When it comes to riding attentively, your sensory organs take on the reins. Taking the lead is the vision, doing the heavy lifting in ensuring that you navigate your way safely around the chaotic streets, riddled with dangers at every revolution of the wheel. While vision is indispensable, other sensory organs also play a supplemental, but important role in ensuring attentiveness, spatial awareness, and safety. For example, a burnt clutch, or smoking shoe brakes can’t be detected by vision, but if you have a good sense of smell, you can figure that there’s something wrong with the machine and take preventive action in good time. In that context, our auditory, or hearing senses also play an important role in enhancing our awareness of the road and keeping us safe. In this article, we will discuss how your auditory, or hearing senses can be put to good use for safer riding.
Keep your ears open
Some of you might argue that the ears are tucked in tightly in the helmet which obstructs hearing, but you would be wrong. Good helmets are designed in a way that they do not obstruct your hearing. Helmets cut out excessive noise, making it a more comfortable, quieter environment in there, but they don’t hinder the hearing ability of riders for warning sounds like horns and emergency vehicles. In fact, if you observe your helmets’ inners carefully, you will notice that there is a cavity for where your ears will be. A good helmet cuts out the irritating wind noise but allows some sound to filter in so that you are aware of your surroundings. This ensures that while the discomforting wind is cut out, normal hearing is still facilitated. When we say keep your ears open, it means try to actively listen to your surroundings, especially the sounds that spell warning.
If you really listen, you will get a whole lot of auditory information that will aid your riding. For that reason alone, listening to music while riding isn’t advisable, as it insulates you completely from the sounds on the road, and there is a chance that you would not be able to hear sounds which are important from a health and safety standpoint. Furthermore, the modern active noise cancelling wireless earphones are an even stricter no-no while being on the road, as they almost completely insulate you from the surrounding noises, leaving you oblivious to the audio warnings which in some cases can be lifesaving.
Another important point to note is that Bluetooth enabled instrument consoles, available on some motorcycles, and connected to the helmet’s communication gear should be used to stay notified and for short calls only. If you are connected with your cell phone while riding via such Bluetooth gear, you should use it to receive a brief handsfree call, at most. If there’s an emergency call that you must make, or receive, one that’s going to last longer than a few seconds, it’s always advisable to pull over and finish it before swinging a leg around the bike again.
Listen to your surroundings and you will hear traffic, horns, engine sounds, brakes screeching, pedestrians, animal sounds, the sirens of emergency vehicles and the traffic cops blowing their whistle. If you are listening carefully, you will also be able to judge the direction of the sound source. Here are all the instances that you can come across and how you should react to them.
● Speeding vehicle: By the sound of the engine, you will be able to judge a car or motorcycle that is approaching or pulling away from the rear or the sides. The engine sound will get louder as the vehicle comes closer and you will be able to determine the direction of the sound. If it’s coming from the rear, look at the rear-view mirrors and try to spot the vehicle. Move away from their line of passage if you are in their way. A motorcycle can be easily flung away with just a little nudge from a bigger vehicle, so keep an ear out along with constant visual monitoring and steer clear of danger at the first sign of a speeding vehicle approaching from behind. This is especially useful if you have a speeding vehicle in your blind spot, as there’s a chance of you missing it as you glance at your bike’s RVMs.
● Honking vehicle: As a rule, you should always keep glancing at your rear-view mirrors, there may be some instances where a vehicle behind you is trying to overtake you and you are not aware of it. When the driver realises that you are not aware of their presence through the mirrors, they will honk and the sound of the horn will help you detect the direction of the vehicle, allowing you to navigate accordingly. In a different scenario, you might be riding into an intersection and in a moment of diminished attentiveness, come onto the path of another vehicle. Their horn will help you locate them, and you can then react accordingly.
● Pedestrians and cyclists: Apart from bigger vehicles, you will also come across pedestrians and cyclists. As a motorcycle rider, you have a greater responsibility towards their safety. Listen for the cyclists and pedestrian sounds. You might be blocking their way while being stationary or riding at crawling speeds. They will ring the bicycle bell or give you a shout to grab your attention. You might have not noticed them but, with the help of the sounds, you can locate them and navigate accordingly.
● Traffic police: The traffic police will usually use a whistle to grab the attention of motorists and direct the flow of traffic. Keep an ear out for the whistle and you will know when a traffic official is signalling something. The whistle may also be used when they want to stop you. You might have entered a prohibited zone, or no-entry unknowingly and the cops may blow the whistle to stop you from moving further. Look at the direction of the whistle sound and take appropriate action. Being unable to hear the whistle from the cops, or in some cases, shouts from local pedestrians trying to correct you, may land you into trouble.
● Screeching brakes: The sound of screeching brakes is often the result of hard, emergency braking. This could also mean that the vehicle that has braked is trying to avoid a collision. Now, when brakes are applied suddenly, the screeching sound is a result of the friction caused between the tyres and the tarmac. However, in the process the vehicle will also skid uncontrollably for a few metres. This is something you should always be aware of to be able to take evasive action if needed. If you hear brakes screeching, look in the direction of the sound and make sure you are not in the path of the vehicle.
● Emergency vehicles: Giving way to emergency vehicles is of paramount importance and can be the difference between life and death for those in need. If there is an emergency vehicle like an ambulance or a fire engine that needs to rush to a hospital or to a fire-stricken site, you need to react to their sirens from a distance and ensure that you have moved to the side to clear the path for them. Plugging your ears with earphones for music might block these important sounds, and you might unknowingly end up hindering the advance of these life-saving vehicles.
● Mechanical issues: Your motorcycle might be making weird whirring noises because of some mechanical issue; some plastic panel may have come loose and might be flapping against the bike’s body and none of those sounds would be audible to you if you have your ears immersed in music. Sometimes, small mechanical issues can manifest themselves into disasters, so it’s important to catch these warning signs early, and making use of your hearing senses is important to facilitate that.
Always keep an ear out for warning signs, avoid listening to music or taking long calls, stay attentive, and you would be a lot safer while riding.