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Observation

Observation is possibly the single most important aspect when riding. It is integral to the whole concept of advanced riding. Without ongoing observation it would not be possible to apply and hone the other aspects of IPSGA

I was trying to think of a structured way to approach the topic of observation, but there are so many aspects that I have decided to just use a number of sub-headings, and possibly some rambling.

Basic Observation
One of the most common mistakes is just looking at what is in front of you, possibly just the first 2 or 3 cars or an equivalent distance.
It is much better too look as far into the distance as you can see. This will give you a much earlier indication of what is ahead and make planning your ride more efficient.
It will become very easy to pay attention to what is in front of you without actually consciously looking. If the car in front brakes, you will see the brake lights, “out of the corner of your eye”. Of course, if you have been looking forward far enough you would have anticipated the hazard that caused the car(s) in front to brake so it will not come as a surprise.
Just how far forward you look, lessening your direct concentration on what is in front of you, will very much depend on the nature of the environment that you are riding through. If it is a built up area you would be better looking at the near to mid distance, watching out for animals, children, vehicles, etc, that could be likely to cross into your path. You should still look to the distance regularly to help anticipate hazards. On open roads you would be better looking to the far distance, whilst keeping a watch on the mid to near distance.

It is not only the road ahead that is important, but also what is happening to the sides and behind. There could just as easily be another bike that is about to overtake you, or even beside you, as you plan to overtake the car(s) in front of you.
Look in to side roads as you go past, this will not only warn you of someone approaching fast, but will also program you to absorb and react to information faster.

It took me some time to retrain myself to keep my head up and look to the distance, whilst “keeping an eye” on the near to mid distance.
Now it is second nature, and has lead to a much smoother and more economical ride. Sometimes I can not even remember how far back it was that I last braked.

Intermediate Observation
There is a mass of information that you can potentially digest as you ride along. One of the first things to practice is identifying them all and then making recognition second nature, so that you do not have to be constantly consciously looking.

Have you ever noticed how many road signs there are? There are constant call for the number of road signs to be rationalised. Not only can they be very confusing, but they are a hazard too, especially to bikers.
Probably the best ones to watch out for are indications of junctions and speed signs. The former will help you anticipate other vehicles pulling out in front of you, or stopping/turning suddenly, and that latter will help keep your licence.
Signs can tell you which way the road is going. Have you noticed that a bends ahead sign always follows the direction of the road? So, if it goes to the left then right, that is what the road is about to do.
Signs can tell you how sharp a corner is going to be, for example by the number or colour of the chevrons on the sign.
I strongly recommend buying “Know Your Traffic Signs”, for less than £3. You can even download it from here for free.
In the same vein as road signs by the road, there are also signs on the road. These are just as important and provide valuable information of what is ahead.

Keep an eye on the road surface. This is another reason for looking ahead and not just what is immediately in front of you.
If the road is wet, you know it is wet. But, can you see a rainbow on the water (could be oil/diesel)? Cans you see any manhole covers (slippery surface)?
If you see an exit from a field, is there mud on the road?

Advanced Observation
These are not so much advanced aspects of observation, but a sort of conclusion and tips.
I have mentioned about looking as far you can see into the distance, but this does not just include the road that you are on, but also what you can see in the distance. Can you see telegraph poles? What direction do they go in? The same applies to rows of houses, tree lines etc. They can all be used to see what could be happening to the road ahead.

Beware of target fixation. It is very easy to become fixated with something in the distance, or even directly in front of you. This could be especially the case if you have succumbed to road rage, or seen a scantly dressed male/female.
It may just be a distraction, like taking a little too long to enjoy the view.
All these things can lead to a break in concentration, which then leads to a breakdown in your observation.

You should even keep an eye out on the weather, ahead, behind and to the sides.

Conclusion
The whole point of observation is to make you aware of what is going on around you, and what may be about to happen to you.
By using all the information you glean, you can develop a “riding plan” that you can use to take you safely and efficiently though the next stages of your ride.

One of the best ways to practice, and help make it all become second nature, is to do a running commentary as you ride along.
At first it is very difficult as you try to speak out everything that you see.
I found it easier to concentrate on certain aspects at a time during my commute. One day I will concentrate on road signs, the next day it may be trying to read the road ahead.
It soon becomes second nature and the commentary becomes more fluid and less of a jumble.

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