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Ruan Croeser on the “Survival Skills” mindset

I got this thoughtful piece from Ruan Croeser, from Nambia, some months back. I thought I’d mislaid it, but whilst “overhauling” the PC I found a backup copy, so I thought I’d pop it up, with thanks to Ruan, for everyone to read and ponder.

I was waiting for the elevator one morning on my way to the office, helmet in hand, when a colleague turned to me and said, “You bikers must be very brave”. I smiled and said “Not brave, sharp and aware – on a bike you think for everyone”. A couple of months ago my answer would have been more akin to the stereotypical, bad-ass biker attitude.

So, what caused the change of attitude?

After one of my mates had a minor prang (it just happened to be another SMIDSY accident), I realised that he did nothing wrong. He wasn’t speeding, he wasn’t even turning. He was just going straight across an intersection when a car coming from the opposite direction turned in front of him. He grabbed a handful of brake, locked the front and went down.

The more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable would happen to me. I mean what defence do I have, what would I possibly have done different to avoid such a situation? The imminent possibility of damage and injury was constantly looming over my head. Fear and anxiety drove me to consider getting out before it was too late. But before I hung up my leathers for good, I came across a website offering “Survival Skills” in motorcycling. It was exactly what I was looking for. I read though every article on the site and an entirely new state of mind was born. I later acquired the Survival Skills “Course Notes” CD Rom offered on the site to further feed my new-found need for self preservation. I would not become a victim.

Soon enough the wisdom contained in Survival skills slowly started to become second nature. I felt empowered.

Thinking back to my mate’s accident, everything suddenly made sense. I finally had answers to all my questions.

Why did the driver just turn in front of him as if he wasn’t even there?

The answer lies in the geography of the intersection combined with the time of day. It was late afternoon and my mate was going downhill with the sun directly behind him, while the offending car was facing uphill waiting to turn right with the sun directly in his eyes. Suddenly the whole situation seems precarious, even sinister. Why didn’t he hear alarms going off in his head? What could he have done to avoid it?

There is a time and place to be cynical in life. And that is whenever and wherever you find yourself on a motorcycle. I’m not saying Survival Skills made me paranoid. It merely taught me to expect the worst and to instinctively anticipate the possible actions of other vehicles as well as to simultaneously asses the risk pertaining to my environment and surroundings (sun, hedges, obstructions, road surface, etc.).

Constantly processing this information on the go enables me to make the right decisions in order to avoid nasty situations. Had my mate not been oblivious to his surroundings he might not have been caught off guard. He might have covered the horn and brakes and eased off the throttle slightly, giving him more time to react. Had he made eye contact with the driver he might have noticed him squinting indicating the possibility that the driver had not seen him.

A very important question that initially never even crossed my mind was: Why did he lose the front? The first part of the answer is simple actually. He panicked, which again ties up with the above regarding awareness and anticipation.

The second part concerns machine control, which forms an integral part of Survival Skills. Any defensive action can only be effective as long as it is performed within the motorcycle’s performance limits as well as the limits of the rider’s skill. Did my mate ever practice emergency braking? Did he know the limits of his machine? Did he know the state of his front tyre? Did he know what would happen if he pushed beyond those limits? Would knowing these things have made a difference? I think it would have helped.

What it all boils down to is that most motorcycle accidents may be avoided if the rider is trained to be attuned to his environment and to recognise and react to the subtle warning signs preceding a potentially dangerous situation.

A higher level of confidence and self-preservation presents itself to any responsible rider who is prepared to educate himself in the art of Survival Skills.

Thanks Ruan!

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