If you've been reading Better Riding and trying to implement at least some of the ideas we've discussed here, you should understand how important it is to pay attention when you're riding. I like to say riding motorcycles is an activity that requires all your attention. And as the year begins, I'd like to revisit that idea.
As we have discussed earlier, what you see and how you react to it, more than anything else, determines how well or badly you're riding. Faster, smoother riders are seeing further than you and that's allowing their brain more time to process the visual data and make better decisions. If you were to make a new year resolution that would transform your riding, this would be it. But it isn't just the eyes, though undoubtedly their role in riding cannot be understated.
But just the other day, it all looked cool and calm when I smelt diesel. At this point, I was making rapid progress but as soon as the smell hit, I backed off the pace completely while looking for the dark spots on the road. Three corners later the middle lane was full of it. The fact that I'd smelt it and backed off saved me. Same also goes for cow (and in general animal) droppings - also stinky and slippery. Another smell is the wet earth smell. It's far too common during the rains, but that smell in the dry season usually means water's fallen in an unusual place. To wit, an overfilled tanker running ahead of you will generate this smell that will make you smile at the memories it provokes and then back off the gas in the anticipation of low traction.
While we should not have to explain this, hearing, similarly is an early warning signal. And I don't mean just you hearing other people honking around you. Forget specifics, the hum of traffic around you can easily become an ambient sound that you're immune to. But the fact is that its ebb and flow, whether read consciously or otherwise, add to your sense of how busy it is, how risky it feels and what pace is right for a situation.
Personally, I have a definite, but hard to pinpoint threshold, at which point my riding changes from quick and fast to slow and ultra-cautious. Part of the way I find that threshold is the noise around me.
But of course, the most important sense to use on the bike is your vision. You want to give your brain the maximum possible information to make the best possible decision. And as you load it with information, you want to give it time to process the data as well, so you want to gather all that 'data' earlier if possible. And also remember that vision is not just forward, it is also about getting a sense of what is behind you and what of that poses a threat to you.
Because ultimately, riding motorcycles safely (and as a corollary, swiftly) is about your ability to read and decipher threats and then deal with them as they come at you. If you can level up in this one area of skill, you'll have a happy new year!