Friday, January 22, 2010

Cognitive issues around multi-tasking for riders

Today, we published a new page on Bikesafer.com.We often hear of bikers who fail to react when faced with an unexpected hazard.  How many times have you heard that someone 'had to put it down', even though we know that putting it down is not often an effective crash evasion tactic? The research is full of riders who fail to choose or execute the evasion that might have saved them from crashing. 

We have met some bikers who occasionally exhibit confusion and dithering when faced with an unexpected new task.   One riding buddy used to lose it completely whenever he went off track and his GPS started talking to him.  

This is probably due to a phenomenon well understood in cognitive science.  The theory of human working memory as a resource vital to consciousness and paying attention is established.   It's been heavily researched and turns up in the design of military pilots' heads-up displays, where the number of objects shown are deliberately limited.   Anyone who has had military training is familiar with the confusion and indecision displayed by the victims of a surprise attack, which is another feature of working memory overload.    

Our page deals with the experience of learning to ride, the use of working memory in this process and in the multitasking required of riding in challenging environments like city streets.  The effect of working memory overload on the riding task can be catastrophic, as tasks that were being done competently before the overload can totally freeze up.   The event that caused the overload, if it is a threat, is unlikely to be handled well.  Our riding skills desert us just when we need them most, and we go down.

The discipline of managing this scarce cognitive resource, eliminating unnecessary or inappropriate use of working memory, and staging the learning of new skills to muscle memory might help us avoid the catastrophic consequences of a working memory overload.  

We can develop some good riding habits that might keep us from springing a bad surprise on ourselves, and we can learn to monitor our use of working memory to help prevent fatal overload. 

And we don't want even to think about what happens to these vital cognitive skills when alcohol is involved.   We're not aware of any specific research on alcohol and working memory, but how could that work out well? 

Thinking about thinking about riding?  OK, it's a bit abstract for us too, but the problem is real, and best thought through before you get on the bike. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Proficient Motorcycling

We just added a review of David Hough's influential book, 'Proficient Motorcycling, the Ultimate Guide to Riding Well'.  It's a great read, and the best book we have read on bike techniques.   It's highly recommended for off-season reading and as a reference for the rest of your ride.