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A Moment of Inattention? Or a lack of attention to fixing problems?

The following was posted in a discussion group by a friend of mine, Don Kime, an instructor in the States. What can be learned? The rider identifies some of the problems for himself. So why's he not done something about sorting it out? And here's the really scary bit: "Here we go again." So he's been in this position before. What's he not learned from the previous incidents?

"More harrowing braking experiences. This is beginning to scare me. I just got back from a ride and was on a two lane, fairly straight and wide, country road. I was following a pickup doing somewhere around 75mph. He was about four car lengths or more ahead of me. I was just enjoying the ride, as usual. Next thing I know all I see is brake lights and I am closing on his tail gate fast. Here we go again.

"I immediately get down on both brakes, and the back wheel promptly locks up. At first I am not really sure which wheel is sliding until the back end starts to wag back and forth. At this point I know I need to be squeezing the front brake harder than I am, but for some reason I am afraid I am going to slide the front wheel and loose control. In retrospect, I don't think I was anywhere near loosing traction on the front. I am in the grips of fear and (again) fixated on the tail gate of the truck.

"For a moment I am sure I am not going to be able to stop in time, but I feel like I can at least get my speed down before I impact. I continue on the front brake with the rear locked. I know I should have released the rear, but at the moment there was no way I was going to let off either brake. I managed to bear down a bit harder on the front once I realized that it was the rear that was sliding and not the front. I brought the bike to a stop about 10ft behind the truck in a cloud of smoke from my rear tire. (I flat spotted the heck out of my new Macadam!)

"The pickup had just stopped dead in the middle of the road to make a right turn (without signalling). I don't know if he had slammed on his brakes hard or if I had not seen them when they first came on. All I remember is going about 70 and seeing brake lights and a truck that had come to a complete stop right in front of me.

I made several rookie mistakes (again). First of all, I made no attempt to avoid. I fixated. I probably could have gone around, but once I locked the back wheel that was no longer an option. I don't remember if there was any oncoming traffic or not. I don't think I had time to look. Second, I did not brake the front wheel aggressively enough. My first instinctive reaction was to jam down the brake pedal which resulted in the rear wheel slide and making me panic. I think if I had used only the front brake I would have stopped much sooner. But for some reason, I can't seem to keep myself from stomping on the rear brake in an emergency. Right after the incident I did three practice emergency braking tests. I was able to bring the bike to a controlled stop all three times in a distance much shorter than what I had just done. But I was not in a real emergency situation.

Something happens to my brain when I am in a real emergency situation that prevents me from thinking clearly and braking correctly. Fear, plain in simple. Maybe I just need to practice more so it is second nature. My brain just seems to lock up in panic situations. I need to somehow learn to control my fear instead of letting it control me."

So what can we learn? What are the issues?

Let's take a moment to think about what the rider has for himself identified as a problem - his braking technique. Notice he said he practiced three stops immediately after the incident and managed them fine. It should be obvious that he was not familiar with the using the brakes hard. Practicing emergency stops after the event is too late!

But here's the real problem: "Something happens to my brain when I am in a real emergency situation... I made no attempt to avoid. I fixated. I probably could have gone around, but once I locked the back wheel that was no longer an option."

Once in a panic situation, self-preservation and instinct took over from planned riding. Why? Because we cannot easily practice emergencies! As there's no actual emergency in a practice emergency stop, the risk is that if we don't see it coming soon enough to brake hard consciously, our unconscious 'Survival Reactions' take over. These are the primitive and instinctive responses the threat, such as target fixation, freezing and over-braking. Keith Code first talked about this in his 'Twist of the Wrist' books. And it's actually a dramatic limitation of training in emergency techniques. We know what to do in an emergency, but we don't know how we'll react in an emergency.

So, how do we prevent survival reactions taking over?

The first option is not to follow so close. He said: "I was following a pickup doing somewhere around 75mph. He was about four car lengths or more ahead of me". If he'd really been that close, he would have hit the back of the truck before he had even applied the brakes, so let's make some allowance for hazy perceptions of following distance after the event, but it's still clear he was too close. If we're to avoid triggering survival reactions, we need to see the vehicle ahead begin to slow, and still have time to think.

How far back is that?

Well that depends on something else. Our expectations. He said: "The pickup had just stopped dead in the middle of the road to make a right turn (without signalling)." Well, that's not exactly unusual is it? Vehicles - including motorcycles - stop. Our rider had failed to anticipate it might happen. And that means it was a SURPRISE! And SURPRISE! is the trigger for survival reactions. More about this on the No Surprise No Accident website.

It's hard to give hard and fast distances but in essence if we're taken by SURPRISE we can add anything from 1 second to 3 seconds to our stopping distance. That's not because we're braking less effectively, it's because it takes that long to actually BEGIN to react. The Highway Code talks about 'reaction time' and 'stopping distance', but ignores this 'recognition time'. Whilst we can certainly stop in less than the near-100 metre distance the Highway Code says we should allow IF we anticipate the need to stop and hit the brakes immediately, if we freeze for three seconds, we'll have travelled no less than 90 metres before even beginning to brake!

What we actually need is a riding plan that factors in things going wrong before it actually happens. Read this: "I was just enjoying the ride, as usual... I don't remember if there was any oncoming traffic or not. I don't think I had time to look." Do you begin to see the problem? We all tend to drift at times but a lack of focus on the riding task is dangerous. Alertness can't be sacrificed for relaxation. He shouldn't have had to think about looking, he should have been aware of other traffic As Don says "I don't see this as a 'braking' issue - I see it as a 'thinking' issue".

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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