Becoming an experienced rider doesn’t happen automatically, or by accident. It’s more than a simple accrual of years or miles. It’s a conscious and continual process, one that is carefully nurtured to maturity, and then maintained.
Variety – In the flying community, they say that there’s a difference between flying for a thousand hours, and flying one hour a thousand times. The lesson contained there is that if you only do the same thing over and over again, it’s unlikely you’ve learned much of anything. Plodding along on your bike for your daily commute is a fine thing, but it won’t make you an expert, if that’s all you do. Experienced riders seek out all sorts of different riding challenges, from twisty mountain roads, to long open stretches, to drag strips and road courses, to city traffic. They expose themselves to different bikes, riding styles and disciplines, to round out their skill set. Disciplines like riding on dirt can greatly improve bike control and let you know what it feels like to slide a tire.
Practice – This goes back to being humble. Veteran riders know that skills can get rusty, so you’ll find them practicing, periodically. They’ll be out in a big parking lot doing max braking drills, slow, tight figure eights and the like. All the things they taught you in your MSF course, if you have taken any, needs to be revisited from time to time. I’m not just talking about the beginner course either, MSF offers well over a dozen courses for varying skill levels. Better still, go to a local track day, and practice everything at once.
Study – Experienced riders study everything relevant to their sport. From their bikes, to their gear, to riding technique, you’ll find them devouring everything they can find. They’ll read tire spec sheets and reviews until their eyes bleed before deciding on a set. They’ve probably got a whole shelf in their office library devoted to books on riders, riding, and motorcycle technology. They know every single inch of their bike, and have put a wrench on more than half of it.
Currency – This may seem obvious, but riders ride. One of the great travesties of the way motorcycle endorsements are handled is that once you’ve earned it, you keep it, regardless of whether you’ve thrown a leg over a bike in the current decade. Experienced riders can become newbies again when they step away from riding for years at a time. While their previous expertise may make their return to form shorter and easier, they’d do well to exercise caution when getting back into it.
Mileage – I left this until last on purpose, but there is no substitute for seat time. The human learning process requires repetition, and to ingrain all of those skills you need to be a proficient rider, you’ve got to spend a big amount of time doing the thing.
Becoming an experienced rider is a different process for everybody, believe me I know. It might take you longer. Don’t get discouraged by that, and don’t get in a hurry.