A Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy: Dealing with Murphy, Part 5

Sep 16, 2018 View Comments by

A Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy

Regardless of whether I call it irony or karmic comeuppance, Murphy hit me while I was writing about him. Part 3 in this series included an embarrassing error. I wrote SOS in Morse code as OSO. Reflecting on how this happened and realizing it wasn’t a knowledge problem since I know the Morse code quite well, I looked for root causes. The article was written late at night, I was tired, and my concentration was split between the article and fixing bugs on another project at the same time. These aren’t excuses. They’re just contributing factors and, serendipitously, they highlight a topic I wanted to cover anyway: How does today’s demanding lifestyle, with its numerous technologies and multitasking, affect our riding abilities?

Sensory Overload
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more passionate about the latest and greatest technologies, in particular those related to motorcycles, than I am. Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to admit that they introduce a new set of problems and are not free of risk. The reality is that technologies are evolving much more quickly than the rate at which ordinary humans can cope with the changes.

We perceive the world through our senses, and the continuous influx of visual and auditory information streaming from screens and gadgets can be overwhelming. New TFT screens display a lot of data with colorful and animated themes. Mounted GPS devices and smartphones add more layers of information. And our brains need to process it all in concert with watching the road, keeping the body and motorcycle balanced, steering, evaluating surroundings, and constantly assessing risk, among many other tasks.

However, some of the data is useless and even harmful. How many times has a social media notification message popped up on your smartphone while you’ve been riding? Even though you may not have satisfied your curiosity about the content of those comments at the time, your mind was surely distracted for a few seconds.

Up until the early 1990s, the cockpit was quite simple, with minimal gauges and controls. Now, with the screens, joysticks, menus, modes, and numerous buttons, the cockpit is starting to resemble the pilot displays in a jet. Compound this with audio communicators, Bluetooth, and internet connectivity, and indeed, riders today need to be able to pilot a motorcycle, not just ride it. Yet pilot wings are only conferred after years of extensive training. Those few days of basic MSF coursework you completed can’t be compared to it.

The Brain and Multitasking
Have you ever written the the same word twice? Or swapped letters in a term you konw very well? These are issues that often happen when people are tired, unfocused, distracted, or perhaps suffer from dyslexia.
w4a% @b0vt th1$?
Can you read it?

Our brains are complex, elastic machines, and they’re constantly making adjustments and learning. They recognize patterns, attempt to interpret them, and then compensate for anomalies found during processing. Unlike computers which produce predictable and repeatable results that keep memories intact forever, we see things as our minds comprehend them from moment to moment, a fluid process where perceptions and memories change and often fade over time.

The term ‘multitasking’ originated in computer engineering. It refers to the ability of a computer to handle several tasks concurrently. A single CPU can only execute one task at a time, but it multitasks by ‘context switching’ between jobs, which is inefficient and time consuming. Adding more CPUs enables true multitasking; but conversely, we can’t just add more processing capacity, faster and larger memories, or install a new operating system inside our skulls. Not yet.

The consensus from years of published psychological research tells us that humans aren’t adept at multitasking. Sure, some motor actions can be combined with other activities, the playing of instruments for example, but for cognitive activities, those that involve planning, analysis, learning, and using memory, most people perform poorly juggling tasks due to the bottleneck limitations of our brains.

Humans are really good at doing one thing at a time and giving it their full locus of attention. Furthermore, when we’re interrupted it takes us quite a few seconds to fully switch over to the new context.

The Auditory Aspect
Many riders are using a Bluetooth audio communicator, which is simultaneously connected to the GPS, phone, music, and other riders with intercoms. Audio distractions can cause many context switches. For example, we often accept the incoming phone call, because it is hard to postpone the satisfaction of answering it, even though we need our attention and focus on the road. Numerous ongoing intercom discussions can become a constant noise during a long group ride, too. I become antisocial and turn my intercom off in group rides, as some of you have may have noticed, for example during RoadRUNNER Touring Weekends (sorry, nothing personal). I do leave the music on, because music influences spirit and mood. It has been known for millennia that some music can transition people into a meditative, hypnotic mode and even encourage them to march into battlefields. Playing their favorite music in operating rooms helps certain surgeons focus, too.

I’m no saint, and to be completely honest, rhythm can often affect my throttle positioning. “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin will push me quickly to triple-digit speeds. “Many times I’ve gazed along the open road …”

Danger is often perceived as a set of external risks, but the reality is that we riders are a major, if not critical, factor in most accidents. An honest look in the mirror reveals that Murphy is in fact us. Eliminate distractions as best you can and focus more on the ride itself—because knowing our limitations in these fast-moving times is an essential survival skill.

Tags: , , , Categories: Chronicles, Technical Tips