As experienced bikers we often talk about our sixth sense, that unknown something that somehow alerts us to imminent danger. I have often attributed my own many drama-free (relatively drama-free, that is) years of riding to that spidey sense, and even though it has sometimes let me down, on more than one occasion it has also saved my skin. There have been days when it has been tingling to such an extent that I just leave the bike parked and take 4 wheels. Fortunately those days are infrequent, and there’s really no way to know whether my concerns were well-founded or not, but I always felt better listening to that voice whispering in my ear.
But it’s not all about paranormal messages. Sometimes it’s just good, defensive driving practices, practices that have become so deep-seated that we don’t consciously think of them at all, and so when something does happen and we avoid becoming someone’s hood ornament, the immediate response is to credit that sixth sense for our preparedness and situation avoidance.
I thought of this today when I rode into the city to run a few errands. I was travelling a two-lane country road at about 60 mph, coming up to a crossroads. There were cars waiting at the stop signs on both sides of the road, ready to cross as soon as there was a break in traffic. I saw them in plenty of time and was obviously watching them as I approached the intersection, but it wasn’t until I had passed them that I realised that I had, unconsciously, covered both the front and rear brakes and the clutch lever. A habit so ingrained that it actually caught me a bit by surprise to realize what I had done. It may not have helped much if one of them did pull out, but that split second extra response time could make the difference. In fact, as I look back upon that incident referred to earlier (Two-legged, four-wheeled buffalo) I’m now thinking that my little voice probably didn’t desert me at all, but was fully functional, buying me those few milliseconds between a near miss and disaster by making sure that I was ready for the worst – whether I knew it or not.
What I also know for sure is that voice is fragile. The slightest impairment, whether caused by exhaustion, stress, alcohol, drugs, or even an overabundance of testosterone, will see it shut down and go into hibernation, leaving the rider without that most important yet usually over-looked defence. Totally exposed. Like a knight going into battle without his chain-maille.
So when I see novice riders out there (of any age) I wonder how long it will take them to develop those skills and learn to listen, subconsciously, to what years of experience will teach them. Taking an accredited rider training program will give them a good head start, but time in the saddle is the true teacher. I only hope they make it that far.