Sunday, May 31, 2020


Some SAFETY philosophy for my bicycle and motorcycle-riding friends.

NOTE: I wrote this a couple days ago and posted it on a couple social-media (bicycle and motorcycle) groups I pertain to. But since then, I've thought about it... and a simple name for all of this, that to me is very meaningful: SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.

Let's talk about modern fighter jets. Built into the pointy nose cone of every one, is a powerful radar. It constantly scans back and forth, up and down, sending out a radar beam. It has two modes - "search" and "track."

Most of the time, it is "searching." If the beam bounces back, reflecting off another airborne object, a "bogey" (unidentified aircraft - could be friend or foe) has been located, and it goes into "track" mode. The radar beam will "focus" on that object, and the onboard computer will be able to determine its direction and velocity, and hopefully identify the type of object it is, long before it is within the pilot's sight distance.

It is amazing technology, and has completely changed the nature of combat, in the years since WWII or thereabouts. Generally speaking, the team that is able to identify the enemy target the soonest, and "neutralize" that target, will win the battle.

The technology has become so advanced, that a fighter pilot can be aware of the position and movement of multiple "targets," all at the same time.

(Passenger airplanes also benefit from the technology. A midair collision involving a passenger jet is almost unheard of, because onboard radar can detect other flying objects, and sound the alarm if trajectories seem to be converging.)

Now let's talk about 2-wheeled transportation, and operators of 2-wheeled transportation.

We don't have the benefit of radar... but wouldn't that be something! (We wouldn't be able to afford it... only the taxpayers can afford those fancy fighter jets!)

Which means - the operator has to use manual "search" mode to locate other moving objects, and "track" mode to determine the direction of that object's travel, AND engage "collision avoidance" if the trajectories seem to be converging. Most of the time, if you are bicycling or motorcycling, you should be giving a good part of your attention to scanning your airspace, looking for targets. The earlier you identify a "bogey," the more likely you are to win! (This is true whether you're riding a motorcycle or a bicycle... but it's even more important on a motorcycle, because "convergence speeds" can be so much faster!)

Once you have the "bogey," you focus on it to determine what it is, what direction it is moving, and whether it will pose a hazard. As a rule, I treat ANY moving object that is getting closer to me - no matter how "innocent" it seems - as a potential hazard. The stakes are ever so high! If it's off to one side, I look at the wheels to see if it's moving, and how fast. If it's a vehicle approaching on the highway from the other direction... it could drift into your lane, or make an abrupt and unexpected turn into your path. Your "collision avoidance" should be on high alert.

Our ground transportation has an advantage over fighter jets - most of the hazards will be on a horizontal plane. We don't have to pay much attention to the sky above, or the ground below (other than being aware of the upcoming surface quality). And - most of the hazards will manifest in the 150 degrees or so in front of us. (Although we need to "check 6" regularly - that's look to the rear. Easier if you have a mirror!)

The human brain is pretty amazing. IF WE ARE FOCUSED, in almost any circumstance our eye-brain interface will enable us to notice that bogey, and identify it soon after. IF WE ARE FOCUSED, once we are locked on target, we'll be able to track that target on full collision-avoidance alert, until it is no longer a hazard. If evasive measures are necessary, our brain-muscle interface will take over. (The earlier the bogey is identified, the more likely we are to deal with any hazard "gracefully.") It is quite remarkable, when you think about it, how much of that process is "automated," once you have the training and experience necessary to be in top tune, and IF WE ARE FOCUSED. If we are distracted - by a handheld gizmo, or the righteous tunes we're listening to, or the "pretty woman, walkin' down the street," or even by the leaky sink back at home - or if we are impaired in some way, we just might miss that bogey while we still have time to engage the system.

There are far more "bogeys" in urban environments, than in rural environments. That's why it's such a pleasure to be on a ride down a country road. But on the other hand, some "country bogeys" can appear almost before you can react! I'm thinking of YOU, Mr. Bambi! (Or YOU, driver of that ol' farm truck that's turned onto the highway 1000 times before, because traffic is so light!)

I get annoyed - and sometimes downright angry - when some other doofus makes me go into full collision-avoidance mode. But at the same time... isn't it mentally rewarding to avoid a collision that would've otherwise been caused by that doofus? (And - isn't it embarrassing to BE that doofus?!! I've been guilty of that, but thankfully it's rare.)

Well... that seems like a good place to end this stream-of-consciousness. BE SAFE! FOCUS!!