Motorcyclists In The Flow

08 Nov 2020 The Human Factor
In their study, Rowden, P. et al. (2016) explain that aggression must be seen as part of everyday life, and thus also part of road use. From a legal and psychological perspective, typical characteristics of aggressive actions include acting erratically, breaking rules, endangering themselves/others, and threatening to injure people or damage objects, or actually doing so. In a psychological context, the motivation and thus the intent behind the action, i.e. willfully causing injury to another person, are at the heart of the meaning of the construct. Experts agree that an aggression is “any behavior that deviates from the norm and also causes endangerment.”
A series of studies have connected aggressive behavior to personality traits such as rage, anxiety, a craving for sensation, and narcissism. It has also been repeatedly confirmed that aggressive behavior on the roads is primarily exhibited by males. In addition to a person’s characteristics, however, “contextual factors” such as traffic jams, and certain perceptions such as the belief that one is able to act anonymously also affect aggressive behavior – though it should be noted that the findings on this matter are not yet conclusive.
The aforementioned Rowden study also investigated potential differences in aggression levels when using different modes of transport, specifically when using a motorcycle as opposed to a car. At the start of the study, the authors expected motorcyclists to have lower aggression levels than car drivers. This hypothesis was based on the assumption that motorcycles are more vulnerable, and their riders thus less protected. The results confirmed this assumption. Drivers of cars stated more frequently that they had experienced aggressive feelings, and at the same time expressed said feelings. These differences are explained by the fact that motorcyclists have a more defensive driving style because they are more susceptible to injury, and that aggression on the road is dependent on context. The personality psychology prediction variables for aggressive behavior are similar for both groups: The extent to which we seek thrills and carry out risky driving maneuvers varies from one person to the next, but car drivers as a group are more likely to do this than motorcyclists.


A study by Rheinberg, F. (1994) investigated how the experience of “flow” affects a motorcyclist’s perception of themselves and their abilities. In the context of the study, “flow” is defined as the state of completely losing oneself in an activity one is performing and thus losing one’s sense of time while doing so. This state feels very pleasant, and facilitates a good behavioral response by enabling the individual experiencing it to be completely in the zone. When riding a motorcycle, however, it becomes a problem. When someone is “in the flow,” their level of conscious control over and reflection on what they are doing decreases. As a result, their unconscious objectives may make their behavior more undesirable. Their conscious perception and their intention to ride safely then become no longer directly relevant to how they steer and control their vehicle. As a result, the deeper “in the flow” they are, the more they lose sight of this intention. Their riding style becomes more dangerous than is actually appropriate. Maintaining a state of flow requires a certain level of attention and focus. This results in a faster and more dangerous driving style than the person would adopt when not in this state. Although a motorcyclist in this state is working at an optimum level from a functional point of view, the way they are riding is far from ideal. Almost all the motorcyclists surveyed in the study said that they had experienced a state of flow before, though only a few of them realized that experiencing this state could also have negative effects.
It should be assumed that a person’s reaction capabilities are limited when riding in the flow. The sensation of being in the flow is often associated with excessive speeds, and a person will often only come out of this state if they sense a strong distraction, such as sudden surprise or fear. In a road-use context, this is often linked to near-accidents. This can lead to critical situations, especially for older motorcyclists, as their reaction times are slower on average than younger riders. Since the majority of motorcyclists are currently over 40, the fact that it is so common for them to seek the sensation of being in the flow represents a danger not just to motorcyclists themselves, but also to other road users. Many motorcyclists in this particular age group ride simply for pleasure and have taken up motorcycling after a long break, or who are just discovering the joys of motorcycling for the first time and are able to afford high-performance vehicles. As such, older motorcyclists as a group are at a high risk of severe accidents.


No matter how efficient measures to improve road safety become, a defensive, anticipatory driving style will always be the best safety strategy for motorcyclists. This approach helps to prevent not only collisions with other vehicles, but single-vehicle accidents as well. Every motorcyclist must lay the foundations for healthy risk awareness themselves – in the form of sound rider training.
One of the main points to focus on here is adequately combining “competence” (theoretical and practical rider training) with the physical and mental conditioning required, with both medical (sight, sense of balance, general health aspects, medical conditions) and performance-psychology factors (psycho-functional capacity, awareness, reaction speed, concentration, coordination) needing to be taken into account here.


Above all, it is important to ensure that riders receive training on vehicles that are suitable for practice purposes, and whose performance is similar to that of the vehicles the learners are likely to use once they have passed their test. Riders who wish to ride high-performance vehicles should complete further training and provide suitable evidence that they are able to handle such vehicles. Furthermore, the training must emphasize the need for future motorcyclists to take responsibility for ensuring that they are seen by other road users and teach them how to do so (lights, colored/retroreflective clothing, maintaining a safe distance, being aware of blind spots). It also goes without saying that training courses should produce motorcyclists who always wear full protective gear and a certified helmet, even for short journeys.
It is absolutely recommended that all motorcyclists take a rider safety course at the start of every season, regardless of how experienced they are. Special attention should be paid to practicing braking – even for riders whose motorcycles have anti-lock braking systems (ABS), as even experenced motorcyclists may not manage to control their braking power optimally in an emergency.