Friday, October 12, 2012

Visual Discipline

It's a truism in motorcycling that where you look determines where you go.  If you focus on a a tree, the edge of the road, the bumper of the car in front of you, that's exactly where you'll steer the bike.  You can find lots of discussion out there on motorcycle forums and in other literature that explains that, but let's just call it a given, and refer to it as target fixation.  Below is a classic, if somewhat chilling, example.  The rider visually locks on to something that frightens him, then crashes straight into it.

There may be riders who've never experienced target fixation, but I'm not one of them.  Come to think of it, most riders I know well will admit to having experienced it one time or another.  Truth be told, I've experienced target fixation at least once per year for as long as I've been riding.  Yet for me and most of these same riders, target fixation does not always result in crashing.  Why is that?

Looking at the above video gives us a classic example of how target fixation typically begins.  In the video it appears that the rider brakes for the upcoming turn / intersection and inadvertently looks the rear brake causing the rear wheel to slide, and the rider to panic - stiffen up, foot off the peg, etc. - the rider sees the wall, stares at the wall, and proceeds straight into the wall.  Ouch!  The critical point being that target fixation is typically preceded by something happening that scares the rider, causing the rider to stare at whatever is the object of fright, then steering straight into it.

If it's fairly common for riders to target fixate, but not that common for them to crash as a result, what is it that enables a rider to recover from target fixation incident, and safely avoid a crash?  My experience is that somehow the rider recognizes what is happening, and breaks the fixation by choosing to look where he wants to go rather than at what he wants to avoid. 

This ties to the topic of visual discipline - knowing where you're looking, knowing where you need to be looking in order to safely pilot your motorcycle, having the presence of mind to recognize when the two don't match and that corrective action is required, and having the discipline in the face to fear to put your eyes where you need them to be.  No mean feat.  

How do you accomplish this?  Going back to an earlier post on self-awareness, it begins with knowing where you're looking as you ride.  Where am I looking?  Are my eyes scanning the road out to the vanishing point?  Am I looking at the ground just ahead of my front wheel?  Am I locking on to roadside objects that scare me?  Some self-awareness and self-critiquing will go a long way towards establishing a baseline of experiential knowledge regarding where you need to look.  

The next step is recognizing when your normal pattern of looking at the road has been disrupted.  A good clue for this can be seen in the video - it's noticing that you're frightened.  Have you suddenly stiffened up, stopped breathing, felt a jolt of adrenaline and a rise in your heart rate?  Are you staring at something?  

And this is where the "discipline" part comes in.  Having noticed this, it's time to force yourself to look where you want to go.  There are times when I've felt like I need to reach up and grab the chin bar of my own helmet to yank my head in the direction I needed to look!  You know what?  If that's what it takes, that's what you do.  

Lee Parks has an exercise he describes in his book, Total Control, that helps out with this.  You'll need a friend and a parking lot to pull this off, but it will greatly help you in developing the ability to recover once you target fixate.  Lee suggests that you figure out where you can comfortably ride in a circle with your friend standing in the middle.  As you ride around the circle, your friend rotates in the middle so that the two of you can maintain eye contact.  Every time you break eye contact your friend will point it out and tell you, "look at me."  Keep doing this until you can consistently ride the circle without breaking eye contact.  When you can do that, tighten the radius of the circle until it begins to be difficult to maintain eye contact, then stay at that radius until you master it, then tighten the circle again.  Do this turning both clockwise and counter-clockwise, trading places with your friend so that you both gain experience looking consistently where you want to go, and recovering if you get distracted.  

This is a great way to develop and sharpen the visual discipline that will help you recover when you start to target fixate, assuring that your ride home is on the bike and not in an ambulance.  

No comments:

Post a Comment