Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure
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Making Sense of it All
How Our Seven Senses Can Make Us Better Riders
In recent discussions with other riders, mostly men and women who ride and work with motorcycles professionally, the topic of vision, sight, reference points, visual acuity, and situational awareness was the gist of the back and forth.
Everyone agreed that vision and how you use your vision is key to so many skills, tasks, and techniques while piloting your motorcycle.
While watching Ken Condon holding a webinar from his truck as he was out of power at home (that is dedication kids!), he was showing some excellent photographic illustrations of some tight uphill turns with two machines negotiating them.
He then was pointing out where their eyes and their focus should be as they proceed through the turn and onto the straight – probably to another great turn. Keeping your eyes up is always key but, in almost every circumstance, you are usually limited in what you can actually see – due to the conditions, and the road itself. If the curve is very tight your vision will simply run away from your line of sight – no matter how eagle-eyed you are. But, you can learn to read the turns over time.
Sure the road disappears, but as you scan ahead you can pick up signs like powerlines, road markings, and other points of reference that can give you a pretty good idea where the road is headed and lets you be prepared as you ride through it – with your vision again increasing as the turn opens back up.
That does not mean you should blindly follow what you think you see or anticipate. There can always be the unseen variable and ‘potentials’ around every turn.
Such it is with life, so it is with riding motorcycles.
So as you trail brake and lean to set yourself up for the exit and then begin to accel….DEER!
Pow! Where’d he come from?
Surely - we ride not only using our sight, but we tap into the other senses as well. We use four of the five of them – and then there is a little known 6th and finally 7th.
Our noses and sense of smell are far more sensitive than we believe and it is well known that certain aromas can trigger memories from years ago. Some smells can also instantly alert you to trouble.
A strong whiff of diesel fuel hitting suddenly had to have come from somewhere – and it is most likely laying on the road – so pay attention to your schnoz.
We ride with our ears as well.
You might hear that diesel-spilling truck coming up on you before you actually see it. The same can be said for the sirens of emergency vehicles or something as small as that hornet that has managed to get into your helmet. The blaring horn, or worse, the screeching of hard braking tires, coming up quickly from behind should be harkened.
Touch and Feel…
The way we lightly touch the grips, not grasping at them. The way the balls of our feet ride and move on the pegs. The way we react to rain getting into our eyes, that hornet getting in our riding suit
Taste… Okay, not so much. Maybe the errant insect that lands in your mouth while your visor is up or the newly-mown grass that wafts into your helmet. Unless we are eating dirt on a trail or Backroads Rally ride or a succulent lobster along the coast of Maine – or crow, which rarely tastes good.
The Real 6th Sense…Proprioception
This little know sense refers to how your brain understands where your body is in space, it lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body. It encompasses a complex of sensations, including the perception of joint and body position and movement, muscle force, and effort. It is really a combination of the other senses working as one.
When we ride, we use this 6th sense to move our machines in small, almost imperceptible ways. We need to hit the apex of a turn at a certain spot, well the machine, almost magically heads in that direction. Can you tell exactly what caused this? Well some of it, sure – but not the tiny micro-movements and all this comes into play.
And finally - Spidey-Sense…
Now bumped around like the planet Pluto to last place, this uncanny perceptiveness can be acquired over years of riding experience or some riders are just born with it. Some people’s brains simply work differently (RE: Driven by Douglas Brackman) and for them, it’s a survival instinct that operates in the deep part of the brain. At the end of the last ice age, it was this part of the brain, this hyper-sensitivity, that kept our ancestors from being a Smilodon salad.
We use it as well every time we go for a ride.
It is working when we are suddenly aware that the car that is signally right is going to make a left in front of us. When the pick-up truck that is not even aware of the red light is coming your way. Even that back of the head feeling that you should take off and lock your valuables when going into a store or restaurant. The thing with Spidey-Sense is that you have to train yourself to recognize it and be ready to act upon it.
How many times have we all said… “I KNEW that was going to happen!”
Don’t let it. You should have a plan – even if you don’t use it.
With your morning coffee or mid-day downtime spend it visualizing your riding. That one turn that gives you the yips, the car moving into your lane, and your precise and safe reaction to this. Yes, it is only in your mind but behavior scientists have learned that athletes perform tasks far better if they rehearse them in their minds over and over.
So, when and if the situation really happens, the brain and body are already, comfortable with the right action.
Our brain is not the end-all of what operates our bodies – the nervous system expands to all our senses. Use them to your advantage when you ride and it will all make sense.