Biker Thinker: “A much used slogan for advertising of “symbol” goods, Life is a Game reveals a superficial approach to life but, more important, to game.

With games we learn, in the first years of our life, the essentials and the way we play games fixes for ever our character. In 2003 Cooper Bike Training (and I cannot find a current reference in Google) published an essay titled “Games for grown-ups” that not only touched my fantasy but became as well a regular way to use time when on the saddle. I still play some of the games listed below and I added over time some of my creations; the best one, not listed here is called “everybody is out to kill me” and I will eventually talk about this obsessive game in the future.

I like the brief note that, many years ago, introduced the list. I hope that, the ones of you riding a motorcycle, will try at least once, these games. I guarantee you… playing can improve your ride and your life

“Playing games isn’t just for children.   Setting aside the “Football, more important than life or death” theory, there are a number of games you can play to help improve your riding. Pick and choose from the list below.  You will find that some of the games build on earlier exercises, so there are benefits to working through in order.   You may also find it helps to print this out and carry it with you for roadside reference, although there are ‘armchair’ exercises to do in the comfort of your home”

Drive Yourself around the Bend

One of the easiest ways to improve your cornering is to ‘drive’ the bike around each corner.  There are two elements to this:

1.  You need to finish all braking or gear-changing while the bike is still upright and traveling in a straight line;

2.  Opening the throttle as you lean into the corner (remember that cornering with the throttle closed is effectively braking around the bend).

Using these two points means that you brake while the bike is most stable, and corner with the throttle open, which gives good weight distribution (taking weight off the front so it’s less likely to slide) and can increase your ground clearance. To achieve both 1 & 2 you may find that you have to brake earlier and more firmly than usual. Whether or not you are comfortable with opening the throttle is one way of judging the accuracy of your choice of speed for the corner.

Where in the World?

If you’ve recently taken your riding license, then you will probably have been encouraged to ride about a meter out from the kerb, or in the centre of your line.  Real-world riding suggests that moving across the lane width can have significant benefits – but also serious risks. Enter two mantras: 1. Safety  View  Advantage. 2. Safety  Stability  View

It doesn’t particularly matter which you use, as long as you understand what you can gain from each.

Safety.  Children are warned: “Run away from danger”.  For you, a grown-up, thinking rider, this means keeping as far away from danger as reasonably possible, e.g. if there’s a car in the junction to your right move across to the left of your lane.  If there are two hazards (add an oncoming car to the example above) then separate them either in time, i.e. change your speed so that you only encounter one at a time, or distance, i.e. go equidistant between them.

Stability.  Choosing the best surface to ride on, i.e. good tarmac rather than oil, gravel, horse . . . dust, or sunken drain covers.

View.  See and be seen.  One classic example of this is following HGVs, several of which now sport warning signs:  “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you”.  Try to make eye contact with other road users; if the driver at the junction mentioned above can’t see you, it’s far more likely that he will pull out.

Advantage.  Again, this is slightly more involved, but one example is adapting your following position to overtake when leaving a bend, using the advantages of an earlier view and the bike’s superior acceleration.

So, let’s use the second version:  Safety – Stability – View; ask yourself how you chose the position in the lane width you’re riding in.  Then ‘project ahead’ and choose – or plan –  where you want to be, rather than deciding when you get there – by which time it’s really too late to decide that you really ought to be somewhere else.

Mark My Words

Councils often go to great lengths to help road users, by erecting signs, placing ‘cat’s eyes’ and painting markings on the road.  Unfortunately, those same road markings may not give quite as much grip as good tarmac. This game involves accuracy in your riding, as well as forward planning.  Building on ‘Where in the World’, start to really choose the exact place on the road for you. If you’re riding towards a hazard for which the council has painted ‘SLOW’ on the road, ride between the painted letters rather than over them.  After all, if you’re braking you may need the best grip available. Of course, to avoid these markings you will have to read them . . . and ponder on why exactly the council have bothered to paint ‘SLOW’ on the road.  Don’t get so engrossed in the game that you forget to watch what’s happening in front.

No Brakes?

When you’ve got ‘Drive Yourself around the Bend’ off to a fine art, build in an additional element of good forward planning.  Try to identify hazards (actual or potential danger) earlier so that you don’t need to brake, just close the throttle, then arrive at the corner at the correct speed and ready to open the throttle. As before: use the brakes if you have to, remember that ‘engine braking’ means using the engine to slow you – not the gearbox, only change down when the revs have dropped, then use the throttle to match the revs with your road speed.

Pick a Gear, Any Gear

Keeping your speed constant, change up and down the gearbox.  By careful choice of revs, and care with the clutch, you should be able to make your changes without any noticeable change of speed.  This exercise is good for extending the life of your chain, sprockets and clutch.  It will also improve the journey for your pillion passenger.

Ink Bottle

Building on the smoothness of ‘Pick a Gear’, imagine that there’s a bottle of ink on your pillion seat – without a lid (and that’s not ‘without a helmet’). Try to ride smoothly, so that the ink won’t get spilt.  Gentle acceleration, smooth gear-changes, ease the brakes on and off, come to a halt carefully. Again, this will also improve the journey for your pillion passenger.

Funky Chicken

Tension in your shoulders while riding a motorcycle will initially cause discomfort, then pain.  Worse still, it will adversely affect your riding as you will not be allowing the ‘bars to move when the bike wants to balance itself.  Another potential problem is that if your shoulders are tense you are far less likely to steer easily, and you will tend to feel that you are ‘fighting’ to get the bike to go where you want it to be. Unfortunately, you can’t stop tension happening, or just make yourself relax.

So, you need to watch for the signs of tension – a ‘death-grip’ on the bars or straight arms and tense, raised, shoulders, for example – then tense even more and release.  If in doubt, do the ‘chicken’ to check:  your arms should be ‘loose’ enough that you can ‘flap’ your arms!

Although the easiest way to explain counter-steering is as a ‘push’ on the bars in the direction you want to turn, it’s often better if you can keep that arm relaxed and pull back on the other bar.  When cornering, try to keep your arms relaxed, particularly the arm on the side you are turning to, the ‘inside’ of the turn.  It may help if you lean slightly forwards as you start your turn.  Depending on your bike, you may be able to sit slightly further forward, which will also help to avoid the ‘straight-arm syndrome’.

Time to Spare?

Here’s the one for a quiet few moments at home:  You will require a comfy seat, a watch, and a good memory. Think of one of your ‘best’ roads, the one you regularly use for a ‘clear the cobwebs’ ride.  You’re going to ride a few miles of that road from the comfort of your armchair!  So sit down, check the time, close your eyes and imagine riding down that road . . .     . . . and when you get to the other end, check the time again.  Did it take as long to imagine the route as it would to ride it? If not, what have you missed?  Go back and ‘ride’ through it again, this time in detail and in ‘real time’:  think of each gear-change, braking point or throttle movement, every change in the road surface, every side turning, change in camber, bend & twist, any pub, shop, school or house entrance, all signposts, road markings or diesel spill. The armchair ride should take at least as long as the real ride – if it doesn’t, where are the ‘blanks’, the sections of road where you’ve not noticed the details?  Next time you ride for real, slow down and fill in the gaps, seeing the detail is the key to good observation.  Then ask yourself “How could that affect me?”

What If?

This game has been around for many years. It’s a variation on the RoadCraft ‘Observation Links’, and involves asking yourself one question, many, many times.  Whatever you see, ask yourself “What if . . . ?”  For example, as you approach a blind corner, and are about to try and get your knee down, ask “What if there’s a broken down car around the corner?” and choose your corner entry speed accordingly.

Another variation is: How can that?

As in “How can that affect me?”  Try to be as imaginative as possible.  Could a low flying aircraft have any effect on you?  Probably not, but if you’ve noticed it then other drivers may have done too.  Are they still looking at it?  Is it taking their concentration away from you? So ask “How can that affect me?

Follow My Leader

One of the key points of ‘Roadcraft’ is that you should always have “Time to react”.  And one of the easiest ways to lose your reaction time is following too closely behind the vehicle in front:  it’s easily done – you’re eager to get on, so gradually close-up, losing the gap and reaction time. Use the ‘two second rule’.  The basic principle is to watch the vehicle in front pass a particular point – for example, a drain cover – then count the seconds. 

If you pass the same marker before you’ve finished counting “Thousandone, thousandtwo, thousandthree” then you’re following too closely. Improving your riding is often about honesty, responsibility and self-discipline: if there’s something you know you ought to be doing, then it’s up to you to do it.  No-one else is to blame if you get caught out.

Talk To Yourself

Personally, I find that talking to myself is one of the best ways of getting a sensible reply.  However, this variation is from typical car ‘advanced’ training, where the driver gives a commentary, demonstrating to the instructor how far ahead they’re looking, what at, and how they intend to react to it. Look as far ahead as you can – remember that ‘Time to react’, and talk – or yell – out to yourself what you can see and (“What If?” & “How Can That?”) how you intend to react to it. At first you may find that by the time you actually talk about something you’re already passing it, but with practice – and looking as far into the distance as you can – this should improve.

Spot the Difference

If you’ve taken any type of rider training, or driver improvement course, you will probably have been told ‘Improve your observation’.  Well that’s easy, isn’t it?  Here’s one way of ‘re-training your eyes’. Most of the time you ‘see’ things, particularly detail, with just the very centre of your field of vision.  Around the edge, your peripheral vision is very good for spotting movement.  Are you aware of how much you can ‘see’ around the edge? Sit comfortably, then look at a mark or point on the wall opposite.  You will notice that most of what you see in detail is in a very small area.  Without looking away from that point gradually be aware of everything around that point, and move your concentration further out. When riding, use that peripheral vision to attract your attention to objects that are away from your main ‘view’.  But remember:  where you look is where you go, so if you look at a hazard for too long you’ll steer towards it.  Look for an escape route instead.