I love life and I love riding. No matter how much I love the latter, I love the former more. That's why I bought an air bag jacket, why I took my IAM and RosPA exams and why I continually give a shit about improving my riding and taking only those risks I'm comfortable with. I often check out riders much better than me and I ask myself, what makes them better and how can I be like them? How can they ride so fast yet so safe? Turns out they have harnessed their subconscious to do most of the work.
One of the major skills great road riders all have in common is the almost uncanny ability to perceive their environment far more effectively. Is it because they have better eyesight than other mortals? No, not at all. It's because they have trained their minds through heaps of practice, theory and common sense to notice where the threats and opportunities lie in a quickly evolving riding scene. Then they changed the structure of their brains. They really did.
The majority of sight occurs without selective attention to individual things, because there's just too much going on out there - too much movement, colour, too many things in our field of vision at one time. There also isn't the biology in the eye to enable clear vision to anything appearing wider than 2 degrees which is not an awful lot, about two fingers held up at arms length in front of you (together, not as in the V sign, so don't do that!). This is your focal point, your central visual system which gives you a clear image with detail and also commands your conscious attention through your primary visual pathway. It's there because in our distant past we needed to clearly focus in on our prey and work out a plan of attack. To identify 'what' something was in detail and decide what to do about it.
So, move forward to today and our changed, fast paced and mobile environment. No longer is the tiger the threat, the man with the big stone or the woman with a club (although the bird is still a possibility). What are our threats from a riding (or driving) perspective in particular? The junction up ahead. The road surface. The other road users. The bend. The concealed entrance. How many of these do we consciously 'see'? Very, very few. How many can we perceive? All of them, simultaneously. The vast majority of vision is a non-attentive process, and this fact is what allows you to perform other tasks simultaneously, such as riding or thinking about unladen swallow speeds.
But all these road events are not threats until we learn they are, until we have trained our subconscious to replace lion with lorry, tiger with tractor and associated all these things with possibilities of injury and therefore instructed our body or mind to take action. This could be to slow down, change position, pay more attention, overtake quickly etc. All these decisions can be made faster by your subconscious mind. It's capable of running the whole show, but first you need to give it the script. By actively learning and observing first using your conscious mind you eventually pass that learning into your subconscious and you are then able to do more and more, safely and quickly.
We can react faster via the subconscious because the quick-response, peripheral vision highway is linked into our vision-spine coordination system. It's harnessing the body's motor learning ability which helps you to intuitively move your body to navigate through the world, even when you are thinking or doing something else. It's what kicks in when you learn a new, active sport or anything that requires eye body co-ordination. After a time of focussing attention on a movement associated with a context, we no longer need to pay so much conscious thought to it, because it's now being managed by a different system. It's efficient, it's clean and it can be very, very fast. That's why learning to observe and placing 'threat' against a range of what seem to be innocuous circumstances to the untrained eye can save your life.
So take some time to do an Advanced Rider course. Or check out tips on You Tube. Look at signs on the road and completely understand what they're telling you. Make observation 'links' consciously, like seeing a sign for a tractor and expecting mud on the road round the next bend. One day you won't 'look' at the signs again, but you will still see them and your body will react without you even being aware of it. We riders are changing road position all the time, advanced riders do it without thinking. They also do it with purpose - to keep themselves alive.
When your entire brain is active, that means you are taking everything in through all sense perception. Your entire memory bank and your instincts are in play, so you make much quicker and more intelligent choices. - Martha Beck