Situational awareness is what is going to help you see the car cutting across your lane before it happens, or the pothole that is in the middle of the road ahead, or react properly when a deer jumps in front of you, or a pipe falls off the back of the truck you are following. Having good situational awareness means that you are ready for what might come your way and as most of us know, how we react to certain situations while riding a motorcycle can really mean the difference between life and death.
A lot of riders though, think that situational awareness just comes with experience and seat time and that they don’t have to actually do anything to improve it. Some people even think that situational awareness isn’t something you can learn, that you either have it or you don’t.
While I agree that seat time and riding experience can help better your overall skills, I lean towards taking a more pro-active approach to rider improvement.
Situational awareness is definitely something that can be learned and improved upon.
Riding technique and riding skills are funny in that each one tends to have an influence on the other. For example, if you have good body position then you can be more relaxed on the bike, if you are more relaxed then you can turn it quicker and brake more effectively, if you can turn it quicker then your lines will be better, etc etc.
However, the one thing that you can usually trace a riding error back to is some inefficiency in the rider’s overall VISUAL SKILLS.
Basically, as Keith Code says, “you are only as good as your eyes allow you to be.” If you are struggling with braking it might be because you are looking too close to the ground, if you are chicken with the throttle you might not be looking far enough ahead, if you run wide in a corner it may be because you were target fixated on the outside edge, if you freak out because you went too fast into a turn it might simply be your eyes perceiving that you are in too fast for the turn.
That being said, our visual skills dictate how good our overall situational awareness it. A rider that is target fixated on the car in front does not have good situational awareness.
Improve visual skills then and your Situational awareness is bettered.
Several of our seminars at the California Superbike School are based on visual skills, like reference points, looking into the corner early, looking through the corner, looking to the vanishing point, and widening your field of vision. These are key skills that are needed if you are going to improve your overall awareness while riding and they are easy to practice over and over again in order to facilitate improvement. As a riding coach I’ve had great success in seeing students succeed in this area.
Next time you are out riding, take a moment to try to improve one area of your visuals and see how it affects your overall riding awareness. Challenge yourself to see more of the road beside you and ahead of you. Challenge yourself to look farther through the corner and prevent your eyes from closing in and target fixating on something. Find an escape route and always ride with one in mind. Notice what the cars are doing around you and look for clues about what they might do next. Be specific when you practice and really train your eyes to see differently, it can be done.
To simply say “I’m going to improve my situational awareness” is not the same as breaking it down into specific and measurable skills that you can work on.