Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Active Scanning

by Rocky Marks
The one thing that I really enjoy about motorcycling is that it keeps my mind active. I can’t truly ‘zone out’ while riding down the road. When riding, you need to constantly provide your brain with input. Because your surroundings are always changing while you ride, you need to continuously update the information you transmit to your brain.
Senses like touching, feeling, smelling, and seeing are all considered brain-input devices. On a motorcycle, unless you are going through a freshly fertilized field on a back country road your primary input device is sight. You get the most information for safe riding with your eyes, which is why you really need to hone in on using your eyes so that you can actively scan your surroundings to give you the most data possible so that you can react appropriately.
It’s important to remember to not let your eyes fix on any one object for more than a fraction of a second. Scan all aspects of your surroundings, and don’t just focus on other traffic. Watch the condition of the road surface. Stay alert for potholes, loose gravel, or oil drippings in the road which can be very slippery. You should also watch for traffic entering the road.
Be careful driving out of driveways, riding in parking lots and going over rail road crossings. All of these obstacles present their own unique dangers to even the best motorcyclists.
As I sit here and write this article, I want to ask you to especially be aware of intersections. Just because your light is green, doesn’t mean that ‘all is clear.’ One of the first lessons that I learned from a friend of mine in high school had to deal with a green light.
I was very much a novice rider. I was just starting out on my dad’s Ironhead Sportie and it was so obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing. I would start out with my kickstand down, I would take my turns wide, and when I would up-shift, I would almost lose my grip on the handlebars.
I needed help learning out to ride, and I found it from a willing friend in high school. He and I went cruising around our little town often. One afternoon during one of my practice rides, we went through a green light. He looked both ways and I cruised on through without a care in the world head forward and feeling invincible. When we got to the next stop sign, my friend unloaded on me.
He made it a point to make sure that I knew you had to look both ways before going through ANY intersection, whether you have a green light or not. I nodded my head, but I never really thought much of the consequences until he was involved in an accident less than a year later. In this accident, someone wasn’t paying attention and he didn’t have time to react. He wasn’t fortunate enough to make it through alive. That particular lesson will forever stay with me.
Because others are careless, we must be vigilant. As motorcyclists, we must be the ones to use our sense of sight to make sure that we make it back to our garages at the end of our journeys. In addition to looking around intersections, keep a look out for animals and pedestrians. Often, they don’t have a set route, and can be very unpredictable when it comes to what path you think they will take. Make certain that you include your rearview mirror in scanning. When moving from right to left rotate your head so that you can check your blind spots.
When driving down the road, focus on your intended path. You should always be looking at 12 to 14 seconds ahead of your path. This will give you enough time to react in an emergency situation. Keep your eyes up because that will aim you vision up. Move your eyes around. By forcing your eyes to move and not fixed on one thing, you will widen your field of perception.
Above all, be alert. Do not zone out. If you feel tired, pull over and get a cup of coffee or an energy drink. When you let your guard down, bad things can happen. The more aware of your surroundings you are and the more you actively scan your route the safer your ride will be.

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