All motorcyclists and perhaps the craziest of car drivers need to master balancing on two wheels. Simply put, the practice of “keeping our eyes up” provides the motorcyclist the balance required to perform both high and slow speed maneuvers.
Somewhat related; when flying an airplane in cloudy or thick foggy conditions, pilots rely on their instruments (artificial horizon) to keep their wings level and the plane traveling straight. Due to the cloud and the thick fog, there is no frame of reference. Without this instrument, a pilot would never fly “wings level.” There is a similar concept for motorcycling. Proper eye control sees us both “Looking Up” for the actual horizon and using our “Peripheral Vision” to perform all of the small maneuvers and course corrections.
What we need to avoid is what we call “Unintended Target Fixation.” This is when a rider sees something on the road, such as a pothole they do not want to hit, they tend to focus on that target. Inevitably, the motorcycle will steer to that target. So knowing where to focus is extremely important, especially riding in curves. Lets go into a few more details of how using proper eye control makes us a better rider on our course and out on the road.
Nowhere does the benefit of proper eye control become more obvious on our practice range than during our slalom exercises. More often than not, our students will focus on the pylons that we have laid down to form our 8 x 2.5m slalom exercise. As focus is shifted down to each pylon (from one to the other), balance is lost, as is control. Our best riders have mastered the skill of keeping the eyes focused up, and using their peripheral vision below to steer the handlebars, to complete the turns within the slalom. The rider on the left is using “Unintended Target Fixation” which removed the point of reference. This resulted in putting a foot down just to keep the bike from taking a nap. The rider on the right is using proper eye control, and making it look easy.
Our counter-steering exercise sees our riders negotiating our higher speed 3 x 12m slalom. This exercise is performed at a constant speed in either high second or low third gear. As you may have guessed, eye control here is once again vital. Our everchanging focus should be at least 3 seconds ahead of our motorcycle. As we exit the curves, our focus should traverse along our intended path, followed closely by our shoulders, arms and handlebars to steer the motorcycle. To perform this exercise as intended, while riding through a set of pylons, the rider’s focus should be at least at the intended path through the next set of pylons, a full 12m ahead.
Motorcycle accident studies, such as “The Hurt Report” have stated: “In single rider accidents, rider error factored in at 2/3rd s of the incidences, with typical errors being slide-outs and falls due to over braking or running wide due to perhaps excessive speed.” We are willing to bet that many of the examples of running wide in this study were a result of the rider who took a corner too fast, then focused on an object they did NOT want to hit, resulting in steering off the road. “Unintended Target Fixation”
Eye control is discussed throughout our course, as it is one of our 3 essential skills. During our “Braking in a Curve” exercise that you will see mid-morning on Sunday, eye control is the key to success. In this lesson we simulate a situation while riding in a curve where we suddenly need to make an emergency stop. Within curves, we cannot use our front brake the same way we would if we were traveling in a straight line. There is a concept called “Trail Braking,” which sees a motorcyclist trail-off the front brakes while within the turn. Trail braking is a more advanced skill which we verbally discuss, but do not practice. In this range exercise we first “square the motorcycle up” before applying effective front brake pressure to make the emergency stop. This exercise is easily accomplished with eye control. We would be entering the curve, again with our focus traversing at least 3 seconds ahead of our intended path. Once the signal is given to stop, the very first step is to take your eyes off the intended path and focus on a safe area straight ahead. This will then naturally rotate your shoulders, arms and handlebars out of the turn and to that safe area. Essentially, this is eye control using “Intended Target Fixation.” (the opposite of aforementioned “Unintended Target Fixation”) This causes the motorcycle to straighten out, after which the maximum front brake power can be applied.