By: James R. Davis

Throughout the set of articles I have written here there is a clear message, often repeated – you
should practice, practice, practice.

Having some confidence in the merits of the material that you have read here, I suspect that most of you accept the premise that practice is worthwhile because it tends to convert what is otherwise difficult to ‘doable with some facility’ (meaning that as a result of practice you will have the skill and confidence to know that you CAN do whatever has to be done, quickly and without error.) Further, it teaches both our muscles and our minds how to do things in a way that requires very little thought, very little lost time ‘finding’ the appropriate controls, and just how much force is required when using those controls. In other words, practice allows us to accomplish what must be done without the loss of time and control that would occur should you simultaneously have to learn how when that panic situation presents itself to you.

So, is that all there is to it? Are you assured that if you practice enough you will be ready to do whatever it takes while your body fills itself with adrenaline?

Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no. You will be READY (and able) to do what must be done, but what you have not practiced is dealing with that adrenaline. You, normally, do not place yourself in situations where panic stops are required in order to save your life when you practice. Indeed, when you practice you should do so in the safest environment possible so that mistakes can be learned from rather than put you in the morgue.

In the real world there is a requirement that you build a bridge from the theoretical to the actualization of your training. Let me give you an example of what I’m trying to get at here: You are rounding a right-hand curve and see that a vehicle is coming towards you in the opposite lane. That vehicle looks like it might be hugging the center line. It has your attention! Indeed, you are target fixated on it!! What do you do about it?

You have learned that motorcycles tend to go where you are looking. You have experienced that phenomenon many times. You know that target fixation can kill you, again, because your motorcycle tends to go where you are looking. So, why are you target fixated? You know better.

Virtually all of your driving experience has been ‘practice’ in this case. You know that unless you change the focus of your fixation away from the threat and towards an escape route you are likely to steer right into that oncoming vehicle. But as soon as you realized that you were fixated on that vehicle your body started to manufacture a ton of adrenaline and pump it into your bloodstream. You have started a ‘fight or flight’ panic attack.

All you need to do to get out of trouble is to TALK TO YOURSELF! You need to say something like: ‘I need to look where I want to go. Look away from that truck. That direction is where I want to go. Come on, baby, let’s go that way!’

Dumb, right? Well, it doesn’t matter what words you use when talking to yourself. What matters is that you tell yourself to do what has to be done. That kicks in the lessons learned from all your prior practice and the job gets done.

In the case study found elsewhere on this site you will see an example of how this has saved my bacon any number of times in the past. I was driving immediately behind another rider who, as a result of target fixation, had a catastrophic accident. I had a passenger on my bike at the time and,among other things, I resorted to telling myself: “Control stop this baby!” The result, a smooth but rapid stop that avoided losing control (no locked brakes). Plenty of adrenaline was running its course and trying to get in the way. No time to learn how to stop quickly. Practice had prepared me, and all I needed was that little bridge – a brief chat with myself that insisted that I DO SOMETHING that had to be done, NOW!

Practice is fundamentally important, and so is dealing with the adrenaline that tends to confuse. No need to argue with yourself. Just a quick chat that starts the activity. Muscle memory and familiarity gets the job done from there.

Copyright © 1992 – 2014 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)