We've been discussing our scanning techniques and strategies. Since this is such a vital way we gather critical information while riding, it behooves us to get really, really, good at it. Better yet, let's set the dial to "excellent"!
I have a good friend who has been an avid fisherman all his life. This guy can read a stream like nobody I've ever known. Where most folks will simply throw a line into a likely looking spot, my friend studies the water. He'll tell me to work a certain pocket with a dry fly. He tells me to drop the fly in above the pool and let it drift to a certain spot. Following his advice has led to several good sized fish. I'm amazed, but my friend tells me it's simple.
Big fish need a lot of food. They can't afford to spend a lot of energy chasing it. So they find comfortable places to wait for food to come to them. The place he picked out for me is one where the landscape provides both the resting place and the food supply. It's the natural flow of things. Once in a while we'll come across some special event that doesn't fit the normal patterns. Things like Mayfly hatches. These hatches bring a feeding frenzy where the usual flow is out the window. New tactics are in order.
I've often related riding a motorcycle to running a river. A rider needs to pay attention to the flow, the currents, and the rapids. Reading the water reveals to us where we should ride and how we should go about it.
Which brings us to Level 4 scanning skills. There's things we can see. There's a plan of attack to see these things as soon as possible. On a higher plane, there's things we should be feeling and sensing, as well. Based on our knowledge and experience, there are situations and areas that should put us on higher alert. We should be using our intuition, our eyes, and our knowledge of where we're riding to find those disturbances in the normal flow.
Bluekat alluded to this in a comment she left on the last scanning post. Here's an excerpt:
"I'm always watching for all the usual suspects and anything out of place. Sometimes it's just an odd sensation that someone is going to do something unexpected, so be ready for it. "
She's right about looking for something out of place. Fortunately, there are some things we can add to our arsenal so we're not left to rely solely on our intuition.
Eric Trow writes a column for Rider Magazine. In the February issue he talks about knowing what other drivers are going to do before they even know it themselves. No, it's not magic. It's called paying attention. Besides paying attention to other drivers, we also need to pay attention to the environment we're riding in. Specifically, to how the area we're in affects the flow. What will that change in flow mean to our personal vessel? So let's explore this last phase of scanning.
Since this blog ( with the exception of Ryan photos ) is primarily about commuting to work on a motorcycle, I'm going to relate it to that. Just bear in mind that these principles apply whether it's a familiar route or a new one, and to those riding for recreation instead of commuting. In the list of things to scan for, add one more item. Look for where we are, as well as for who is around us.
Here's traffic flow in a big city. It's a route we ride every day. We see the same fellow commuters in their cars. The same people on the same route every day. As mind numbing as it is sometimes, the daily commute is also a sort of comforting routine. Everybody is used to the route and they become a part of the regular flow.
Some things disturb the flow as isolated incidents. Take these examples.
For whatever reason, this truck driver ended up blocking the crosswalk and the right lane of the street to my left during the green light cycle. Drivers were doing strange things to get around it and pedestrians were doing their own strange things. Either way, it's still an isolated, random, incident. Here's another random incident.
Again, the parked ambulance is causing eddies in the flow of traffic. Let's use the ambulance to start the journey into going up a level with our information gathering skills. Or maybe I should say in our being prepared to gather information in the first place.
Back up a step and take a look at a building we ride by every day. Most of the time it's quiet and we don't pay much attention to it.
Truth be told, it's much better for everybody if this place stays quiet, too. However, the reality of the world says the potential is in place for a dramatic event. Not only will we have to accomodate the emergency vehicles themselves, but the reactions of other drivers doing the same thing. What the other drivers do will often make no sense to an intelligent person, either.
Not only do we hunt down the random event, but we go even further. Knowing we are riding through an area where an event could possibly occur should have us on a heightened alert level in the first place even if no such event is happening at the moment. It's like the deep pool in the stream where the big fish are lying in wait for prey. The less favorable side of the picture would be to remain oblivious to the fact that we ride by a fire station every day and be suddenly surprised by an emergency vehicle headed to a call. This is an example of a critical event not actually seen, but we sure know the possibility exists so we prepare. Just in case. One more step ahead of the game, so to speak.
A busy transit mall downtown.
The usual suspects to look out for. Buses coming and going on schedule. We just don't know what those schedules are, usually.
Police cars and pedestrians. Both a source of sudden and unexpected random incidents. Put a whole bunch of people getting on or off buses en masse, and who knows what will happen. If we believe everybody will stay in the crosswalk and wait for the lights, well.................... "All hands, this is Captain Kirk, Yellow Alert, I repeat, Yellow Alert! "
Some places attract a lot of drivers to them. Here's an example.
Cool reflection, isn't it? Don't forget that on the other side of those windows are hundreds of people who work for a very large medical insurance company. Speaking of which, those mirrored windows only mean we can't see inside, not the other way around. So don't stand and use the mirror for any sort of, uh, personal grooming stuff. The workers arrive at and depart from the building in bunches. Usually from a single spot like this.
Certain times of day will see a lot of traffic streaming into and out of the parking structure. It's not a reason to let our guard down, but a lot of these folks are part of the routine stream flow. They drive to and from the same place every day over the same route. Other places attract crowds of people that aren't a regular part of the flow.
This theater draws crowds from all over. Depending on the particular performance, it will also draw different types of crowds. Now we really have the random incident factor working overtime. People not familiar with the area, drivers running late and taking a bit of extra risk to arrive on time, and cars circling the block like sharks to find parking are just a few of the things we'll encounter.
Here's another type of place just a few blocks away.
These are just a few of the kinds of areas we find ourselves riding through. Rural roads can mean farm equipment could be on the road just around that corner. Housing developments on the edge of town mean the possibility of soccer moms and mini-vans. The list goes on and on.
So what's the takeaway?
Actively hunt for critical information. Don't be like the big fish waiting for things to come to you. You probably won't like some of the things that drift your way. Have a plan, a strategy, in place for being an active predator. Instead of being passive, go on the hunt. An effective scan should be done aggresively, and with purpose. Take things further by listening to our inner voice. If it's whispering in our ear, listen to it and act accordingly. Call it a hunch or an intuition, but it's our brain telling us it's noticed something me might not have consciously realized, yet.
Pay attention to what's around us in another way, too. Read the river. Be aware of how the the layout of the land around us can affect the water flow. Better to be prepared ahead of time for the potential of rough water than to be caught by surprise. The more skilled we get at reading the river, the smoother our ride will be. I love smooth sailing!
Miles and smiles,