The most important thing that a motorcyclist, noob or experienced, needs to know.

One of my favorite motorcycle forums has a long standing thread running on this very topic. the thread runs some 50 pages so far with more than 700 posts. As might be expected there is lots of very good and useful stuff offered. But, if I was a noob trying to assimilate all this info, it would seem to overwhelm me and be largely ignored when not misunderstood. Even reading it with my 45 years of experience shows too much of it to be poorly written and basicly unclear inspite on the best intentions of all the riders on that forum.

After a lot of thought and looking for a chance to address this topic, I am going to take my shot. What is the single most important and critical thing any biker (noob, returning rider, best budd, grandkid, or other person that I might care about) really needs to know about riding? My answer is Line of Sight. Some experienced bikers will say that Line of Sight is too basic such that it is essentially meaningless. Some of these experienced bikers will say that Line of Sight is too narrow of focus, pardon the pun. So, read on if you want to know why I think Line of Sight is the absolute requisit for riding.

 

Welcome, if you are still with me. While I confine my thoughts to motorcycle riding here, the following could be applied to almost everything we do. Recently. I crashed my bike. It was a solo, low speed, left turn from a stop, too much front brake in the rain crash-ola. The plastic fairing got a bunch of pieces busted out of it and a few long cracks and some nice scrapes. And an engine case got buffed unattractively.  The riding gear survived well as did the physical me. My mental self took a huge beating in my post-crash analysis, again. All my crashes have largely been my fault when not totally my fault. Having learned long ago that post crash analysis is a very good teaching tool, the toughest part of it is facing up to my own idiocies if it is to do any good.

Most crashes evolve due to a series of errors that compound themselves and pile up in such a way as to finally overwhelm the rider. Trying to discover each of these errors and see the crash evolve is the start of any post crash evaluation. In the case of my most recent crash, if I was doing the study in my younger years; I would have stopped at only one cause "too much front brake". As my experience has grown, it is easy to see that the rain slicked pavement and my very good hydraulic double disc front brake make it easy for me to brake too hard for conditions. My front tire is nearly new and properly scuffed in and should have held about as well as my judgement of my slow speed  required. And I ask myself, why wasn't my 'feel' for the brake up to the task? I ride in the rain all the time and have the necessary experience and skill to do way better? At this point in my timeline of reflections, I realize that a pedestrian stepping off the curb caught me by surprise. And my reaction to this surprise was to grab too much brake even though I might have safely continued my turn and been long gone before the pedestrian reached my turning line. And right at this point in my reflections on the crash I have to ask myself, "Why didn't my life long, habitual, motorcycling scan pick up on this pedestrian waiting to cross the street when the light changed for me?"

I returned to the scene of the crash very early next morning when the traffic was nearly non-existent to examine what might have gone wrong with my scan and how my Line of Sight might have missed this pedestrian? I spent about 25 minutes staring across the intersection looking for ways that this darkly dressed person might have been hiding from my Line of Sight. And I found that there was no possible way that that person was not visible to me. I timed the traffic light and found that I had about 55 seconds to note a person standing in plain view on that corner before the light changed and I began my turn. And I missed the person. So? What happened? My conclusion is that I went brain dead while waiting out that light. 45 years of concentrated effort to learn the very best riding habits possible failed in this instance primarily because I was not paying attention to my Line of Sight. Have I become lazy or slovenly in my riding habits lately? How do I tune up my scanning habits to make use of all the Sight Lines available to me? Granted, I am not going top be perfect in seeing everything that my Line of Sight makes possible. But I am sure not going to see anything if I don't pay a kind of constant attention in the first place. 

Therefore, the most important thing a new rider, or any rider, needs to know is to make evry effort to learn to pay attention to and be diligently aware of the rider's Line of Sight. Getting so good at using the Line of Sight and making such a habit out of it as to make vision interupt an brain dead rider with a screeming mental alarm to wake up. The effort to get to that level of capability might be exhausting. That is the goal. And from my perspective, it is worth the effort as anything less might be deadly. Line of Sight is where our safety, skills, and riding judgement is built upon. If that fails, no subsequent skill set will save one.

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  • Interesting post. Just learned to ride about 2 months ago and I was wondering, the LOS that you are referring to, is that when you turn your head and scan as you are making your turn?

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