Vision Basics | Code Break

By Keith Code, Photography by Andrea Wilson

In riding, each moment contains a question: how to arrive, or not to arrive, at a specific location in space at a particular moment in time. The strategy is simple: Stay between the lines, avoid the pothole, aim for the apex, gas it or slow down, turn in here or there, lean it over more or less, blow by the car or wait.

But making the decision to arrive or not to arrive, to hit it or miss it, hinges on answering the question, “Where am I?” Not running off a corner onto a gravel shoulder or wet curbing at the racetrack requires identifying a) where you are, b) where it is, c) calculating your line, and d) how long it will take to get there. What begins as a simple concept—stay on the road or miss the curbing—becomes more complex.

Instinctively, we track and hold potential danger in the center of our gaze, an area about one finger’s width at arm’s length. If the object of our fixation is in motion, the eyes automatically target-track it until we can determine its direction and velocity.

Unfortunately, the evils known as target fixation and tunnel vision often come in pairs. Once the pair attacks, in less than a heartbeat, we can lose our depth perception and our valuable peripheral vision.

The survival instinct’s logic is impeccable: It wants to know our path will or will not intersect with the pothole, apex curbing or another bike or car. That requires some prediction of, “Where will I be at that moment in time?” The degree of certainty you have with the answer bolsters or rips apart your confidence.

If your sense of it is vague, your survival reactions spring into action. This creates stress, jacks up your adrenaline, changes your blood flow, tenses your core and other muscles, interrupts breathing and either freezes you in the doubt of the moment or promotes nervous, poorly timed and unneeded corrections like stabbing the brake or chopping the gas.

Every rider has personal experience with the problems created by the human visual system. Wherever our attention is drawn, so are we. The object becomes our focus, making it easy to miss just about everything else. We don’t see an escape route around the pothole or we miss choosing a good line because that dark patch of pavement hooked our attention for a moment.

In riding, a moment is a long time. Two lazy finger-snaps at a mere 30 mph eat up 44 feet of space. In a simple 90-degree corner on a two-lane road, if you missed your turn-in point by that much, you’d be off the road or into the other lane. Blink an eye (.3 -.4 of a second) just before the brake marker on the front straight at Phillip Island at 200 mph and you’ll go 90-120 feet past it!

The business of cornering is all about calculating the trajectory of our line’s arc and speed. Whether dealing with an obstacle or an apex, we must know where we are and where we are going in order to decide on any changes in speed or direction.

Steering corrections, lean-angle corrections, too-early turn entries, hesitations with the gas, on/off/on-again throttle—these all accompany any doubt you may have in exactly where you are and where you are headed.

How well can we track something once we target-fixate on it, or our eyes are nervously scanning that space? Not well at all.

The solution is finding another reference point. Once we can locate another object or pavement mark or anything in the immediate area, the eyes begin to work for us, not against us. It gives the decision to hit it or miss it some traction.

Take the exit of a corner where you can see the edge of the pavement: How fast and where will you reach it? Is the widest point of your exit line going to be on or off the pavement? Aside from the edge, you need one more reference point. With it you can determine speed, arc and exact direction. Without it, you cannot. A second reference point is necessary to make accurate visual decisions. The result? Accurate control inputs to the bike. MC

By Keith Code
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