How many times have you had a “moment” in the last session of a trackday or on the last lap of a race weekend? Was it because you were physically exhausted or because mentally you were already back in the paddock cracking open a cold one? Slowing down for no reason other than to relax is one of the most common causes for late-afternoon crashes at the track, while on the street, any lapse in focus can put your safety at increased risk. Fortunately, each of these scenarios can be avoided with relative ease.
The simple solution is to maintain your pace throughout an entire riding session. Ride with as much resolve on lap 15 as you did on lap five, and if for any reason you feel the need for a break, pull in! Don’t take it easy for a corner, lap, or session. Two-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez explains: “The problem is that when you slow down, you lose a little bit of concentration. You know when you are pushing—when you are fast—you pay attention, you are more concentrated on the bike. On everything.”
Speaking more scientifically, your brain works differently in important or dangerous situations, so much so that the perception of time will change and events will almost happen in slow motion. Have you ever noticed that in the heat of battle, as you and another rider are trading paint, reference markers seem to come at you a bit slower? Your brain begins to process information quicker, and this enables you to think more strategically about passing opportunities. Maybe you can pass here or up on the inside there. During high-stress situations, the human brain receives massive amounts of data to process, which alter the brain’s perception of time and enables greater concentration. Removing yourself from this heightened sense of awareness by slowing down (taking yourself out of that high-stress situation) reduces your ability to react quickly and significantly increases the chance of an incident.
On the street, the scenario is a bit different, as the stress is no longer coming from the extreme speeds and close passes but rather from the inherent risks associated with riding alongside cell phone-bearing SUV drivers. To remove yourself from this situation mentally (daydreaming, etc.) is to lessen your ability to react quickly and make a decision in a short period of time. The unfortunate result will almost always be a crash.
There are instances when you can let your guard down but not many. Race instructors run around the track at a relaxed pace while showing new riders the proper line around a racetrack, and on occasion, you’ll want to go out for a leisurely ride with your buddy for a “fun only” session. If instances like this do arise, remain mindful of the risks and manually bring yourself into that heightened sense of awareness, remaining aware of the matters at hand: brake markers, apexes, throttle application, etc.
The risks associated with a lack of concentration are, unfortunately, something you’ll otherwise learn the hard way.