Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Scanning strategies.

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,



Sojourner rides said...

Irondad, I'm so enjoying these lessons you're teaching as they perfectly reinforce the reading I review over the winter months. I am loving _riding in the Zone_ and your lessons precisely echo the lessons in that book. The mental aspects of riding, having a scanning strategy, being fit, and ongoing practice--all help me feel like a better rider. I can't wait to kick off my season with an advanced class, which always seems to dislodge the cobwebs of winter. Thank you!!

bluekat said...

Sheesh, I just get settled in for a good read...and the post is over! Great subject and write up. Anxiously awaiting the next post. :)

Mike said...

I'm with bluekat on this. Proper scanning is a biggie. I'm looking forward to the meat. Going through curves correctly would be another biggie. All great stuff Dan - thank you!

bobskoot said...


I am always scanning, whether on a bike or in the car it is always the same, to be aware of your surroundings and others who are contemplating entering your personal space or buffer of safety.
I have also been testing the swerve technique before entering intersections, and it seems to work.
I too am waiting for more cornering technique . . . especially on unfamiliar never been ridden before roads

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Geoff James said...

Wonderful site you have and I couldn't agree more about scanning strategies. Have you ever seen this UK video: http://www.public.tv/channel.php?group=4EW9-3P8K-9MF4-C6GO-YVU5 ? Car drivers need to develop this situational awareness too.

Best wishes,
Geoff in New Zealand

abraxas said...

Lol i'm with the previous posters,
that was a brilliant INTRO!!
Can't wait for more :)

(ps, please see a post of a friend,

Conchscooter said...

I find it hard to imagine that there are people who look just ahead of the front tire. You say it is so, thus it must be.

Th3Guns1ing3r said...

I've never understood drivers that do not scan ahead, in a car or on a bike. It seems such a common sense, integral part of the basic skill set, but a lot of driver's have not developed the habit.

Gary France said...

Come on Irondad - it has been two days already and I want to read the next instalment..... enough of this waiting!

cpa3485 said...

Impatient followers, huh?
Enjoyed this post and look forward to more.
BTW, you can post pictures of babies anytime you wish, GrandIronDad

Young Dai said...

There is some very good stuff to be extracted from the link that Geoff posted (Great Roads, Great Rides 2)

It is an example of pure Roadcraft riding, with the lines the rider is taking around the bends, his attitude to other road users and how he is taking visual clues from the road markings, signage and the surroundings.

BTW : When he talks of 'Sacrifice' that means he is moving off the line that gives the maximum view, because of oncoming traffic or other reasons, in order to maintain rider safety. As that happens it also likely he would come off the throttle slightly as well : "Loose the view - loose the speed".

The 'commentary' ride is a technique that came across from the car side, so you show what you have seen, and how you are going to react to it. It seems easy, but is incredibly hard at to speak, think and ride smoothly all at the same time. I've never managed more than 3 minutes before my mind backed up and my mouth ran off like a teleprinter with a stutter ! Try it going to work tomorrow and see.

In the in-town section (Minutes 4 -6.40), it is all trottle control, depending on the rider being in the 'responsive gear (1st and 2nd at those speeds). Count how many times the brake light comes on, yet his speed varies constantly. Much smoother if you have a pillion and maxs the availible grip , just as you were saying in the revved up post last week

Although he is lucky with the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings etc, he keeps the bike moving all the time. Again it is smoother and easier to move off from 1 or 2 mph than from a dead stop. And even at those very low speeds, his feet are on the pegs all the time, no dabbing, paddling, dragging or waving a leg as balance. Ride like a Pro indeed.

I would say though, that I was taught that a motorcycle is a poor choice of vehicle to 'be nice' with and let other cars out from side roads, you do put yourself at risk doing so. But that could have been a put up job to show him doing the 'I am Slowing down' hand signal.

It is possible to argue that unless he had a very good view into them, that he was too close to the parked cars around 4.51, in case there was a suddenly swinging door.

For the second row of cars aound 6.00 the rider takes a wider line over into the opposite carriage way. That way he was able to avoid the car that turns out around 6.10, although it caught him by suprise.

Even then he didn't have to use any 'ninja braking' skills, becuase he had the view he was able to react in safe time.

Lucky said...

Hmm. I've never thought about my scanning technique. I just kinda do it.

"There's a bus blocking a crosswalk, look out for pedestrians"

"There's an idjit weaving through traffic."

"Lots of red lights ahead, slow down."

"Some guy in a high-viz jacket on one of them funny-looking sport touring bikes behind me! I owe him a beer! Speed up! Speed up!"

Chuck Pefley said...

Thanks, Dan. Looking forward to the next chapter.