Motorcycle Book Review: Riding in the Zone

Review by Andy Saunders
[This Riding in the Zone motorcycle book review was originally published in the August 2009 issue of Rider magazine]

What do motorcyclists want? It’s a question answered many times, never satisfactorily, until now. What motorcycle riders want is to get better at riding motorcycles. However many miles are under a rider’s belt, there is always the desire for improvement, especially when it comes to motorcycle safety and skills.

Ken Condon’s Riding in the Zone seeks to educate all riders, from the beginner to the gnarled oldster. His qualifications are impressive: a 30-year veteran rider on the street, dirt and racetrack, a safety-course instructor and safety columnist. And as he points out, there’s a great difference between experience and skill. Experiences happen to you; skill is acquired, sometimes as a result of teaching.

This book aims to teach you how to better communicate with your motorcycle. It’s not all about improving the rider: there are also sections on bettering the bike. Like adjusting suspension for the most enjoyable ride (when you think that way, it becomes less of a chore).

Riding in the Zone
Riding in the Zone by Ken Condon

This is backed up with physical development strategies, exercises to improve your braking, cornering, gear shifting and clutch control, among many others. Too late to teach an old dog new tricks? Not always. From recent experience I’m amazed by what a few sessions of parking-lot practice can do to overhaul stale mental and physical skills, and overcome ingrained bad habits.

Sounding a little too much like an MSF manual? No, there are more in-depth, practical (and author-practiced) solutions here, like the best place to put your feet on a track day (balls of feet on pegs, lets you lean over farther) and the type of gloves and boots you need for the best feedback from your motorcycle (hint: not the padded, comfortable kind. Sorry).

If you’ve always wanted to get your knee down (on track days only, of course) this book tells you how. And why little tricks like that really help getting around corners, until “you experience the deepest sense of mastery when your body and your mind work together.” The text functions like a tune-up (or in my case, a major overhaul) for the rider’s brain. Sections on confidence, risk awareness, risk reduction, vision (mental and actual) and traction sense are included, too.
Illustrations are a mostly well-chosen selection of snapshots, the majority taken by the author, who apparently travels with camera ready at all times, and gets a lot of those “wish I had my camera with me” shots, although we probably could have done without the picture of the fat guy on a motorcycle titled “vision blockers.” And if they charged any extra for the DVD that comes with the book, I wouldn’t pay it: sometimes the written word is more efficient at communicating ideas than a talking head on a low-budget video.

The book is not filled with diagrams of cones, and the paths through them (although there are a few, and Condon does recommend some parking-lot practice) like other motorcycle riding manuals. This one is enthusiastic but not preachy. The act of riding a motorcycle is risky. This book attempts to show you how to manage that risk more efficiently.

Part is devoted to track days: racetracks may be anathema to safety purists, but Condon recognizes and points out just how useful they can be, especially to discover personal and mechanical limits you can never approach on the street, and get major thrills without oncoming traffic. They’re safer than trying to race on the street.

What do motorcyclists want? More ways to enjoy themselves on two wheels for many years to come. And how to become one of the grizzled oldsters without becoming a statistic.
Riding in the Zone by Ken Condon is 145 pages (plus DVD) and retails for $29.95.
For more information:
Contact Whitehorse Press, (800) 531-1133; White Horse Press Online

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