Catch the future Motorcycling is about being skilled not just at riding the bike but also about knowing what skills to use, when and in what measure. Simple. No. It is actually simpler and I’ll shortly come to that. But if you do seriously think that your meticulously acquired skills alone will save your bacon when you’ve overcooked it, you’re painfully and possibly lethally mistaken. Not because skills are useless and that there’s no real benefit from constantly working on them to get better and better. The point here is not about the utility of skills but of letting the situation go so out of hand that you need every ounce of those skills to keep you alive and safe. Have them but ride so that you don’t need them. Lots of studies worldwide pertaining to motorcycle accidents have thrown up one common figure that holds true the commonality seemingly irrespective of the country, culture, road conditions or kind of motorcycles involved. Studies have shown that the average duration of time between a rider recognizing imminent danger and the actual accident is usually 2 seconds. Yes, you read that right – 2 seconds. And this has been shown by the famous Hurt study in the US (to quote from it “The typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action.”), something similar in Thailand, another done in Sweden and one in the UK. The overwhelming majority of accidents gave the rider not more than 3 seconds at the most to take evasive action.
And going by the average reaction times allied with the inherent inertia of motorcycles in motion, the actual available time window gets squeezed even further. Let’s see more figures to get a handle on where the danger lies and by how much. With the best of skills that we ordinary mortals develop after years and miles of motorcycling, we can lose anywhere between 25-35 kph for every 1 second of panic braking that we do. And this assumes good dry tarmac, nice warm tyres, proper disc brakes, optimum tyre inflation and the catch – a rider unaffected by the ‘pucker factor’ of a life-threatening emergency. Taking the best case of 3 seconds to impact to that moron who suddenly dives for that exit right across your path while you do a modest 60 kph down your everyday commute route, you need a little more than three seconds to come to a full stop next to his dumb face staring at you with surprise out of the driver’s window. Staring back at him you think of the need to get that seat cover changed because of those bite marks you’d probably made during that high-pucker-factor panic stop. Only that those 3 seconds even from 60 kph would not have been enough and that you’ll probably be thinking about some more serious damage both to your beloved machine and your fallible body rather than just your bum biting into the seat cover.
The point I am trying to make here is that the best formula for safe riding lies not in lightning fast reflexes and superhuman skills but in using your superlative brain and its stupendous cognitive/analytical skills to predict the future and not get into that 3-seconds-to-impact-zone at all! The best panic stop skill is the ability of not ever allowing yourself into a situation that needs panic braking. No, it is not an unrealistic standard. It is mostly what you aim for unconsciously all the time and boast about when telling tall tales of being blindingly fast and yet consistently safe.
The point is to embed yourself into the ride so deeply that you can quickly and consciously detect, assess and conclude about situational possibilities around you. And ensure that those conclusions do not demand the use of panic skills. And as a help along this path of clairvoyance, you can follow a few thumb rules. Make yourself visible to all traffic by keeping your lights on, wearing bright coloured gear and staying out of their blind-spots. Be a psychologist and strive to out-think the drivers ahead, around and behind you. Hang back as the car ahead crosses a possible exit and be especially aware if it perceptibly slows down as the driver could be mulling over taking that turn. There’s a slow car ahead through a residential area and the driver’s head is on the swivel, in all probability looking for an address. Hang back and let him make that sudden dive left or right alone and not with you. Let other cars run interference for you when going across a crossing, even if that green light gives you the right of way. No legal right ever heals a torn body or a broken limb. Situational awareness is a true measure of your commitment to the ride and dishonesty on wheels is always punished one way or the other. It is vital that you learn more about how to avoid mishaps rather than how to react to dangers on road. So keep those eyes and ears open, that head on the swivel and your commitment to the ride in place – even destiny will favour you.