By Thomas Day
Back in the 80’s, I went to a lot of L.A. Laker games, especially when Showtime wasn’t playing someone in the championship hunt because I could get scalped tickets cheap right when the game started. About half-time, the rich and famous folks would bail and I could filter down to the floor seats. In a game against Philly, Magic slipped a half-court pass through everyone and nailed Vlade Divac, who was standing under the goal, in the chest, knocking him on his butt, and putting the ball in the bleachers. Without slowing down, Magic ran a loop around the opponent’s end of the court, grabbed Divac by the jersey, yanked him up, hauled him down court, while saying (loudly), “Three rules to basketball, Vlade: Look, look, and look.”
In the MSF rider education programs, we’ve sort of tried to instill the same religion. We spend a lot of time telling our students to “turn your head,” because you can’t look unless you’re aiming your eyes at what you’re supposed to be seeing. It’s a good start, but it’s just a start. The old school MSF program harped on the idea that “you go where you’re looking.” There is some reality to that claim, but outside of object-fixation you also have to steer where you’re looking for that to happen and not all beginning or experienced riders know how to steer a motorcycle. Just looking at where you want to go isn’t enough, but it’s the first thing you have to do to get there.
Changing directions is only part of the vision game on a motorcycle. You can’t anticipate the next goofy move from a distracted driver unless you are looking for it. The more you look, the more you’ll see. I don’t mean just the broad overview of looking for vehicles on the road. I mean looking for details. It’s nice that you’re trying to take in all of the cars on the road, but you ought to be trying to get a good look at their drivers, too. I don’t mean trying to catch the eye of the babe in the convertible. I mean get an idea of who everyone piloting a vehicle in your immediate vicinity really is: young, old, male, female, distracted, attentive, aggressive, happy, sad, mad, sane, and plain old crazy. ‘Dis me for stereotyping people and doing that nasty profiling thing, but this is about survival. The worst thing that can happen to me for being over-cautious is that I keep rolling down the road jelly-side-up.
Maybe even more important than doing a psychological profile of your highway competitors is making a judgement of the driving skill. For example, if a guy is turning left into an intersection while looking right or at a passenger in his car or down at his POS cell phone, the guy is a clueless moron who is a hazard to your life. Create distance between you and this idiot as quickly as possible. Try to get some other, much heavier, vehicle between you and Dumbo the Moron. Another example of a flashing warning sign is significant damage to the front end of the vehicle. This character is a tailgating bozo who imagines himself to be a NASCAR driver but who has the skills of a 3-year-old in a bumper car.
Once you’ve bought into the idea that you have to look where you want to go and look out for all of the crazy folks in cages and on foot and on and in every other kind of vehicle on the road, you have to start looking for escape routes. Everything from an empty lane to a drainage ditch to a flower bed is a legitimate escape route if you can get there safely. So, while you’re scanning for crazy people you are also looking for ways to escape from crazy people. The only advantage a motorcycle has is agility. We can fit into spaces other vehicles can’t go. We sometimes have suspensions and ground clearances that allow us to go where no other vehicle can travel. (If you don’t have more suspension than a Honda Accord, maybe you should reconsider your motorcycle choice.) We can turn faster, stop quicker, and accelerate more rapidly than 99% of the overpriced heavyweights on the road. The only way we can safely take advantage of those advantages is to be constantly scanning for escape routes.
So, “Three rules to motorcycling, Vlade: Look, look, and look.”