Experience vs Expertise

Experience vs Expertise

Experience and expertise sound early similar; however, they are often confused in the two-wheel world we live in.

I don't mean people necessarily confuse them by not knowing their independent meaning. I mean, people assume that being experienced at riding automatically makes one an expert at it - an honest yet dangerous mistake.

In this article, we will go over the differences, and how you should approach this topic the next time you are faced with it.



As humans, we grow up doing repetitive tasks, making us, by default, experienced at them.

Eating, talking, sleeping, or even trying to pick the winning lottery numbers week after week are some examples.

However, that experience doesn't make us experts at any of those things, as a simple appointment with a nutritionist, speech therapist, wellness professional, or a quick check at our lack of lottery winnings can be quite humbling.

I believe we can all agree on that, which makes me even more confused as to why we, as riders, assume that we are immediately experts at it just because we have been riding for some time, especially when it comes to off-road.

The most common arguments state that "there hasn't been a track that has been uncrossable" or that "no significant injuries have yet occurred, and that is a pro move" automatically making those that claim it, experts.

In theory, I would agree to some extent, but when pressed for more detailed answers, the armour that many self-proclaimed expert riders uphold with pride, begins to show cracks.

Allow me to guide you over a scenario as an example. 

You are an extremely experienced rider, clocking over 100.000 miles off-road on multiple countries, multiple bikes, different weathers, and kinds of terrain, and you are now on yet another adventure ride.

This particular ride has a deep soft sand stretch of around 10 miles between you and your destination, but as an experienced rider you've encountered deep sand before, so this is not a cause for concern.

Upon reaching the beginning of the sand, you slow down, sit down, and as always, paddle, struggle to keep momentum, push and lift your ride mile after grueling mile, fulled by an unwavering will-power that no one can ever blame you for lacking.


Learning to Ride - OutdoorX4
Reference: Image from outdoorx4.com


A choice of technique that allows you to once again claim victory after a draining and exhausting couple of hours, adding yet another badge of honor to your experienced rider suit of armour.

This scenario is common for many riders, and in terms of adventure and stories to tell, it sits unmatched and undefeated, but I lack to see where it relates to expertise.

It glorifies human tenacity and willingness to overcome obstacles, it even shows character and conviction, but again, none of those are synonyms of expertise. 

So what makes someone an expert at something if not repetition?



Let's take the same 10 miles deep soft sand scenario and make a side-by-side comparison.

We already covered how experience may give you tools to overcome specific scenarios, but what if you had different tricks up your sleeve?

As an experienced rider, I'm sure you've encountered many riders, with bikes and tires similar to yours, and with similar physical abilities, that while carrying the same payload as you can effortlessly blast through that sand without breaking a sweat, even though they lack your experience.


Learning to Ride - OutdoorX4
Reference: Image from outdoorx4.com


The difference between you and them? Expertise.

Being able to continuously survive something doesn't mean we have developed the best way to go at it; it may not even mean we have a decent approach to it, let alone an expert one.

On the same token, being an expert at something doesn't mean the expert knows all the tricks, but it means he masters at least one and is always willing to continue to add more to his arsenal.

An expert is someone that knows their strengths and weaknesses to a tee, and even though that doesn't replace years and miles of practice, it makes a huge difference when push comes to shove.

So what happens when you mix experience and expertise?



For most of us, our formative years were relatively the same when gathering new institutionalised skills. We went to school with variable tantrum levels, and with more or less persuasion, we ended up learning our ABCs.

Regardless of the success level showed when learning those ABCs, the skills learned, or in other words, the expertise that we started developing then never stopped increasing with time, or in other words, with experience.

The effect that experience has in time as a building block of ever-growing expertise is no different when it comes to riding, so the issue here is not necessarily how experienced you are, but where that experience is building upon.

If you are a self-taught off-road rider, chances are you are building upon bad habits and the occasional dangerous approach, something that the more you wrongfully continue to become an expert in, the harder it will be to correct it in the future.


Reference: Image from BN EnduroCamp


If you are starting out and decided to properly learn your off-road ABCs before hitting the trails, your building blocks are set, and regardless of the success you achieved when setting up those foundations, the experience you will gather will either get you to where you want to be, or push you back for more training to continue cementing the expertise you wish to achieve.

This tells us that that the key to success is self-audit, a deep and honest one.

Although I believe we should all dwell in professional instruction, as it is my usual spiel, I don't judge those that decide to bypass it if their expertise goals match what is possible to achieve with experience alone.

Now, if you want to become a proficient rider, experience, regardless of how much of it you intend to have, will hardly be the only tool you need to achieve your goals. So be honest with yourself, be clear with your goals, and plot the best plan to achieve them.

When it comes to off-road riding, especially when racing or on adventures with big bikes, one should always mix training to build expertise, with experience to cement those skills mile after mile.

However, at this point, some may be asking;

"Zé, you are talking about self-audits, but how do I actually get that done?!"

A more than fair question, and one that can be easily answered. 

A quick chat with your local off-road instructor should clear out any questions you may have, and to complement that, or to find out the answer on your own if you wish to do so, give this resource a read, as it may be what you need to get a self-audit going.

Regardless of the route you choose, remember, experience is not the same as expertise, and expertise, means very little without experience.


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