Posted on 13th January, 2021
One of the many elements of learning to ride, and that we spend a lot of effort on during CBT and DAS, is to help riders establish a strong observation skill set. When there is so much to get to grips with when learning, observations tend to drop off under pressure. But if they are not established early on it is very difficult to get out of a bad habit of not observing until a dangerous situation brings the message home.
The dictionary definition ‘to observe’ is to watch someone or something carefully. In the CBT syllabus it is phrased as ‘able to make effective and well timed observations’.
Effective observation means not just moving your head. You need to move your eyes and head, take information in, process it, decide on an appropriate action, execute that action or change your mind depending on what you observed.
Well timed means looking in the right place in both good time to plan and at the right time, for instance you could spend too long looking behind whilst travelling forwards a considerable distance or you might get target fixated to the right at a roundabout and not consider what’s happening on the roundabout and in the other junctions.
When learning to ride it may seem there is not enough time to get all this in. This is usually a sign of travelling faster than your brain’s current ability to process information and act, so slow down whilst you are developing the skill of effective and well timed observations and you will come up the learning curve safer and better. And keep in mind the act of observing does not give you the the right to do something. It is to tell you if it is safe to do it.
We have 3 areas to observe when riding.
Ahead: Eyes scanning up and down the road. The near vision for immediate information and further up the road to plan ahead in good time and not just react when we get there. Broadly, we are observing where the road is going, road signs, road markings, the surface of the road, the actions of other road users.
Behind: Use mirrors frequently. Set up well (check before riding) they should give a good view behind. Many riders default to using just the right mirror but the left can give a very good view directly behind the bike and over to the offside.
Look well over your right shoulder before pulling away from the side of the road, as well as checking ahead, to get a better assessment of the distance and speed of vehicles approaching from behind. Do not signal and move until you are sure it is safe to pull away. On your CBT and Mod 2 test you will be pulled over by the examiner a few times to check you can do this manoeuvre well.
The blind spot: The zone to the left and right where the mirrors don’t reach. A smooth movement of the head, without moving shoulders, to look into your blind spots will not affect the steering. Check blindspots before moving away in traffic e.g. for faster moving cyclists and filtering motorcyclists. Check the appropriate blindspot before thinking about repositioning within or changing lanes, making a turn out of a road or where lanes merge down. This is the observation that tends to drop off over time particularly when 99 times out of 100 there has been nothing there. Unfortunately it only takes that one.
The blind spot check is also known to many riders as ‘the lifesaver’ and most bike training information will describe it this way. But we would like to summarise this article on observations that riders have a toolbox of appropriate observations as described above. Any manoeuvre will require more than one of these. Developing the skill of observing is using the right ones at the right time and all these contribute together to being a lifesaver whilst riding.

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