Experienced Rider Course: Considering risk in the activity of motorcycling

This past weekend I woke in the early morning around 4AM climbed on my motorcycle and rode from West Lafayette down to Evansville. On the border of Indiana and Kentucky I took a minor extension to my route and crossed over into Kentucky for a few minutes and then came back into Indiana. The ride in the early morning watching the sunrise was spectacular. The reason for my ride was to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced Rider Course. Riding 200 or more miles to ride around in circles in a parking lot may seem a bit perverse, but you have to realize after passing the course I rode back home. Today I wanted to discuss risk and motorcycles.

Most people simply don’t realize what risk versus safety and the intentional obfuscation of the meanings result in. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) discuss risk from the standpoint of a metaphorical ladder with each factor in the risk quotient resulting in an increased level of risk. Though a good analogy in some respect it doesn’t really help the student. In risk we talk about extrinsic and intrinsic factors that mitigations can work against.

The extrinsic factors are those external factors that usually only passive responses will work to mitigate. In the information assurance and security world we talk about threats. Those extrinsic factors that are outside of the rider are things like other drivers (awareness, alcohol consumption, skill), weather (hot, cold, rain), and the road itself (busy, slow, bumpy, rough). The intrinsic factors are things that are inside the riders control like their awareness, alcohol consumption, endurance, stamina, knowledge, and decisions.

These various factors and the vectors that are almost glossed over in the Experienced Rider Course (ERC) can be mitigated by focusing on prevention. I pick that word out of almost literary avarice, but unlike countermeasures that are active a prevention strategy seems more realistic. Besides it makes a great acronym. I also like that the concept of prevention is consistent with the MSF curriculum and the concept of risk mitigation begins before you get on the bike. The result is that we end up with a heuristic of ((external*internal)/prevention). If you look at the figure below it will give you some insight into the relationships.

This diagram depicts the risk factors and their relationships

The key to risk management on a motorcycle, in any vehicle, or a highly dynamic environment like information security is mitigation of vectors of vulnerability and threats. Risk mitigation is a cognitive effort that continues to loop through time. When I say time think “little” time not BIG “TIME”. In the MSF ERC they discuss multiple decision windows, which are around 2, 4, and 12 seconds away from the rider in the path of travel. At 12 seconds a lot of rider internal dialog can occur, while the closer windows might be known as “oh no” and “oh shit!” This is inherently a question of decision sciences under pressure. A lot could be said about evaluating space cushion as the first step of allowing a decision cycle to occur. Maybe I’ll write about John Boyd and motorcycling in the future.

The idea or concept of managing the prevention aspect does begin before the rider gets on the bike. The entire strategy (over all goals) should not be driven by the uncontrolled extrinsic factors but the intrinsic factors. These internal risk elements specifically can be controlled whereas the external risk elements can only be mitigated. To make matters worse there is an interplay between the internal and external elements. That also is for another day. Just realize that if you’re tired, and riding in heavy traffic, and a drunk cross the centerline your risk has increased long before the proverbial drunk.

What are some of the prevention strategies you can use against the risk profiles? The first risk prevention stratagem is education like taking an ERC from MSF. It is pretty hard to examine various external or internal risks if you have no mechanism to base sound judgment on. The second operational value to apply to risk is knowing the vehicle and the rider. I don’t imagine a lot of furry Harley riders sitting around a circle imagining there oneness with the road. I also can’t imagine my own cordura clad brethren chanting ommm. We can as motorcyclists ride and evaluate our own skills. I would warn most motorcyclists that they would evaluate their own skills above reality and other motorcyclists below reality. This is the nature of skills evaluation.

Risk though is not in itself a productive discussion of any activity. Numerous factors can be activated and not mitigated with little or no impact. If you’re tired, unskilled, and spend most of your time riding at the closing of bars most would say your risk if really extreme. If though you ride around in the equivalent of a 2-wheeled tank and drunks hitting the exterior don’t even spall the armor there is little impact. As such we can look at risk and impact as a shrinking of our pie diagram.

This diagram depicts the relative risk evaluation of impact

Here is where the effectiveness of our prevention mechanisms can be diagramed. The size of the circle is determined by the effectiveness of the risk prevention techniques. If we have engaged in education and have the ability to make quantitatively good decisions then other factors can be engaged. We can order the risk prevention strategies as a basis of knowledge, skills, and abilities and similarly look at the planning and assessment mechanisms required for risk prevention in the activity. Abilities are all about the activation of education as a specific set of kinesthetic capabilities. You have to able to actually do stuff. Whether it is stop a motorcycle quickly, or negotiate a corner the primary capability is skill based.

This diagram depicts the knowledge, skills and abilities paradigm in the motorcycling activity. The genesis of this is the Bloom taxonomy.

A discussion for another time is the difference between risk prevention strategies, risk planning, and risk prevention techniques. I thought I’d try and bring some of the risk literature over to the motorcycling domain. Not because I think it informs the motorcyclists (though it can), but because I’m hoping that it makes it more accessible to the wider audience of risk topics. I also have some concerns with the MSF curriculum and although after the MSF went after Team Oregon I swore I’d never write another article about motorcycle safety this weekend I found myself composing this article.

3 comments for “Experienced Rider Course: Considering risk in the activity of motorcycling

  1. joelharding1234
    October 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Excellent, Sam!

    I took the ERC some years ago. I swear I didn’t learn any of this stuff!

    Talking about extreme risk… in 2007 I had the wise idea to ride to Sturgis, South Dakota – nonstop. I left Washington DC at noon on Friday and arrived at the South Dakota border 24 hours later… I kept falling asleep while riding and I knew I was dangerous beyond belief. One time I was riding in the right lane, fell asleep and woke up just as I was about to enter the median strip of grass. That scared the bejesus out of me, so I gave up, called a friend and crashed at their home. I’m not a young whippersnapper like you anymore…

  2. sam
    October 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I always figure it is better to stop and rest than push up daisies. In marathon running they call it “going slower to go fast.” I like to ride long distances and see things in a way others don’t but I also like to make sure I’m as safe as possible. I’ve ridden from LA to Jacksonville in around 50 hours. I need to do that ride again to get a 50CC plate. Wait until you see the new ride.

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