How to avoid target fixation on a motorcycle

Practical tips from Riders Corner

What Clifford is talking about in Riding or Racing, where you look is where you’ll go is the Vanishing Point . The Vanishing Point is the point of the road that keeps “refreshing” with new things as you’re looking at it. It is the furthest point ahead that you can see through a corner. Your head should be pointing towards it and your eyes should be watching it like a hawk. That’s where your bike will go. If you take anything away from this article, read “Act 2” that is where you will gain the most insight. But I promise if you take time to read it, the whole article will help you and your riding.

Following on from Clifford’s advice, I’ve decided to give a quick run down on how I apply these techniques when I ride. I have used a video from one of my old rides through Coromandel on my 2010 R1 (R1 and Ducati do coro loop). Apologies for the poor quality images. They are taken straight from the video and my go-pro sucks.
Something to keep in mind with all the following scenarios is when you’re looking for the vanishing point, make a conscious effort to TURN YOUR HEAD. Not just your eyes, but turn your head, even if it means an exaggerated movement for the first few rides, turn your head and your eyes will be far less likely to break focus and have you looking back directly in front of you rather than at the vanishing point. It is too easy to focus directly ahead of you with your eyes if you never turn your head into the corner. Build up the habit of looking at the vanishing point. TURN YOUR HEAD!

Left hander

In this picture above, the red circle is where I am looking and the arrow is the direction I will continue to look for the vanishing point. Anything between my bike and up to the red circle is information I would have observed well before the corner and deemed it safe to take the line I did. However because you see less ahead of you mid-corner, looking through the corner and into the vanishing point allows you the greatest amount of time to react to any new situations that may arise, because you see it sooner. The red circle covers both lanes so I’m also looking for any cars that may be coming around.

 

 

Right hander with no exit in sight prior to corner entry

In the image above, a mistake many riders do is observing the signs while entering the corner, observing it later than they should. This can lead to target fixation and poor choice of line through a corner. I will have observed the signs in the green circles well before the corner, when the bike is upright and I’m setting myself up for the corner. At this point in time captured in the picture, I will be looking at the area circled in red. That’s where I want to end up, not where the signs are or where my riding buddy is.

The transition through the corner happens so fast that if you were looking directly ahead, you may panic brake and run a wider line than you should, or tip in too early and in some cases even cross the white line into the lane with oncoming traffic.

It is always a good idea to observe what speed is stated on the sign as it will give you a good indication as to what the corner is like. Prediction of the corner based on the indicated speed cannot be taught, it can only be learnt by riding through many different corners and getting a feel for it. For example, I know a 35KPH corner will be very tight, sometimes if I am unsure of the road conditions or haven’t ridden the corner before, I will use my brakes and slow down (drop a gear or two as well). Other times in a familiar 35KPH corner I’d enter it a bit faster but only drop down a gear to engine brake and brush off speed because I know I always need to slow down before 35KPH corners if the normal road speed is 100KPH. There are times when you will never ever use the brakes through a series of corners rated at 55 or above because you will only need to rely on engine braking, if anything.

Also keep in mind that the indicated speed through a corner is for a vehicle/driver to feel 1G (1 times the force of gravity) while taking the corner. This is a speed that most people will feel comfortable in taking that corner without any weird feelings on their body, no weird feelings like being pushed out of their seat when cornering hard. The indicated speed is not the “safe speed” to take that corner. That speed may be lower than indicated in some situations… But it also means it can also be taken safely at higher speeds. That higher speed is up to your judgement. Many people get this judgement wrong.

 

 

Series of images showing the thought process, where to look.

The following images are a series in chronological order so I can run through my thought process as I enter a corner.

ACT 1

In the first picture, I am approaching the corner and even before this point in time I have seen the sign showing the recommended corner speed (circled in green). This allows me to have a fair idea of how tight the corner is and what my average speed should be prior to corner entry if I don’t want to be hard on the brakes just before entry. At this point in time I’m already looking around into the red circled area to check for any hazards and oncoming traffic. My riding partner up ahead has positioned himself really well at his point in time, he is more to the left of the lane than the right, setting himself up for a late apex (explained further below) so he can see as much of the corner as possible before committing to it.

 

ACT 2

I am now into the corner and I’m positioned quite wide. Staying out wider in a corner when road riding is always a good idea. It allows you to observe the road ahead much better and you save your greatest lean angle, your most vulnerable time, till later in the corner when you are sure it’s safe. This is called a late apex. High lean angles are a vulnerable time because you can’t get hard on the brakes and make much road positioning adjustment when the bike is leaned over a lot.

I will have observed the sign circled in green well before this point in time, for a brief moment and I am now looking at the red circled area. Looking at key points before and throughout a corner allows you to understand how fast you are moving relative to what is around you and have a fair idea of where you are positioning yourself in the corner. Take care to not stare at objects for too long because “Where you look is where you will go”.

Looking ahead to where the red circle is allows me to keep a good speed through the corner at this point in time because I know there is no immediate danger. The vanishing point (red area) is “refreshing” constantly and rapidly. There is a constant stream of new information to process as the corner keeps revealing itself. I am looking for danger and also checking to see when the corner will end. I am steady on the throttle but always ready to roll off (in case I need to slow down). Contrary to what you may have heard about never letting off the gas in a corner, you can roll off the throttle mid corner to make positional adjustments. DO NOT CHOP THE THROTTLE OFF, ROLL IT OFF. The difference is immense. This is definitely a technique you should practice, mid corner positional adjustments by throttle roll-off and roll-on. I may write an article on it later… Or you can watch Twist of the Wrist 2

 

ACT 3

Finally, the corner is finishing. I am looking at the red area to check for oncoming traffic, cops (haha) and other dangers. The vanishing point is now “refreshing” slower. I can see so far ahead that there aren’t new things popping up suddenly.

I can see there is no danger and this allows me to get on the throttle while standing my bike up. This is also a dangerous time as if you’re heavy handed, you can lose some traction on corner exit and high-side at worst. Just roll on the gas smoothly instead of slapping it open. You should have been rolling on the throttle or at least holding it steady throughout the corner up to this point.

Conclusion and final thoughts

By now, anyone who hasn’t been looking ahead and applying the techniques above is miles behind you. They will instead catch up to you on the approaching straight by breaking the speed limit while you’re doing a cool ~110kph. If there is another corner shortly afterwards, they will be hard on the brakes to brush off speed while your own corner entry speed adjustment is simply achieved by rolling off the throttle a bit. Go back and see my corner entry speeds from these pictures above, they are a lot higher than you’d expect but none are breaking the legal speed limit of these roads.

This is not bragging, this is the truth – The average corner speed of a rider who uses these techniques well is much higher than a rider who is unsteady through a corner. The corner simply approaches slower and information needs to be processed slower, at a bearable rate for a rider who is well set-up prior to corner entry and then observes the corner vanishing point. Therefore you will be more confident and have a clearer mind. Meanwhile, a rider who is riding much faster than they can safely process information is more likely to target fixate and end their ride badly.

Being able to link corners with very, very little braking or even no braking is true Motorcycling Zen.

 

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