Riding decisions & errors of judgement!

The motorcycling decision making process by a rider should be one where there is a constant evaluation of information that is received and how it is received and subsequently making a decision to take a course of action and have the ability to review that decision at any stage.

Decisions in any form are usually based upon what information we are presented with and what prior experience we have of that information, what knowledge and skills we have to deal with that information and then subsequently choosing from the options available and taking a course of action.

Motorcycling decisions are made in the same manner and as the variables are constantly changing and morphing as a rider progresses along a route, then the rider also is required to constantly be aware of those changing variables and the decision making is a constant and progressive process.

Take one element of motorcycle riding as an example: Throttle control!

As a rider rolls on the throttle and lets out the clutch and releases the brake, at this moment in time, many decisions are being made. How much throttle? When is the clutch ‘biting’? When Do I release the brake? Is the throttle too much or not enough? Have I checked the surrounding area before launching off? What is the state of the traffic ahead? What is the road condition like? etc etc.

In one split second action, a rider is confronted with multiple variables and multiple simultaneous decisions. The decision making process is then determined by what knowledge and skills we have from prior experience and what new information is then presented to us.

If we compare an experienced rider to a first time rider when dealing with throttle control as above. The novice rider will not necessarily have the knowledge and skills to draw upon to assist in making decisions on how to control the throttle, clutch and brakes simultaneously, whereas an experienced rider will do so more ‘automatically‘ The novice rider has to learn new information, gain knowledge and skill to assist them to make informed decisions.

This example can now be applied to any aspect of motorcycle riding, driving or any activity for that matter. Whenever there is new information or new scenarios a rider has to draw upon past experiences and also learn new methods to successfully make a decision to control the motorcycle.

However this process alone does not necessarily prepare the rider to deal with any given scenario or developing or potential hazard. Indeed this process does not reduce hazard nor potential risk to the safety of the ride, but merely enables a reactive approach to cope with new information…which may be successful or not.

What is lacking is the ability to review and learn from those decisions and then adapt strategies whilst riding in order to AVOID hazards that are forming.

E.g. If a rider persistently rides with little space from the vehicle in front (tailgating), the rider will know that their requirement to constantly assess the speed and distance from the vehicle in front will take a large proportion of their concentration ability. The rider may be very accomplished in throttle control and braking proficiency but their margin for error is very small and this is why many rear end collisions result from tailgating practices where errors in judgment are common and highly probable.

Whereas if a rider has ‘learnt‘ to increase space from the vehicle in front, this has created a buffer and extra margin of error for both rider and driver. It also demands less concentration and improves the view ahead to spot potential hazards. So now when the rider holds back, they can managed vehicle spacing more comfortably and also spot an emerging hazard (e.g. a large pothole that emerges from beneath the car as it passes over it) and easily steer to avoid it, whereas if the rider had been tailgating then the likelihood is that the front wheel would have dug into the hole potentially causing the rider to lose control.

The rider has reviewed the scenario and has learnt from past experiences and has gained improved knowledge of potential hazards and has modified their riding strategy to suit the traffic density and environmental conditions.

Therefore over a period of time, a rider has been able to review their own riding decisions a has adopted a new strategy and skill to improve overall performance.

However, how can a rider review and question their decisions once they have been made, whilst riding…surely there isn’t enough time to do so! Well as with anything, practice is the key to improve performance and it takes a determined effort question whether a decision is the right one.

Many decisions that we make are our first choice decisions or rather we choose our first option. Even if we try to review our decisions, we tend to always stick to our first decision. Sometimes it is correct to do so…and sometimes it is not.

The best way to illustrate this is to use the overtaking decision making process. The rider will set up for the overtake in their own particular way. Some attempting to make full use of the power available to get past as soon as possible whilst sweeping around the vehicle in front, whilst others set up by approaching at a steady pace and distance, then move into an overtaking position, and only when the view ahead is clear, an overtake is performed.

Some will continue overtaking regardless of developing hazards and oncoming traffic, whilst others will only commit when the route ahead is clear. Some will decide not to overtake as a new hazard presents itself, whilst others may proceed as normal…in fact speed up to attempt to clear the hazard as soon as possible.

There is a method that can be applied to improve decision making, it is a skill that can be learned and when practiced can dramatically reduce the risk to the rider, but will not reduce presented risk or potential hazards. The method merely enables making the right decisions at the right time and then having the conviction to interrogate those decisions and if applicable the determination to change your mind. This makes dealing with hazards more manageable and successful.

This method is largely based on the following acronym: “DECIDE”

D – Detect a change or hazard, recognising the risk and understanding the implication.

E – Estimate the need to respond/react to the change/hazard. Does the new variable require attention?

C – Choose a desirable outcome for a given reaction. Less about convenience, more about the right


 I –  Identify actions that can successfully control the change, do they satisfy the need to achieve a goal

      and do they reduce or eliminate risk.

D – Do take action, make an input and react to a given set of variables

E – Evaluate the effectiveness of the action. Did it achieve the desired goal, if not then review again and 

      repeat the process.

The above is taken from the aviation world where pilots are constantly assessing & reviewing risk and any control input. This identification, assessment and reaction & review process is constant and can be applied to driving and riding.

It can be applied to individual variables on a particular journey or it can be applied to a mode of riding in general terms or under specific conditions, e.g. changes in weather or traffic density, etc.

At many times, riders and drivers approach riding/driving passively, and do not engage in active consideration of their environment and their affect on the surroundings. The Motorcycling Decision Making utilising the DECIDE methods enables riders and drivers to make informed & involved decisions, but it requires application and practice.

The next time you go out on the road, give this process a try. Talk your way through your decisions and reflect upon them and determine whether they are more successful than before. You may find the more engaged you are with this process, at first, it may prove very tiring but it does become less so in time.

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