I have learned to talk to myself when riding my bike. It’s not that I’m a delusional idiot (although my family and friends may disagree on this point) it was something that was drummed into me some years ago by some of the best car drivers I have ever met. And it’s an invaluable safety technique.
At the time, I was working for a high-end sports car firm and it was company policy that every member of staff who drove its cars had to go through a week-long driving course with a group of some of the toughest people to please that I have ever met.
They were all full time traffic police officers whose job, on a daily basis, was to chase the bad guys or get to the scene of an accident or a crime as fast and as safely as possible. Aside from what seemed like hours of classroom tuition, there was also what felt likes days and days sitting behind the wheel of the car trying to take it all in.
But one thing that I learned, which has stayed with me ever since, was talking aloud in the car and relaying what I was doing and what I was seeing around me and ahead as I was driving.
It sounds faintly ridiculous the first time you attempt it. But it’s really, really hard to do well and maintain for long periods of time
But those cops were astonishing at doing it. To show me how it’s done, my instructor got into the driving seat and we set off. He then began a five-minute speech on everything that he was seeing from behind the wheel. He was noticing infinite details, cars pulling out of turns 300 yards ahead; he talked about pedestrians I hadn’t noticed and even what some people were wearing.
He was noting the speed of the traffic behind him and which vehicles were slowing down or speeding up on the opposite side of the road. Interspersed with all of these details he would announce which gear he was in, when he was braking, what the road speed limit was and how fast he was going.
What he was actually showing me was what I was failing to observe out on the road. It could hardly be described as a deep meaningful speech but it was a steady monologue of information that he kept going for more than five minutes. He was spotting things that I only noticed as we swept by.
Try it yourself one day when you’re out on your motorcycle. Nobody is going to know you’re talking to yourself as you’re wearing a crash helmet. Providing, of course, it’s a full-face.
You may well think you have seen something and have already planned evasive action but I guarantee, by talking out loud about the road ahead, you will spot at least 20 percent more that potentially could be a danger to you and your bike.
Start by looking well down the road ahead and then literally talk about all the things you see. This can be road signs, the color of vehicles and what their drivers are doing, to people walking on the sidewalk that appear they might be trying to cross the road. Don’t forget to also talk about your own speed and what you’re doing on your bike, such as braking or accelerating, as well as what’s going on behind you and right alongside you.
By practicing this, what you are actually doing is focusing your attention on everything around you while you ride your bike. By doing this running commentary, you will start noticing more and more things that may or may not have an influence — or potentially an impact — on you and your bike. In effect, you are making yourself even more aware of your surroundings.
It is though really hard to keep this going for more than a couple of minutes. I find it works really well when I find myself in a tight spot as it grabs my attention and makes me even more aware of what is happening out there on the road.
My most memorable conversation with myself was in the middle of a Utah desert on a two-lane highway. It went along the lines of this:
“Damn. I’m coming up too fast behind this big truck. Not sure what it’s hauling. I’m too close so the driver can’t see me in his rear mirrors. Truck brake lights are on. Truck is slowing. Change down a gear. I need to brake. Check mirrors. Can’t pull out. I’m going to get boxed in. Long line of traffic is coming up behind led by red Toyota truck with three cars following that.
“Still can’t see what’s ahead of the truck. I need to slow down more. Now it’s starting to rain. Light drizzle making my visor mist up badly. Visor up. Check mirrors again. Something is moving in the back of the truck ahead. Rain is getting heavier. What’s that smell? Crap. Truck is carrying pigs. They’re pissing out the back and it’s blowing straight into me.”
The idea of talking to yourself out loud in a difficult riding situation and making observations and thinking ahead might just help a little to keeping you focused and safe on your bike. But watch out for the pigs.