The Importance Of Talking To Yourself

Hell For Leather, HFL -



I have learned to talk to myself when riding my bike. It’s not that I’m a delusional idiot (although my family and friends may disagree on this point) it was something that was drummed into me some years ago by some of the best car drivers I have ever met. And it’s an invaluable safety technique.

At the time, I was working for a high-end sports car firm and it was company policy that every member of staff who drove its cars had to go through a week-long driving course with a group of some of the toughest people to please that I have ever met.

They were all full time traffic police officers whose job, on a daily basis, was to chase the bad guys or get to the scene of an accident or a crime as fast and as safely as possible. Aside from what seemed like hours of classroom tuition, there was also what felt likes days and days sitting behind the wheel of the car trying to take it all in.

But one thing that I learned, which has stayed with me ever since, was talking aloud in the car and relaying what I was doing and what I was seeing around me and ahead as I was driving.

It sounds faintly ridiculous the first time you attempt it. But it’s really, really hard to do well and maintain for long periods of time

But those cops were astonishing at doing it. To show me how it’s done, my instructor got into the driving seat and we set off. He then began a five-minute speech on everything that he was seeing from behind the wheel. He was noticing infinite details, cars pulling out of turns 300 yards ahead; he talked about pedestrians I hadn’t noticed and even what some people were wearing.

He was noting the speed of the traffic behind him and which vehicles were slowing down or speeding up on the opposite side of the road. Interspersed with all of these details he would announce which gear he was in, when he was braking, what the road speed limit was and how fast he was going.

What he was actually showing me was what I was failing to observe out on the road. It could hardly be described as a deep meaningful speech but it was a steady monologue of information that he kept going for more than five minutes. He was spotting things that I only noticed as we swept by.

Try it yourself one day when you’re out on your motorcycle. Nobody is going to know you’re talking to yourself as you’re wearing a crash helmet. Providing, of course, it’s a full-face.

You may well think you have seen something and have already planned evasive action but I guarantee, by talking out loud about the road ahead, you will spot at least 20 percent more that potentially could be a danger to you and your bike.

Start by looking well down the road ahead and then literally talk about all the things you see. This can be road signs, the color of vehicles and what their drivers are doing, to people walking on the sidewalk that appear they might be trying to cross the road. Don’t forget to also talk about your own speed and what you’re doing on your bike, such as braking or accelerating, as well as what’s going on behind you and right alongside you.

By practicing this, what you are actually doing is focusing your attention on everything around you while you ride your bike. By doing this running commentary, you will start noticing more and more things that may or may not have an influence — or potentially an impact — on you and your bike. In effect, you are making yourself even more aware of your surroundings.

It is though really hard to keep this going for more than a couple of minutes. I find it works really well when I find myself in a tight spot as it grabs my attention and makes me even more aware of what is happening out there on the road.

My most memorable conversation with myself was in the middle of a Utah desert on a two-lane highway. It went along the lines of this:

“Damn. I’m coming up too fast behind this big truck. Not sure what it’s hauling. I’m too close so the driver can’t see me in his rear mirrors. Truck brake lights are on. Truck is slowing. Change down a gear. I need to brake. Check mirrors. Can’t pull out. I’m going to get boxed in. Long line of traffic is coming up behind led by red Toyota truck with three cars following that.

“Still can’t see what’s ahead of the truck. I need to slow down more. Now it’s starting to rain. Light drizzle making my visor mist up badly. Visor up. Check mirrors again. Something is moving in the back of the truck ahead. Rain is getting heavier. What’s that smell? Crap. Truck is carrying pigs. They’re pissing out the back and it’s blowing straight into me.”

The idea of talking to yourself out loud in a difficult riding situation and making observations and thinking ahead might just help a little to keeping you focused and safe on your bike. But watch out for the pigs.

  • Theodore P Smart

    a little proof-reading please

  • Theodore P Smart

    “Providingm”?!? can we get a spell-checker on aisle 3?

  • Stephan Alessi

    So couple years ago I actually found myself doing exactly this- talking about the cars around my while driving over the williamsburg bridge into the city. While I was busy describing the careless SUV drivers and maniacal taxis around me I entirely failed to notice black patch of oil on the ground in front of me. Which i then braked in and lowsided immediately when the front wheel slipped out. Just as I was telling myself what a wonderful and attentive motorcyclist I was. LIve and learn.

    • Toly

      When riding a bike, I focus more on the road surface ahead, while using peripheral vision for traffic.

  • Jason 848

    I talk to myself, but it’s usually a running commentary about how lousy other drivers are, followed by stereotyping and the odd expletive thrown in for good measure.

  • Jake Isbill

    I think that is a great idea. It probably helps a long road trip go by quicker also.

  • Andrew Kinsler

    Sounds like there are some situations where it helps to keep your mouth shut :)

    I got trapped behind a cow hauler once…..once.

  • Zachary Church

    Awesome! Thanks for this!

  • Hooligan

    The Police “narrative” is a real eye opener. I did some advanced training with a Police grade 1 rider
    and when he did his spoken observations I found that it really did open
    up the road and everything you see and comprehend around you. Tried to
    do it myself, I found my mind can process the information but my my mouth could not keep up with it.

  • HoldenL

    Great advice. I have a teenage son, and I find myself doing this type of narration whenever I’m driving a car and he is in the passenger seat. Although mostly I focus on describing how to watch what other drivers are doing so you can predict what they will do. Watching where their heads are pointing, watching what stopped cars’ wheels are doing, that sort of thing.

    While riding, narrating gives you the advantage of breaking out of your trance whenever you go on autopilot. Hmm. I’ll switch from second-person to first. I read once that you can break target fixation by yelling to yourself. And I have followed this advice and it has worked. Specifically, I was turning right, at a T intersection, and a car was turning left. And, well, you know how cagers turn left — they make a shallow turn and they essentially drive in the left lane for a few yards. This driver was turning like that, and was about to clip me, and I was staring at that left fender, when I shouted, “Look over there!” — “there” being where I wanted to go, instead of looking at that fender that I wanted to avoid. Shouting broke the spell and I avoided the idiot’s car.

  • Daniel Jones

    Good advice – my Driving Instructor when I was 17 told me to do it, especially on the License test. I’ve started showing the technique to everyone I drive with.

  • alex

    I like the article but it literally feels like a wall of text – I think you should do quote breaks like the verge or something else here.

    My favorite part of talking to my helmet is the funny stuff I can come up with – I need a voice recorder though because I forget it seconds later.

  • The Truffle Shuffle

    Is there any reason why you have to talk out loud for this to work? I find myself doing exactly the same thing but it’s all inside my head and it serves me very well that way. I’ve tried speaking what I’m thinking before and found that my concentration level would actually go down, hindering my ability to react and further spot hazards. Obviously, whatever works for you though!

    • Tim Watson

      Whatever works for you. Speaking aloud helps me but there’s no mandatory rule.

    • slimatic

      Speaking out loud actively engages the rider from going into autopilot mode – which, unlike in a car, is NOT a good thing. A rider should be always alert. I have noticed that when I do not talk I may drift away and dream away. Talking just helps keep you from thinking about other things – keeps me alert. As a new rider, I am trying to implement this technique.

  • dniq

    Talking to yourself will actually decrease your reaction time – your thoughts (usually) move much faster than your mouth. For me personally – the amount of relevant details I notice would be impossible to verbalize in the amount of time such details are relevant.

    Also, if you start verbalizing all the details – it will create extra “noise”, distracting your brain from the ones that really do matter. The brain is usually pretty good at filtering out the “noise” – irrelevant details from our surroundings. It has limited capacity, so don’t overload it with stuff that matters not.

    • Mugget

      Exactly my thoughts. It also just goes to show how much better it is to start with good habits and work to maintain them. If you’ve got free attention to spend on talking and find you’re noticing things that you weren’t before, it’s fair to say that person fell into some bad habits and has quite some room for improvement!

      But if someone tries this out and does find that they notice new things, then that’s great – hopefully that gives them a bit of a heads-up and they start to make a conscious effort rather than just engaging “auto-pilot” and cruising along.