Ask the MSF: Where Do I Look
October 28, 2013
Q: “I always hear I should look down the road as far as possible. Is this correct? When I try, it makes me nervous about missing potholes or hazards ahead of me.”
A: You definitely need to know what’s happening far down the road, but the right way to survey your environment has a few more aspects to it, including knowing what’s happening on each side of you as well as what’s behind you. First, you should be in the habit of maintaining a minimum 2-second following distance, while assessing a 4-second immediate path and a 12-second anticipated path.
To maintain a 2-second following distance—necessary to ensure you have enough time to react if the vehicle in front of you stops suddenly—pick out a fixed point ahead, like a signpost or pavement marking. As the vehicle ahead passes the fixed object, count off “one-motorcycle-one, two-motorcycle-two;” if the fixed point has not been reached, following distance is at least 2 seconds. Use a longer following distance as roadway, traffic or weather conditions dictate, or if you’re simply more comfortable having more space and time to react.
Next, scan a 4-second immediate path. Anything within 4 seconds of your path is considered immediate because a quick response is required if something goes wrong. Four seconds provides time and space to swerve or brake for hazards or something entering your path.
A 12-second anticipated path means to look ahead and assess an area it would take that long to reach. It provides time to prepare for a situation (traffic jam, etc.) before it becomes immediate.
With the constant scanning of the near-to-far areas, never fixate on one spot. You’ll notice the hazards in your path before you’re literally on top of them. You don’t need to stare down at the pavement directly in front of your front tire, nor do you need to fix your gaze far in the distance in order to detect the variety of potential hazards that await you.
Safe riding requires you to maintain a complete 360-degree picture of your surroundings. Focus on your path ahead, as described, and occasionally glance to the sides to detect if vehicles are pulling out from driveways or side streets, and glance at your rear-view mirrors to see if any vehicles are bearing down on you from behind. Maintaining this picture minimizes the need to rely on your emergency maneuvering skills. In that way, riding a motorcycle is more a skill of the eyes and mind than of the hands and feet.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org) is internationally recognized for its comprehensive, research-based rider education and training programs. It offers a wide range of programs, from hands-on training to online opportunities. The group's Basic eCourse (http://online2.msf-usa.org/msf/ecourse.aspx) is an interactive computer-based program that provides riders of all knowledge and skill levels with the basics of motorcyclist safety, while recognizing the best first ride is in the hands-on MSF Basic RiderCourse.
About the American Motorcyclist Association
Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. As the world's largest motorcycling rights organization, the AMA advocates for motorcyclists' interests in the halls of local, state and federal government, the committees of international governing organizations, and the court of public opinion. Through member clubs, promoters and partners, the AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. AMA members receive money-saving discounts from dozens of well-known suppliers of motorcycle services, gear and apparel, bike rental, transport, hotel stays and more. Through its support of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, the AMA preserves the heritage of motorcycling for future generations. For more information, please visit AmericanMotorcyclist.com