Where you look is where you go!
Effective motorcycle observations are essential to our safety on two wheels and according to the statistics there is nearly always room for improvement, especially when considering that whilst us motorcyclists account for just 1% of road traffic, we make-up a disproportionate 25% of all reported accidents! Whether you are a learner rider or at post-test standard, failing to master proper observations, does increase your risk.
Maintaining better balance
Ever heard the saying, “where you look, is where you go”? Forward observations and looking ahead can be the difference between staying safe and running into problems. When we look forward, we maintain better balance and can identify potential and developing hazards ahead, with enough time to act and make a plan that keeps us safe.
Conversely, not looking forward can result in poor balance and can sometimes result in ‘target fixation’ i.e. being drawn into the objects we are trying to avoid. Failing to look ahead also results in poor cornering, poor road position, plus issues turning in and out of junctions
When you’re riding, try looking to the furthest point – often called the vanishing point. This is where the road edges (left and right curb) appear to meet. By looking here, you can establish where the road is going, the severity of bends – whilst taking in other vital information, such as road signs, paintwork, road surface, turning vehicles, junctions and other hazards.
A more proactive way of riding
As you look forward, with a focus on the vanishing point, you will still be able to see what’s happening to the sides by using peripheral vision (without needing to look). This helps us to ride in a more proactive way. If you see peripheral movement, you can decide whether it needs more attention. If you practice using your peripheral vision, like any skill, it will start to improve.
Don’t negotiate with your mirrors
When looking in your mirrors, you should be able to see what is happening behind. When setting your mirrors, ensure that you don’t have to stoop or move your head significantly. You should only need to move your head slightly, although on some motorcycles, you may find that part of your arm is still in view. A mirror check can be carried out at any time, but should always happen before changing speed, indicating, changing direction (with a life-saver if necessary) and when overtaking.
They are called lifesavers for a reason!
Before changing direction, or moving position, you should always consider a lifesaver. This is where you check the left or right-hand blind spots i.e. where the mirrors cannot see. Lifesaver’s don’t need to be excessive and require a simple head movement, looking over the shoulder and in the direction of the turn, with your helmet chin guard touching your shoulder and giving a good view into your blind spot.
The timing of lifesavers is imperative. If you leave a lifesaver until you are turning, there is little point in doing it. I often say to my students, that if they leave their lifesavers until they are turning, they are potentially making eye contact with the person who is about to hit them! A late life-saver doesn’t allow enough time to change direction or stop. The lifesaver must be well timed, effective and give the rider time to abort a manoeuvre if necessary.
Be flexible in your plan
Effective rear observations help you to see what’s happening in your blind spots. You may have been keeping an eye on a vehicle behind, that has suddenly disappeared in your mirrors. A well-timed glance into your blind spot, could give more information, but remember that when carrying out any rearward observation, that it can take your eye off the road ahead, plus affect position and balance.
If the biggest hazard is in front of you, don’t always be tempted to do a rear observation or life-saver. Be flexible in your plan and deal with each situation as it happens.
Carrying out effective observations takes ongoing practice. Be aware that ‘overlooking’ will take your eyes off the road and can create unnecessary movement. This is because an ‘over-look’ can move the shoulders, which in turn has an impact on the steering. It’s vital that the motorcycle remain on-line when observations are being made.
To improve your observational ability, road safety and other riding skills, it is a very good idea to invest in regular, professional post-test training. An excellent starting point is to benchmark your skills via the DVSA Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS). ERS involves assessment, followed by bespoke, progressive professional training and the opportunity to gain ERS certification.
About the author
Laura Smith is a full-time motorcycle instructor, certified by the DVSA for the delivery of CBT, Direct Access and the DVSA Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS). In addition, Laura organises European and UK advanced riding tours. Laura is a partner at RMT Motorcycle Training in the West Midlands and is founder of Women Only Motorcycle Training. [more]