I'm amazed that many of the riders I talk to don't really have strategies for the various aspects of riding. I ask, for example, what their cornering strategy is. Most can't really tell me. They simply plan to make it through the curve. The same applies to scanning. They tell me that they plan to scan, or look around. That's as far as it seems to go. When I ask if they plan to scan, or to scan with a plan, I'm often met with a blank stare.
Scanning is a critical part of long term success in riding accident-free. I say long term because, in the short run, most riders get by with inferior mental skills. When I see a rider looking just a few feet ahead of the front tire, for instance, I know that strategy isn't going to work well forever. Probably not even for very long. There are bogies out there. A rider might go a long time without disaster. That can be due to a high skill level. It could also be a rider with poor skills who just hasn't fallen victim to the randomness of the world, yet.
Adverse situations happen on their own time schedule. I know a tactical survival trainer I take classes from here and there. One of his favorite lines, always delivered as a shout, is this:
"You can't make an appointment for an emergency!"
When an emergency presents itself a previously developed plan to deal with it is essential. That makes sense, right? Have a plan, just in case. If you talk with the real experts, though, they will tell you the rest of the story. The most effective way to deal with an emergency is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It's like the fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
I know how to use the thing properly should the need ever arise. I don't want to fumble with directions, reading labels, finding Pin A, or whatever, under the stress of a fire. When the time comes, I plan to know exactly where the fire extinguisher is, be able to take it in hand, then put the fire out with the minimum of fumbling.
Even using the fire extinguisher, it's possible that things will get so far out of hand so quickly that I will need to call the fire department. That would be bad. So I have a preferred plan, which is to do whatever I can to prevent a fire in the first place. Which is harder than it seems since I like to cook!
In other words, I'm fully trained to use the fire extinguisher but the plan is to never deploy it.
Riding is similar in that we need to have accident avoidance skills readily at hand. Which means practicing before we need them. Having expert physical skills is required. Think of those skills like the fire extinguisher for a minute. If we get into a situation where we need to use those skills, we are very close to the flames. We might quickly put out the fire. We might also find that the flames have surged and we need extra help. Like an ambulance crew. Again, that would be bad. Better to have stayed away from the flame, the heat, being in hot water, or whatever you want to call it in the first place. Physical skills by themselves aren't enough to accomplish that objective. We need expert mental skills to get there.
Thus we bring it back to scanning while riding. Scanning with a plan. A plan of attack. Find trouble before it finds us. Deal with it on our own terms. I don't know about you, but I'd rather look back on my trouble free riding and think I had something to do with it. I choose not to be a victim of circumstance. It would freak me out thinking I've survived so far simply because I haven't met a fast moving Buick with my name on it.
Having a scanning strategy is the difference between beginning skills and more advanced skills. Level 1 versus Level 2.
( When we're on two wheels, there's a lot out there to deal with. I collapsed the perspective with my zoom lense, but the guy on the bike looks to be in a tight spot, doesn't he? )
Again, the good news is that the length of time we've been riding isn't the main factor in our mental skill levels. Experience helps, as we've noted before. Mostly, though, it's a matter of mindset. Sound familiar?
Riding experience should be like sharpening a knife on a whetstone. We can grind the knife on the stone all day long. If we don't have the proper mental picture of what a sharpened edge should look like the experience of the knife on the stone doesn't help at all. Similarly, our mindset tells us what the "edge" we're looking for should be like. Then applied riding experience hones our skills into that shape. A lot of riders miss the initital mental picture.
Year after year they keep grinding away without ever getting that edge. You can start to see how a rider can ride for ten years but only have a year's experience repeated over and over. On the other hand, you can see how riders can be fairly new but still build progressive experience. It comes back to that mental focus. Strategies are like that knife edge. They give us that clear direction. That direction, in turn, organizes our efforts. It's the difference between following a blueprint and simply slapping boards together.
So much to see. Where to look? Stay tuned. We'll explore scanning strategies in more detail in the next post.
Miles and smiles,