Outside Edge Oct 2015

George_Tranos_Outside_EdgeIn this moment

By George Tranos

One of the joys of riding a motorcycle is to escape the workaday world. Linking curves together through a mountain road can provide excitement and relaxation at the same time. Feeling the wind and immersing yourself in a natural, outdoor environment can stimulate your senses and make you feel more alive. Riding requires alertness, coordination, balance, grip and fine muscle control of the hands and feet. Most people know that the use of drugs or alcohol can affect those things and interfere with safe motorcycle operation. What some people don’t realize, however, is that a lack of focus can affect your alertness and lead to a crash.

Normally, it is the interaction and combination of a number of factors that lead to a crash. Removing one thing can help prevent the crash from happening. While the physical part of riding is important, it is the mental task of driving that plays a more prominent role in maintaining a safe riding strategy. Perception is an important skill to develop and use. This entails searching with your eyes, ears and other senses for a hazard. You must identify what the hazard is and how it will affect you. A good example is the left turning driver who will cross your path at an intersection and never see you. The sooner you recognize that the threat exists, the earlier you can predict what would happen and decide what you will do to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic.

rIDERS vIEWThe ability to look far ahead is crucial to defensive driving. By looking ten or more seconds ahead you give yourself the critical time and space to ask “what if” questions and then make appropriate decisions about what to do. Multiple hazards can challenge even the sharpest rider. You should try to prioritize and analyze the most significant threat first and then move on down the list of all the hazards facing you. Most dangers will be in front of you, however, don’t neglect looking all around. You should especially look behind you in your mirrors and blind spots when slowing or stopping as you may avoid hitting the obstacle in front of you but the car behind you may not even see it. Make sure you stop in first gear and look for an escape path to the front or side in case you need to move quickly.

Lots of things can affect your ability to perceive things quickly. Fatigue is a significant factor in many crashes. In some cases, being tired can cause loss of situational awareness, loss of focus and delayed reaction time. Your time and space cushion is your primary safety buffer and anything that increases the time it takes for you to identify and react to a hazard increases your risk of crashing. While fatigue is a big factor, distraction has risen to equal or even exceed fatigue in delaying response to a changing situation.

Distraction can take many forms. Most know that cellphones, texting, eating, drinking, talking, changing the radio station, shaving, putting on makeup or disciplining your children can all be major distractions and take your attention away from the driving task whether you are in a car or on a motorcycle. What some don’t know, however, is letting your mind wander can have a similar effect.

FALL RIDINGIt’s easy to let this happen. When you’re out riding on a nice day and maintaining a good pace on a fairly clear road, you might start thinking about other things. You might think about a situation that happened at work or a discussion you had with your spouse or friend. You could ponder upcoming events, where you have to be and what you have to do. It is in that moment that you can lose focus on the driving task and miss something that can become very significant. Not seeing just one hazard can have disastrous effects.

Riding a motorcycle can be a lot of fun. It’s easy to forget how unforgiving it can be when things go wrong. It takes focus to maintain a relaxed awareness of all that is around you. You don’t want to be fearful while riding as it causes muscles to tense. This in turn creates abrupt reactions that create instability and prevent smoothness. Being aware will prepare you for any eventuality. This helps you focus on the ride and enjoy this moment.