I am a professional troubleshooter. I worked at several IT help desks and even ran one for a time before moving into project management. These jobs have one thing in common. They require me to review a situation, assess the information provided, and make a choice to solve a problem. Every issue I encounter builds my knowledge base and ability to make the right choice when presented with information. In some cases I don’t even need very detailed information because I can recognize the situation and symptoms pretty early and correct it to resolve an issue. On a help desk we call this a decision tree. In project management we call it risk assessment. Whatever it’s called, you do it every day. We are always taking in information around us, reviewing that information, and then making choices based on our own experiences. This same process applies to becoming a better rider. In the MSF courses this is IPDE; Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute.
The first step in avoiding or correcting an issue is to identify that there is one. Seems simple enough, however in the world of distractions we live in it’s becoming tougher to keep our focus and attention on the road. Even on a motorcycle there’s GPS, music, buttons and dials to fiddle with, and even Bluetooth headsets that let us make and answer phone calls and send text messages via voice control. Car drivers are not the only ones out there distracted while driving, there’s plenty of things on a motorcycle to distract a rider. Keeping an eye out for danger isn’t enough. To really identify an issue we need to continually scan the road ahead as well as around and behind for potential hazards. The more situations you can identify and catalog the easier it is to predict, decide and execute the proper actions to take to avoid or mitigate the risk. This takes practice and repetition, just like anything else that we are good at. That means seat time on the bike, scanning the area you, and always looking for real or potential issues.
Once identifying a risk, potential or real, what happens next is where experience really counts. Predicting what will happen in a situation often depends on a few different factors. Have you been in this situation before? Have you read about this situation before? or have you heard someone else describe this situation before? Experience in dealing with a situation and having come out the other side unscathed is probably the best for predicting that event, or others like it, in the future. Of course there are other, potentially safer ways, to get that experience. Rider Training courses are one safe way to gather skills and techniques for predicting risks without actually having to experience them on the road. There are books and videos that cover a variety of riding situations and how best to identify and react to them. Street Strategies by David Hough is a concise page by page guide for dealing with real road situations. Listening to experienced riders and your friends can also help you understand risks. If your buddy is able to tell you the story of a near miss he had, that means he made a correct prediction. It might be worth listening to his story.
Once you predict the situation the next step is what to do about it. Deciding what action to take to avoid or mitigate the situation has as much to do with your mental and physical state as it does with your knowledge of how to handle a situation. If you have impaired judgement by being tired, cold, angry or under the influence of alcohol or drugs it’s possible an incorrect decision may lead to injury or worse. At this point you’ve gathered all the information about the situation and have to make a choice. All the knowledge and experience (or lack of) you have gained leads to this moment. Making an incorrect choice will lead to executing an incorrect action. Here again practice and education are your best friends. Practicing defensive maneuvers and good riding techniques sets up the muscle memory for you to execute corrective actions without much thought. When time is of the essence, that’s when you want instinct to take over and the right choice at your finger tips.
You’ve now identified the issue, predicted the outcome, and decided on the course of action. The only left to do is take action. Again, this is where practice and experience will pay off. Executing avoidance maneuvers effectively and smoothly is a matter knowing not only what you need to do but how the bike will react to what you are doing. The more you ride and become familiar with your bike’s and your capabilities the more effective you’ll be at executing the decided upon tactic to avoid or mitigate the identified risk.
One last step that’s not covered by IPDE but that I recommend is to take time after the incident to review it. Not immediately after you’ve come through the situation, but some time shortly after take a moment to think about what happened. Think about what you did and if there’s something that you could have done better. Could you have been more attentive and avoided the situation altogether? Was the decision you made the most appropriate for the situation? Could you have executed the avoidance maneuver more smoothly or sooner? In my opinion this is critical to building the knowledge base that will help you in the future. Better even than reviewing the situation by yourself, if you’re riding with someone talk over what happened with them. Being an observer, they may have seen something or have suggestions that can help.
We ride motorcycles because we love doing it. Being prepared to handle the risks inherent in this hobby will keep you riding for a lot longer. Plus, practicing is just another excuse to ride. Be safe and ride well.