Learning from our Mistakes.
Confidence is a fickle thing.
We get to the track excited, looking forward to a fun day playing with our friends, maybe learning a new track or lowering our lap times a little. We meet new people, get a good workout and get to enjoy the thrill of controlling a motorcycle in ways that other riders think is terrifying. But we enjoy it and do it well.
We see other people crash though, more than we'd like. Some crashes are a good thing, like crashing in the pits because of a loose fuel fitting; crashing in the round robin at the slowest point on the track so that the frame sliders take all the damage... or crashing due to cold tires and then finding that the front sprocket nut was missing!
Yes, there are good crashes, and there are bad crashes. I hear people using that old nugget "There are two kinds of riders, those who've crashed and those who will."
But I reject that completely.
I know many riders who've done many track days after years on the street and have never crashed. Some are permanant Level 1 riders, others are skilled Level 3 riders. The simple act of climbing onto a bike doesn't necessarily mean you'll fall off it at some point.
But this is where some riders are different.
Some riders consider a crash inevitable and they believe the horror stories. As a result they think that no amount of training or coaching will do anything to reduce this risk of crashing so say "why bother?"
Statistically, this is completely and utterly untrue.
According to the California Highway Patrol statistics published in the Hurt Report (named for the author Harry Hurt, not a euphamism for the results of a crash), for crashes taken over a 20 year period state that a person is twice as likely to crash if the rider is male, under 25 or over 50, has no license and no training.
And the circumstances of the vast majority of the accidents are not what you'd think.
A rider is more likely to crash less than 10 miles from home, while running errands, at an intersection, as a result of being unable to avoid a car running a red light/stop sign/give way sign.
But as a track day rider, how many times have you had to do an emergency brake or swerve to avoid someone riding erratically?
How many times have you realised that you need to be more aware of your surroundings so you can react in time to unexpected events?
Spending time on the track with an instructor will make you a faster rider. But spending time on the track practising your emergency accident avoidance skills, while being somewhat traumatic and terrifying, is also the best practise for staying alive on the street.
Take this video for example. COTA Turn 15
I was coaching a student at Circuit of The Americas and while we were in turn 15 I pointed out the importance of watching not the rider in front, but the next one ahead. Sure enough, not 30 seconds later my student had to avoid the rider in front of him as that rider avoided the rider in front of her.
By staying alert and aware of events happening in a larger sphere, we can anticipate what is about to happen instead of reacting to it.
The same applies to driving. Dont focus 100% of your attention on the car in front. Share your attention on that car with the car in front of it.
While we're riding on the track, by expanding our awareness to include possible hazards much further away, we carry that skill onto the street.
Who has seen the video of a motard rider turning left at a green arrow, only to be horrified when a big SUV blows through the intersection? Sure, the SUV is mostly at fault, but every accident we have, regardless of whose fault it is, is an accident we have failed to avoid.
When you're on the track and someone cuts from one side of the track to the other in a wild move to get back on the correct line, do you panic and start cussing, or do you stay aware of your surroundings and adjust your speed to suit?
Do you stay in a little six foot bubble and trust that no one will do anything to intrude into that bubble, or do you extend your bubble to fifty feet and expect the worst to happen at all times?
When you're closing rapidly on a rider who is riding erratically you can do two things:
Do you (A), swerve around them in an erratic move, further adding to the combined risk of everyone involved - including the riders who you must always assume are about to pass you, or do you (B), observe the hazard, adjust your speed and direction to suit, and smoothly pass without sudden changes of direction?
Which option presents the most risk? Can you take option B if you dont look more than ten feet ahead?
If you want to keep up with your more experienced buddies on COTA, do you look at the apex of the corner or do you keep your eyes up, look through the turn and plot your course and take in any potential risks ahead?
Crashes are an unfortunate part of riding a motorcycle. But the same could be said for most sports.
I once broke a wrist playing basketball. Three years later I broke the same wrist in a 130mph slide across a racetrack. In the ER a teenager in the next bed over had worse injuries from falling out of a tree!
As I discussed in another blog, risk is ever present, no matter what hobbies you pursue. The only smart thing to do is focus on improving your skills, learning from your mistakes and applying those lessons in environments that can kill.
I cant find any statistics, but I know for certain that more people are killed on the street than are killed doing track days. Perhaps if the people who were killed on the street spent more time practising their collision avoidance skills on the track they would have been focusing further ahead, with their eyes up and focused on potential threats before they became threats.
Lets all practise this.
Lets dictate what happens on the street instead of reacting to it.