Better Riding: The sense of speed

Shubhabrata Marmar Updated: September 19, 2016, 11:13 PM IST

Next time you are out on the bike, try guessing how fast you are going without looking at your speedo - and remember that most speedometers over-read by 8-10 per cent. The number that pops into your head is your sense of speed. Now let's mess with it. On a deserted road try looking pointedly down at the road some three feet ahead of your front wheel. Now guess your speed again and you should come up with a higher number. Heard of parallax? It's a phenomenon where objects closer to us appear to move quicker than objects farther away from us. And what makes your brain think you are going quickly? Objects moving quickly past us.

When the brain thinks you are going quickly, what happens is a natural physiological reaction. It begins to process incoming sensory inputs more quickly and handing out instructions to your hands, feet etc quickly as well. This speeds up your reactions but also consumes more energy. However, one can only speed up so much. Then the brain goes into overload. At which point, it's burning energy like there's no tomorrow but not really giving out well-considered decisions. This is the phase where people lose focus, make mistakes and either have a big moment or worse, a crash.

Suzuki Hayabusa vs Kawasaki ZX14R (1)

But the good news is that humans adapt. Go quickly long enough and the brain will accept it as normal and stop overreacting. As in the brain can be trained.

So what do you do? First when you begin to think you're going a bit faster than you are used to, you tend to hold you breath. Deep, long breaths are all that's needed, but it isn't easy to realise this and breathe. Most racers reset their breathing on the straight stretches of the racetrack.

Second, tilt your head up. Raise your eyes to the horizon and it will cause your brain to lose its grip on the stuff that's passing by the closest, instantly dropping down the sense of speed. The further you look, the slower your brain will think you are going. On a racetrack this is easy since the tarmac is unchanging, but on the street, your peripheral vision has to be employed consciously.

Thirdly, do a visual reset. Open your eyes wide consciously when the sense of speed becomes too much. Like wide as saucers, whites visible on all sides of the pupil. On a racetrack, I prefer to do this at the one point in the lap where the sense of speed is so high that it's easy to lose focus on the next braking point, apex or other point.

Finally, get familiar with the road. The more you know about it, the easier the brain will find it to remain calm and comfortable. Memorise hazards, surfaces, corners... Everything you can. The more you know, the better your brain will make decisions and the calmer it will work.

If it isn't still obvious, the difference between Valentino Rossi and you isn't in the difference between the size of your hands and his, or another such physical attribute. The difference is in the brain. How his brain processes information and how yours does the same thing.

For more tips from our Better Riding section, click here

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