There are literally two things that ensure your safety on a motorcycle. And both of those things are about your mind!
Being safe on motorcycles is a strange and wonderful thing. But it is crucial to understand that death and injury are constant companions – the risk of either cannot be eliminated. But it is definitely possible for riders to mitigate the risk and control the variables. All it requires is common sense – you’re on your own there – and the two mental ‘skills’ I would like to draw your attention to here.
Human beings have evolved into fairly complex skilful creatures. The average human today finds no difficulty in, for example, updating their Instagram story, sending emoji laden messages and checking their appearance in the bathroom mirror all at the same time. While brushing their teeth. Unfortunately, motorcycles aren’t like that. They don’t permit multitasking.
The very first thing we talk about at the OVERDRIVE and Indimotard TWO Track School is about concentration. It is vital to understand that like all risky activity, riding motorcycles requires your full attention. This is true as long as you’re on the bike and there’s no difference whether speeds are low or high.
What this means is that once you’re ready to ride, you have to actively decide to ignore your hurry, to-do list, family troubles etc. They all cease to exist until you’ve finished the ride and climbed off.
There’s beauty in this. If you do this right, you will discover swiftly that it turns riding into a serene experience, not unlike meditation. I’ve been working on honing my concentration for seventeen years now. I promise you that no matter how bad Mumbai’s notorious traffic gets when I arrive at work on a bike, I feel charged up, and ready to attack the day.
You go where you look
While it sounds like we are talking about the eyes, we’re really still on the brain, as it were. As humans evolved from apes, the biological need to protect the human has not changed much. Our sense are designed to seek things like food and to scan constantly for danger. This is, obviously, a good thing. But for a motorcycle rider, it isn’t.
The biological instinct, unfortunately, causes automatic reactions. When a Homo Erectus saw a sabre-tooth, for example, the instinct would decide whether he or she would fight the impending battle or run from it. This moment of decision was not a conscious one.
On a motorcycle, similarly, when you see a hazard, your reaction isn’t a controlled response. Whether you grabbed the brake in panic or froze at the controls, the reaction comes from the bio-brain rather than the riding brain. And that’s a problem. A problem of how the mind and the eye work when presented suddenly with a hazard.
To return to the sabre-tooth, the human would find it very hard to look away from the big cat. Because the brain needs to monitor the hazard to decide what to do next. On a motorcycle, this becomes a problem called target fixation.
A simple example might be a small rock in the middle of the road. It might only be four inches of rock in the middle of a four-lane highway, but how many of us have run right over it? It’s as if it sucked the motorcycle in, right?
The problem, simply, is that you go where you look. So if you look at the rock, that’s where you’re going. And remember that while the sabre-tooth could move, attack or go off to sleep, the rock cannot. No rock in history has been able to do the Macarena. The bio-need to monitor the rock is a waste of time.
The switch you need to make is to take active control of your eyes. You have to learn to decide to always look where you would like to go. It’s a small change. But it’s a hard one to make and a life-changing one at that.
How does it work?
First, you have to shift your eyes into focussing on the spaces the motorcycle would use to go through the world. That means the space between the cars, rather than the cars themselves. That means the tarmac beside the pothole, not the pothole.
Second, you’ve to fight the brain’s need to look at the hazard, especially static hazards. If you’ve gone into a corner a little too fast, your brain wants your eyes to see what is on the outside of the turn. If you allow this, you will run wide and have an incident. Like the rock, the bush there cannot break into an Ed Sheeran cover either. You have to tell your eyes to keep looking into the corner. Most of the time, this allows you to come out the other side unscathed apart from an elevated heart rate.
The looking where you’d like to go is such a vital aspect of riding that just working on this one idea will solve nearly every riding issue or error you encounter.
In sum, riding motorcycles pushes the biological boundaries of the human body. Our brain and senses have to be trained to keep up with the world as we speed through it. It can be done too. When you first rode a bike, 40kmph felt so fast! A year later, 40kmph feels like you’re barely moving. That’s a year of training the brain for you.
The riders who go really fast and look smooth and safe do not usually have superior bodies. They just use their brains better on the bike than us.
That’s just common sense, yes?