me with my Uncle Billy on his mini bike sometime in the 1970's. The smile says it all.

Along side my love of hot rods and muscle cars, I always wanted to be on 2 wheels. It was always implied to me back then though, that girls did not ride motorcycles. So I settled for jumping on as a passenger for anyone who asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I honestly don't even think we had helmet laws then because I don't remember anyone ever pulling out an extra helmet for a ride on their sport bike. There was just such an exhilaration to being on a bike. One of my favorite childhood pictures is me on my Uncle Billy's (R.I.P.) mini bike. How can you beat that smile? And so the years went bye and I envied all the bikers I passed and wished I had defied what I had been led to believe, along with the countless other "proper" things I defied in my youth. ;-)


But alas, I am about to turn 50. A half a century old!! And the one thing I have always wanted to do with a passion and was still left undone was to learn to ride. On my own bike. Not as a passenger on someone else's bike. Now, realize, I teach seminars and courses on confidence and self empowerment. How could I leave this major dream, that was so vivid in my mind left untouched. And so, I went and bought me a used Harley Davidson. Best decision ever! I thought I would simply be learning to ride a motorcycle. I could not have been more wrong.


There is a certain term used when controlling the bike's acceleration and deceleration using the throttle and clutch called the friction zone. This is like the 'sweet spot' for how you control your bike without actually using the brakes. Of course the gear you are in, throttle (power) and brakes all play a part, but when taking riding classes, they emphasize this friction zone. In fact, my instructor continuously pointed out to me how, as long as I was in my friction zone, adding more throttle (power) was just noise. In the proper friction zone, I could get the bike as loud as I wanted, but I would remain steady. The opposite was true as well. Staying in the proper friction zone would keep me from stalling. Mind you, this is a VERY simple explanation of riding a bike, so if you ride, please don't hate on me, it is how they teach the classes. But on to my point...


I have been in a challenging chapter in my life as of late. And it suddenly dawned on me how learning to ride my beloved bike is a lot like life. As long as I know my 'friction zone', whatever is added to my life to speed things up or get me to lose control is just noise. I take a breath, I stay in my friction zone and ride it through. When I am about to stall, I let a little more power into that friction zone and get myself righted and moving forward again. Life is full of turns, stops, starts and surprises. But knowing where my friction zone is and keeping as close to it's boundaries as possible will help me get through it all.


Oh, and by the way, yes, I have dropped my bike as I learn to ride (sometimes we fall in life). But I picked it back up, with a little help from a friend, and got back on.


"Life's a journey, enjoy the ride".