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The Senses Of Riding


Keith Code
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The sum total of what can be done with a motorcycle is changing speed and changing direction. That is all of what can be done, right or wrong, in any riding situation. However, changing speed and direction breaks down into well over a dozen key skills and they are supported by at least a dozen different perceptions.

 

Every one of the basic riding skills relies on our ability to accurately sense the riding environment and the bike. This is our very intimate connection to the riding world. Our senses and perceptions provide the vital raw data input that permits us to interface, adroitly or clumsily, with the bike’s controls. Taste, touch, sound, sight and smell are the named five senses. Taste and smell have little to do with riding. Touch gives us sensitivity to the controls; sound can be of some help but minor compared to sight, which we rely on heavily. But that’s a very sketchy picture of riding.

 

Factually, riding motorcycles is one of the all time most difficult, multi-task activities known to man and not everyone is wired-up right for those tasks. Taken one at a time these tasks or skills are simple; riders easily grasp the basic ideas like: throttle control, choosing lines, braking, reference points, steering and so on. Each has its own set of dos and don’ts, rights and wrongs that can be observed and coached. It’s the imponderables of riding: how far can I lean; when will I lose traction; how fast is too fast, that puzzle us. There is more here than meets the usual five senses. Here are a dozen more we rely on to ride well.

 

We all have a Sense of Motion which breaks down into: Perception of Speeding Up, Perception of Slowing Down and a Sense of Cornering Forces. Our Sense of Speed allows us to compare one velocity to another, it is its own category. We sense and monitor Lean Angle. The ability to Perceive Location in Space is huge and has two parts: where am I now and where am I going. Then there is our Perception of Traction; our Sense of Timing for Control Inputs; the relative Stability or Instability of the bike; these are all perceptions we have: none of these escapes us as we ride; none of them are trivial and all of them are both independent and interdependent. Is this just a theory? Perhaps but all of these “senses” are recallable. Take a moment and think of a friendly corner you’ve ridden. Notice how many of the above perceptions come into play when you review that corner. Whether a touring rider or racer, we use them all and we use them virtually every time a corner presents itself to us. Are we multi-tasking yet?

 

Taken one at a time these perceptions are manageable. Combine them--as we do--when strafing a turn and they can overwhelm us because these “senses” often seem very fleeting or fragile, extremely hard to quantify and decidedly elusive.

 

Rider education is an interesting proposition. It isn’t difficult to critique technique; a particular skill is being done well or not. But wait, there’s more! Beyond the coaching and drilling you are training the rider to use their senses in an orderly fashion; to apportion their available awareness; to connect their perceptions to the right control actions at the right time and in the right amount. We are all guilty of errors in this department.

 

Take the completely illogical action of looking at your hand controls as you prepare the clutch and throttle to engage a gear as an example. All new riders begin that way and 95%+ of us continue to do so forevermore! Habit? Sure. Good or bad? If you roll out this misappropriation of your senses to other riding situations, the answer is bad. Yes, you should be surveying the space ahead not the bar controls. Try too hard to get your entry speed and you miss the line. Attention fixed on line and you can forget your throttle control. Too absorbed by lean angle and you worry about traction. Fumble a downshift; braking becomes choppy and turn entry speed is blown. Look into the apex too early and we turn in too early; stalling the throttle and prompting mid-corner steering corrections. And the list goes on and on. Solution? There is no pat answer except to rewire yourself and become aware of what you are aware of while you are riding. By first isolating these perceptions and then knowingly combining them you will be successful in the re-wiring process. Practice can make perfect… sense(s).

 

ˆKeith Code, 2008.

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While I meditate on your new article, thanks for giving me the excuse to use my new vocabulary words and share with the forum

 

Proprioception

1 The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.

-The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary

2 The kinesthetic sense. The sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance, and motion.

-Jonas: Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

3 The subconscious sensation of body and limb movement and position, obtained from non-visual sensory input from muscle spindles and joint capsules

-McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine

 

(from Wikipedia)

Kinesthesia is another term that is often used interchangeably with proprioception, though use of the term "kinesthesia" can place a greater emphasis on motion.

 

Kinesthesia is a key component in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, and training can improve this sense. The ability to swing a golf club or to catch a ball requires a finely-tuned sense of the position of the joints. This sense needs to become automatic through training to enable a person to concentrate on other aspects of performance, such as maintaining motivation or seeing where other people are.

 

Cheers

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While I meditate on your new article, thanks for giving me the excuse to use my new vocabulary words and share with the forum

 

Proprioception

1 The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.

-The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary

2 The kinesthetic sense. The sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance, and motion.

-Jonas: Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

3 The subconscious sensation of body and limb movement and position, obtained from non-visual sensory input from muscle spindles and joint capsules

-McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine

 

(from Wikipedia)

Kinesthesia is another term that is often used interchangeably with proprioception, though use of the term "kinesthesia" can place a greater emphasis on motion.

 

Kinesthesia is a key component in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, and training can improve this sense. The ability to swing a golf club or to catch a ball requires a finely-tuned sense of the position of the joints. This sense needs to become automatic through training to enable a person to concentrate on other aspects of performance, such as maintaining motivation or seeing where other people are.

 

Cheers

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Proprioception

 

Yes, that term came to my mind as I read the article, too. In the field of human factors and ergonomics proprioception is understood to mean the ability to sense limb position. This is what is at work when you close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with out having to feel around. This sense is considered to be under the category of touch.

 

This has relevance in the sensing of lean angle, especially. Changing direction and speed are fundamentally just the sensing of force. But, at steep lean angles then the knee touches the tarmac and proprioception comes into play where your body position tells you your lean angle with much greater precision that the sense of force alone.

 

Regarding your use of the word "meditate" which I think is totally appropriate. I find that the psychological aspect of riding a motorcycle at speed around a closed course to be so illuminating about one's inner self as to be rather profound. This is the thing that is most difficult to explain to a non-motorcyclist when they ask "why do you do it?"

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Proprioception

 

Yes, that term came to my mind as I read the article, too. In the field of human factors and ergonomics proprioception is understood to mean the ability to sense limb position. This is what is at work when you close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with out having to feel around. This sense is considered to be under the category of touch.

 

This has relevance in the sensing of lean angle, especially. Changing direction and speed are fundamentally just the sensing of force. But, at steep lean angles then the knee touches the tarmac and proprioception comes into play where your body position tells you your lean angle with much greater precision that the sense of force alone.

 

Regarding your use of the word "meditate" which I think is totally appropriate. I find that the psychological aspect of riding a motorcycle at speed around a closed course to be so illuminating about one's inner self as to be rather profound. This is the thing that is most difficult to explain to a non-motorcyclist when they ask "why do you do it?"

Someone who "gets it".

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