Thursday, November 19, 2009

Avoiding the Ambush ( Part II )

Occasionally the conversation did turn to the subject of training techniques for motorcycle riders. TEAM OREGON recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and has some 160 instructors at more than 20 sites around the state both preparing future motorcyclists to go out on the road and teaching current motorcyclists how to improve their riding skills. They offer several stages of instruction, from the basic, to the returning rider, to advanced instruction in cornering and braking skills, and most important, avoidance maneuvers.

As Bob ( who put in his time in the army ) says, going out on a motorcycle can be compared to being the lead guy on a patrol, where you want to avoid getting ambushed. The point man is looking for tell-tale signs, like a suspicious object on a trail which might be a command-detonated mine, or a narrow alley where enemies on the rooftops can toss down grenades and bring a withering hail of firepower to bear.

The same can be said for a motorcyclist. You can be ambushed in traffic by left-turning motorists, or out in the countryside by entering a decreasing-radius turn at too high a speed. The idea is that a well-trained rider will anticipate the possibility that the oncoming Buick just might turn left---since drivers have been known to turn left in front of motorcycles as well as in front of semis. Those motorists out there are "the enemy," although unintentionally, and they might suffer poor vision, or be distracted by sending a text message, or just be oblivious to what is happening around them. As far as rounding that curve goes, road signs should have warned you of recommended speeds, and if you missed those, just the fast disappearing asphalt should tell the aware rider it past time to slow down.

Nobody in the motorcycle business is unaware that riding a motorcycle is a heckuva lot more hazardous than driving a car. There aren't many fender-benders in the world of motorcycling; an accident happens, whether it is hitting another vehicle or running off the road, and there are no air bags ( except on one model ) to protect you.

Here are some depressing statistics. Motorcycle registrations are about 3 percent of the total vehicle population in this country, but we suffer 12 or more percent of the fatalities. You can attribute that to any number of things, from daring young kids overloaded with testosterone, to elderly folk with poor vision and poorer reaction times. Half the motorcycle fatalities are single-vehicle accidents, which means that the only person at fault was the rider. And of the remaining 50 percent, surveys have found that in half of those accidents the motorcyclist was wholly or partially at fault.

To Oregon's great credit, the state has the lowest motorcycle death rate in the country, about half of the national average, based as a percentile of the total motorcycle registrations. That certainly deserves a cheer. And TEAM OREGON is working hard to diminish that number even further.

One of T.O.'s mottos is: "Expert riders use expert mental skills to avoid having to use their expert physical skills." Steve and Bob feel that the real danger comes from the motorcyclist being so concerned with him- or her - self that he or she fails to see the bigger picture, the possibility of an ambush ahead. If the soldier is concentrating on where he puts his feet, he won't see a movement in the foliage a hundred feet ahead, a head ducking down from a window. Or the motorcyclist with a narrow vision outlook won't spot the soccer-dad in the van leaning back to yell at his kid and missing a stop sign, or the sand kicked on to the pavement by a trailer's wheels as it rounded a country corner. As Bob says, "If you ride into an ambush there is no question that you're going to get hurt---the only question is whether or not you're going to survive."

A rider tends to go where he looks: target fixation---you see a rock in the road, you stare at it, you hit it. The idea is to look around, see what is happening everywhere, not focus too intently on one target. Expand your horizons, don't just stare at the road right in front of the motorcycle.

The Oregon people are doing constant research, like the study they just began with a federal grant that will allow them to find out where motorcyclists actually look while going down the street or road. The technology involved is extremely sophisticated and it will be a three year study. Nobody knows what the conclusions will be, but if it results in something that will help instructors teach students how to avoid that ambush, all well and good.

Anyway, it was a great 20th anniversary. I'll let Sue surprise me again for the 25th.

( end of article )

Again, my deepest appreciation to Clement for granting me permission to reproduce this article. I hope you find it as thought provoking and helpful as I did.

Miles and smiles,



redlegsrides said...

Dan, damn good articles on avoiding really really really pays off to look as far ahead as you can and not target-fixate....and lets not forget watching your rear view mirrors for oncoming threats!

Training is key.

Anonymous said...

Dan, thanks for another great article. Clement Salvadori was unknown to me until I read this. Now I am tempted to get his book. I expect that it will be on par with Peter Egan’s Leanings and Leanings II. His use of the military analogy is very effective. When I first got a motorcycle, in 1969, to get around Honolulu, I got the feeling that 9 out of 10 auto drivers couldn’t see me and the other one considered me to be a target. It worked for me but doesn’t read as well as Clement’s article.
I am sure Chrlie6 understands the importance of target fixation, but when he said, “it really really really pays off to look as far ahead as you can and not target-fixate”, it implies we can choose to not to fixate on targets. Our only choice is what to target. In other words, having identified a threat, we need to target our escape route.
BTW my days as an exclusive cager may be ending. I have acquired a derelict 2000 Buell Blast. While the previous owner is going through the process of a lean sale to establish a clear title, I will be trying to repair the damage caused by seven years of immobility. I am hopeful since it only has 3,709 miles on it and it is missing only cosmetic parts. A new battery was all it needed to turn over so I hope that cleaning the carb will get it to run.
Thanks again,

Jeff in NY said...

I was just talking to my wife about 'flags'. When I'm riding I put a mental flag on anything suspicious and keep track of it out of the corner of my eye. We started playing that game in the car by pointing out drivers, pedestrians or objects that needed a 'flag'. We were soon joking about how we were going to run out of flags soon... anything to avoid that ambush :-)

Mike said...

Thank you for the article. It's both sobering and informative. I think most of us need to be reminded of the basics. Over confidence can creep in and change habits. We have to be on guard for that. Being aware of an ambush is a good approach.

Learning to Golf said...

Great article and post Dan. I've been reading Salvadori's articles for the past couple of years in Rider Magazine and he has a way of keeping it interesting.

Funny part of this article is it reminds me to quit becoming so comfortable while riding. Recently I've found myself thinking of "what ifs" in places like construction zones and on rides covering many miles. Just seems like I need to be reminded to focus some times.

Krysta in MKE said...

"Oregon... has the lowest motorcycle death rate in the country, about half of the national average, based as a percentile of the total motorcycle registrations."

Just, wow.
That's really impressive.
Y'all are doing some great work.

irondad said...


Visual lead is the heart of the matter. Knowing what to look for and realizing how vital it is to get critical information early is the missing part for too many riders, I'm afraid.

irondad said...


We all need to personalize our survival plans. The point is to actually have a viable plan in the first place. Sounds like you have that covered.

I think the thing about where we look is to identify the problem early, then look to the solution and not at the problem.

Congratulations on the new two wheeled family member!

Jeff in NY,

Thanks for sharing that strategy! That's exactly the point of an aggressive scan. Find the "flag" early based on observation and experience. Sounds like a fun way to go about it.

Take care,


irondad said...


There's this certain time in riding where riders have problems. That's somewhere about 5 or 6 thousand miles. That's just enough time to think they finally got it all down and to face the obvious hazards.

That's the time to be even more vigilant as you so astutely pointed out.

Arizona Harley Dude,

Isn't riding a double-edged sword? It can be so pleasurable that we get into this groove of just riding along feeling good. Like you say, we have to remember to keep our focus, as well.

You're wise in your comment about considering "what ifs?". Better to be pleasantly surprised when we're ready and don't need it as to having it go the other way.

Take care,


irondad said...


We have excellent leadership in Steve Garets and the rest of the staff. We have an instructor core that is passionate about reaching for excellence in serving Oregon's riders.

With a cast like that, success seems to be the expected outcome. While we can't prove it for sure, we sure hope our efforts have something to do with the statistics.

Thank you for the compliment!

Take care,


Doug C said...

Dan, Exellent post and article.

I have paid special attention to *where* in front of me I look lately and too many times I find my eyes focused on the pavement about 100 to 150 feet. I'm not sure if that's the natural position for me or if that is where the bumber of the vehicle I'm following usually is.

At any rate, I'm now training my eyes for greater scope and hopefully a new normal position.