The difference between being a fast rider on the track and a safe one on the street. By Ken Condon February 17, 2016
You might get away with it enough to think you’re doing fine, but you’ll eventually face a hazard that even your awesome skills will not be able to handle.
Let’s say you’re an expert roadracer with a shelf full of trophies.
Will your ability to brake and corner to the extreme edge of control keep you from harm on the street? Those trophies didn’t win themselves, it’s true, but if you were quick to answer “yes” then you are fooling yourself.
Don’t get me wrong.
Your highly advanced track skills can save your bacon when dealing with a curve that tightens suddenly or when you have to stop rapidly to avoid a collision.
However it’s a fool who relies on superior skills alone to arrive home unscathed because, unlike on the racetrack, street hazards are unpredictable and less forgiving. You might get away with it enough to think you’re doing fine, but you’ll eventually face a hazard that even your awesome skills will not be able to handle.
What trumps badass cornering and braking talents is superior brain power that avoids the need to use those bitchin’ skills in the first place. Up first are strategies to deal with common hazards. You already have a lot of these strategies in your pocket. Some are so obvious that you might not even think of them as strategies. Examples include slowing down when approaching a busy intersection even if you have the green light, changing lane position to be more visible, weaving just enough to catch the attention of a driver waiting at the intersection, and covering your brakes to reduce reaction time, just in case.
Having expert-level control skills and smart strategies are great, but even they aren’t enough. Without situational awareness you might not recognize when a hazard is developing and fail to act in time.
Situational awareness makes you alert to clues that allow you to “read” the environment and predict when a potentially bad situation is about to unfold before anything obvious actually happens. Unusual changes in traffic flow or the sight of unexpected brake lights can indicate trouble ahead.
The best riders have finely tuned, hi-def radar that can pick up subtle anomalies like a flash of sunlight off a windshield or the head and arm movements of a driver about to advance across your path. Scan the road ahead and ask yourself if the “picture” looks as it should. If not, then slow down and cover those brakes.
Situational awareness involves more than just your most familiar senses. It also includes your “sixth sense”. You know—that gut feeling you get when something just isn’t right. Developing your sixth sense takes a deeper level of awareness and conscious attention. Start by recognizing what your intuitive voice sounds like and pay attention when it speaks. Every time you listen to that little voice it makes it louder and clearer.
Situational awareness is critical when mixing it up with other drivers, but it also plays an important role even when it’s just you and the open road. Stay sharp so you can spot the often-subtle clues that help you identify a corner’s radius and determine whether conditions require a reduced entry speed or an altered cornering line. Does the surface camber slope away, reducing ground clearance and grip? What are the chances of sand or gravel or a rockslide around the corner?
Remember that superior cornering and braking skills are your second line of defense, not your first.
Developing your physical skill to a high level will allow you to respond correctly and accurately if things go wrong. But believe me, your odds of a crash go way up if you think your physical skills alone will save you. Dulled attention leads to knee-jerk reactions and the need for heroic measures that might not save the day.