June 2002 Safety Thoughts

Survival Reactions

by Dave Hansen, Safety Officer

This month I'd like to begin my Safety Thoughts by sharing an excerpt from Keith Code's Twist Of The Wrist II book:

Throttle Control Rule Number One = once the throttle is cracked on, it is rolled on evenly, smoothly, and constantly throughout the remainder of the turn

Now there's some food for thought. Keith talks about survival reactions being something that's done without consciously thinking about doing them. They're like auto-reflex reactions to some external stimulus. Controlling these survival reactions can make a big difference in your riding abilities and can even mean the difference between crashing or staying up.

I think several of these survival reactions can be categorized as something I call "deer in the headlights" syndrome. You get in over your head, suddenly realize it and then simply freeze. You quit thinking. You go blank. That's when you can experience the 1) narrowed and frantically hunting field of view, 2) fixing attention on something, 3) steering toward the fixed attention (target fixation). This is usually related to cornering. You usually believe you're cornering too fast (even when you're riding in a group & everyone else makes the corner just fine at the same speed you're going). You stare at the ditch or some gravel at the edge of the road. You ride into the ditch or off the road into the gravel. You crash.

You've heard it many times. Look where you want to go. Don't look where you could crash, because you will crash.

Of the 4 remaining survival reactions, I would group 4) tightening up on the bars & 5) no steering (frozen) or ineffective steering (too slow or too early) together as panic responses. That's what happens when rear takes over & instead of doing what you should, you tense up. Kind of a "pucker power" response.

That leaves just 6) rolling off the throttle and 7) over or underbraking to comment on.

Rolling off the throttle seems inocent enough, so why is it listed first among these survival reactions? Well, in many cases it's the wrong thing to do. It can upset the chassis stability, requiring additional corrections in order to maintain control and intended path of travel. Note Keith's Throttle Control Rule Number One = once the throttle is cracked on, it is rolled on evenly, smoothly, and constantly throughout the remainder of the turn

That brings me to braking. I've addressed braking issues many times in the past. Nothing new here. If you want to become proficient at stopping quickly, find an empty lot somewhere & practice. Practice until you can stop quickly, efficiently & comfortably. It needs to be second nature. You need to understand how hard you can apply that front brake before reaching the limits of traction. You need to know how to add rear brake gradually without panic in order to prevent rear lockup. No amount of discussion on my part can eliminate the need for each individual to practice stopping hard until it becomes so familiar that you feel comfortable & confident that you can stop really hard without lockup.

Now having discussed all these survival reactions let's look back at the first line of this quote: "You only have so much attention to spend. Trying to overspend causes panic, resulting in survival reactions." I believe this statement holds the real secret to minimizing riding risks. That is mental alertness. When you ride, you need to remain alert at all times. It's of paramount importance in order to see & identify potential hazards, including road conditions, traffic conditions, weather conditions and your own rate & direction of travel relative to these hazards. Be alert, be aware, be ready to react. Know what reactions might be needed. Be mentally prepared. Only in doing this will you be able to avoid the survival reactions that will get you in trouble.

Words of Safety