“It’s Not Me I’m Worried About, it’s the Other Guy.”
The sentiment is something I hear regularly as a seasoned riding-instruction professional and founder of Class: M1 Private Motorcycle Training in Los Angeles, CA.
I get it. “The other guy” is unpredictable, wrong, and maybe even hostile—that’s our only assumption on the road. Still, as motorcyclists, safety on the road begins with us—a combination of our skill and strategy. (And a little luck doesn’t hurt!)
In any discussion of safety, it’s helpful to differentiate between inherent risk and dynamic risk. Inherent risk, namely, comes from motorcyclists being more vulnerable, less visible and less stable on two wheels. It’s static risk—the same for all of us. Dynamic risk is, well…more dynamic—different for each individual rider. Simply, the better the skill and strategy, the lower the dynamic risk.
In my new book, The Craft and Art of Motorcycling: From First Ride to the Road Ahead (June 2023, Quarto/Motorbooks), I essentially differentiate skill as the craft, and strategy as the art of motorcycling.
In the chapter entitled “Mental Shifting”, I begin to address the art—applied strategies that help us reduce dynamic risk on the road. I’m pleased to share a short (sneak peek!) excerpt with you now:
PREDICT. PREPARE. PROCEED.
To implement situational awareness strategies, you must be aware of what’s happening all around you at all times. This is dynamic and ever changing. Eyes ahead is the default.
Peripheral vision can certainly help, but regular head turns (helmet on a swivel!) give you a much clearer picture to the sides. Regularly check those mirrors to monitor traffic behind you as well.
Once aware of your surroundings, you can then begin to predict, prepare, and proceed.
• Predict drivers around you will do the wrong and most unpredictable thing at all times. Anticipate worst-case scenarios and leave time and space to react.
• Prepare to respond.
• Proceed with appropriate action—execute.
This is a continual cycle. In highly-dynamic riding environments, like a busy thoroughfare during rush hour, the cycle will be highly active. In more static riding environments, like along a long, open stretch of freeway, the cycle may relax. It remains continual nonetheless.
Assuming the worst of others is a pretty rotten life philosophy. It’s an enlightened riding philosophy. If you assume illegal, unpredictable, uncourteous, and even hostile driving behavior, you won’t be surprised when it inevitably occurs. Better to be pleasantly surprised by responsible, friendly roadmates.
Likewise, expecting the worst each morning you walk out the door makes for a lousy bullet point. Anticipating worst-case scenarios on the road is an invaluable element of motorcycle mode. Stay vigilant!
If we predict the worst—while leaving time and space to react—we’re much better prepared to respond to potential hazards, and execute to avoid them.
Okay. So, “predict, prepare, proceed” sounds like anxious paranoia and a nerve-wracking bad time. Isn’t motorcycling supposed to be fun and relaxing?!
For newer riders, situational awareness and road/action strategy can, indeed, feel overwhelming. With time and miles, the exercise becomes more of a game: What if?
What if that car approaching the intersection with a red light doesn’t stop? What if that parked car along the curb pulls out and does a U-turn? What if a deer were to run into the road beyond that blind corner? (Remember, animals can be just as—or more—unpredictable as people.)
To be good at this game requires being relaxed, aware, and present . . . in the moment. Ultimately, anxious paranoia can transform into the meditation of riding—one of the best-loved things about motorcycling. Let’s leave the true anxieties and distractions of the day to the drivers. We riders are necessarily in tune with and fully connected to time and machine.
Zen and the Art of Road Strategy, perhaps?
DON’T GET MAD, GET SAFE!
Another benefit of assuming the worst from drivers around us is we become free from incredulity and indignance when they act recklessly . . . we expect it; we’re prepared for it.
There is ZERO allowance for ego or road rage on two wheels. Leggo your ego!
Ultimately, it never matters who’s right in a motorcycle accident. If you’re safe, you win.
Easier said than done? Sure. But keep on saying it and doing it gets easier—maybe even tape a note to your dash: Don’t get mad, get safe!
As helpful as it is to predict unpredictability in our roadmates, it’s equally helpful to stay predictable to others on our bikes.
Obey the rules of the road. For the most part, we ride a motorcycle like we drive a car. Yes, we can outaccelerate and outmaneuver cars, but motorcycle-specific advantages should be used for good, not evil.
Accelerating past a car to maximize safety margins can be good strategy, as can managing lane position and maneuvering to maintain escapes. Speeding between cars to cheat traffic is only a good strategy for increasing risk. Cheating traffic on two wheels is tempting with relatively advantageous power-to-weight ratios and slim profiles.
Remember, a decision to cheat traffic on a bike is impulsive and high risk. A decision to be predictable before you get on the bike is strategic risk moderation. Don’t cheat! Be strategic.
Signaling intentions is, perhaps, the simplest, most straightforward strategy for staying predictable. Use those turn signals regularly—and don’t forget to cancel them! Get that brake light on early when slowing or stopping (brake early, brake less.) Include a head turn when changing lanes. Add a hand signal, if safely able, to gain attention.
Safety starts with us! The better we are at moderating dynamic risk, the less we need to worry about the other guy. Safe and happy riding!
Pre-order The Craft and Art of Motorcycling now!
Illustrations by Benedicte Waryn
Excerpted text © Steve Krugman; Quarto Publishing