A Trained Eye | Code Break

By Keith Code, Photography by Gold & Goose

Driver training in the past has dictated that scanning the road in front of us is good. But how rapidly should it be done? What are we scanning to find? What do we do with it once we’ve found it?

Our instinctual visual system is geared to spot danger. Any unpredictability about where we are now, and where we will wind up, triggers our survival instincts. Reaction times to recognize a situation are typically in the .35-second range. In near-panic, that same visual instinct commands us to look at what will happen in that same period of time and space. Target fixation can be the unwanted, negative result.

There may be rare exceptions, but riders don’t target-fixate on things that are out in the distance. Our survival instinct wants to know what is going to happen within the bounds of its minimum recognition time to a danger. Unfortunately, target fixation isn’t really looking; it’s more of a hypnotic transfixing. At 30 mph we travel 44 feet per second (fps). That .35-sec. is 15 feet, or about two bike lengths, ahead of you. That isn’t enough time or space to make an intelligent evaluation and initiate effective corrective actions. Concurrently, we often lose our peripheral field of view which gives us vital information on our speed and is essential to our depth perception.

To combat these problems, you can experiment with ways to retrain the system and gain positive control over it. This will help you establish a “scan rate” to improve your visual comprehension of the space in front of you.

Practice finding a scanning rhythm before you even get on your bike. You can set a rhythm using your heartbeat or pulse rate as a timer for each shift of your eyes. 1) Move your eyes and refocus at another location in time with each beat. 2) Linger on the object just long enough to access your peripheral view. Even though our peripheral field is always alive, it takes a little internal “mental nudge” to switch it on. Don’t try to identify details, just have an awareness of it. 3) Once the wide view fills in, move on to the next object, and the next, etc. You can also refocus every two heartbeats to find the scope of what seems to give an optimum rate of eye movement and wide-view access. That establishes your optimum resting scan rate. When driving or riding, use that same rhythm as best you can.

Consciously look ahead and consecutively spot objects to the right, left and straight ahead of you: painted lines, parked cars, telephone poles, discolorations on the road’s surface—anything that catches the eye. Don’t make this complicated; just look forward and think “there, there, there” as you sequentially choose objects that border the space you are in. Once you’ve got something spotted, linger on it just long enough to allow your peripheral awareness to open up.

Overly rapid eye movements defeat the purpose of doing the exercise—it isn’t a contest to see how many places you can locate per second. Just move on to the next one in a leisurely manner. Find a timing for your eye movements that suits you.

In tight, blind corners, this drill becomes more difficult. The eyes automatically scan along, tracking the curvature of the corner in quick stops and starts. In most cases, you won’t be able to hold each stop long enough to allow your peripheral awareness to fill in. At this point, do your best to hold some peripheral awareness as your eyes do their natural scan.

By Keith Code
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