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Are you really a competent rider?

Learner rider Mitch Hamrey tackles the HART slalom course austroads competent rewards practise counter steering confidence

Unlike car drivers, most riders seem to want to learn to be a competent rider and improve their skills so they are safer, quicker and can enjoy their chosen recreation more.

However, not every rider learns the same way.

I have been to numerous road and off-road car and motorcycle training sessions in my couple of decades as a motoring journalist.

The trainers will always tell you that there is at least one person in the group who argues the point and thinks they know more than the trainer.

That is usually the person who ends up failing or goes out and crashes.

I’ve casually helped several novice riders gain their licences and improve their skills.

I reckon all riders fall into four classes of learner that are defined by categories once described to me by a psychologist.

They are the conscious competent, unconscious competent, conscious incompetent and unconscious incompetent … and I’d add another – the plain unconscious!

Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Which one are you?

Learner riders- slalom competent

Conscious competent

As the title suggests, this is someone who has the skills and knows it. They are usually a good and safe rider who knows their boundaries. However, they can easily pick up bad habits without realising it because they think they have learnt everything they need to learn.

Unconscious competent

This is the rider who has more skills than they realise. They are probably naturally talented and don’t realise they are doing things like counter-steering. They are easy to teach once they are shown how their innate skills can be put to good use. Then they become a conscious competent.

Conscious incompetent

This is the easiest rider to train. They know they are lacking in skills and are keen to learn. They can quickly go from an incompetent rider to a competent rider, but they have to be challenged to continue to learn.jake Dolan racer and learner rider at AMA training competent

Unconscious incompetent

These riders are usually the most vocal. They think they know how to ride, but don’t. They have probably been riding a long time and survived on sheer dumb luck! They may also have once been a conscious competent who simply developed bad habits and hadn’t bothered to seek more training. They are not only a danger to themselves but also others as they disseminate their wrong theories on riding to all and sundry.


These are the riders who seem to switch off when they ride. They’re too busy listening to music or popping wheelies, or looking at their reflection in the glass shop fronts as they ride their hipster cafe racer past.

The most important thing to learn is that we never stop learning how to ride a motorcycle. Even MotoGP racers have trainers!

  1. Some good points here. I consider myself consciously incompetent and am always looking to learn more. I’m ok but no Rossi. One of the best riders I have ridden with was a guy called Paul. He was two up and I couldn’t stay with him. In subsequent conversations he told me that he what he considered a good rider. Not the ones quickest in a straight line, not the ones quickest through the corner (as he would go past on the inside!) but the best rider was the one who could do a u turn in a narrow street without putting their foot down. He used to seek out the white snake in the middle of the road in the wet to improve his skills.
    I think most of us want to improve and if not then they won’t be around for too long 🙂

  2. Well said, but you’re actually referring to the four stages of competence, or what used to be called “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill” – In that heirarchy “Unconscious Competent” is actually the highest level (The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily.) Yeah ok, I’m a nerd 🙂 I do agree with the “Unconscious” type though!

  3. Forget the categories, above all, we are a mixed up crazy bunch of humans & heaven help the wilfully blind & god help the blissfully ignorant! Keep enjoying the roads & trails.

  4. Every ride is a learning experience, the day you think you know all there is to know about anything is the day you stop getting better. Keep riding, keep learning.

  5. With a big influx of new riders in recent years there now are more incompetent riders on the roads than ever before (stop and have a think about that because it might be you who I’m talking about). I am not protesting about this. I welcome all new riders and believe that we should support and encourage them to keep riding (many of them won’t) and become not just competent, but highly competent riders. But the danger we now face is that motorcycling will be adapted to the least competent riders.

    A good example of this is the new filtering laws. In the past we decided for ourselves when, where and how it was safe. Now there are ridiculous restrictions which are confusing, limit the effectiveness of filtering, and just give the police another excuse to book us. Some people are in favour of these rules but they, of course, are the incompetent riders. If you don’t know how to do it, then don’t do it but don’t drag all of us down to your level. Instead of these silly laws new riders should be given intense training on how to filter. The same applies to ABS. Some people want it to be mandatory even though for some riders it is more danger than benefit. In this case pride has a big influence with riders who want it trying to drag all of us down to their level instead of accepting that some people can ride better than they can.

    In the past motorcyclists were the elite of the motoring world because we had better skills and more courage than ordinary road users. We should get new riders (and other lesser skilled riders) to rise up to our level instead of dragging all of us down to theirs. As more and more restrictions are forced on us motorcycling becomes less and less thrilling. And if you take the thrill out of it there will no longer be any reason to do it.

  6. I have been conscious competent, I was riding every day 150ks in traffic for years, I was confident had excellent road craft. but then I got cocky predicting drivers poor moves and instead of moving out the way before it happened I would hold my ground, in order to show the driver the error of his ways. I would still have an exit strategy. But the point is I knew a driver was going to change lanes and instead of moving myself out of harm’s way I held my ground and as the driver moved over on me I would beep and shake my head or fist disapprovingly. essentially I was being a knob and risking my life to do it.
    now I would consider myself still conscious competent, but i keep that ego in check and reprimand myself for silly mistakes, more than other drivers,

    1. Omg I do that too, reading it I realise how stupid I am doing that because Im still learning how to stay safe

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