Avoidance or Evasion; Which one? Or should it be both?

Survival Skills Rider Training

There are two schools of thought on training, which were revealed in a discussion between two police riders - one from the UK, the other from California. So who was right?

Years ago, I came across an internet discussion which popped up as I was searching for something not entirely related. But it looked interesting, so I settled down to read it (as you do). It was a discussion between two police motorcyclists - one from the UK and the other from the US. And what had caught my eye was the statement made by the UK rider who said he could identify a fundamental difference in mind-set between police training in the UK and the United States. He said:

“Over there they teach evasion techniques; that is, what [you need] to do when you meet an accident (or more correctly, crash) situation. Over here if you have gone that far you have got it seriously wrong in the first place.”

And he went on to explain at some length how police riders had superior collision avoidance skills thanks to their training, something that 'ordinary' riders lacked. 

So is that actually true?

Something I have been saying since my first day as a rookie rider coach is that as we ride a bike, we’re constantly trying to AVOID situations where we put ourselves at risk of a crash or a collision.

That’s not any kind of 'advanced riding' concept, it’s basic survival, pure and simple. It's something we have to  learn to do from day one when we first let ourselves loose on an unsuspecting world.

And it's a lesson I was reminded of in my in a former life as a London motorcycle courier! It clearly worked because after a couple of early spills, I stayed upright for sixteen years and well over half a million miles of riding.

Of course, advanced training - whether for civilian riders or police personnel - does make us better at seeing hazards then predicting how they could develop to put us at risk. But the concept of staying OUT of trouble is hardly something that's unique to UK police riders!

But if we’re honest, however 'advanced' we get at reading the road ahead and predicting what will happen in order to avoid trouble, sooner or later we’ll get it wrong. The mistake could be ours - running into a bend too fast or committing into a risky overtake are classic rider 'gotchas'. Or the mistake could be another road users - the turning vehicle setting up the SMIDSY 'Sorry Mate I Didn't See You' junction collision is another. Or it could be something more random such as a patch of damaged tarmac or a sheep that has strayed into the road.

So what do we do about it? If we work with the DVSA advice on cornering crashes that was handed out to trainers some years back, we simply advise the rider not to "go into a bend too fast”.

Yes, that was it. I'm not kidding. It's an 'avoidance' technique in that it avoids the rider getting into difficulties. But aside from the obvious question "how does the rider know he or she is too fast until they're already in the corner", you'll see it’s of zero practical help to the rider who’s already committed the error. 

So once the emergency is developing - whether it's a car pulling out, a bend tightening up unexpectedly or an overtake going wrong - now it's EVASION tactics that are our key to escaping from the situation that’s threatening to develop badly.

And here's the rub; read motorcycle accident reports from the UK, and they highlight the fact that the bike could have escaped IF the rider had used the right inputs at the right time.

As it happens, in the course of my researches for my Survival Skills advanced rider training courses, I’ve had quite a lot of dealing with MSF instructors and the coursework that they teach, and have been favourably impressed by the evasion tactics in their work. I've also been in contact with some US writers including David Hough and have listened to his take on what a rider should aim to do.

The US police spend a lot of time working on hard braking and swerving. These evasion skills won't stop a rider getting into trouble, but the UK emphasis on avoidance skills won't get a rider out of trouble either. 

Neither the “don’t get into trouble” nor the “be competent at getting out of trouble” approaches are in themselves wrong; but the inescapable conclusion has to be that NEITHER, if practised to the exclusion of the other, is adequate. 

Avoidance and evasion work hand in hand to keep us out of trouble. BOTH are essential tools in the biker's toolbox.  

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT AVOIDANCE & EVASION SKILLS? Take a look at the Survival: SKILLS two-day course which looks at how to read the road to spot the threats posed by a wide range of riding environments from motorways through twisty rural roads to heavy urban traiffic, and work on the evasion skills - braking and swerving. 

Working with both avoidance AND evasion strategies offers every rider a better-balanced approach to defensive riding than one or the other. 

So if you're looking for a course that will genuinely improve your riding, and push your threat awareness and response to new levels, then why not give me a buzz?