Vision & Reference Points | Code Break

By Keith Code, Photography by Graeme Brown

In riding, each moment contains the question of how to arrive at—or how to avoid—a certain location in space, at a certain moment in time. Typically, it hardly requires thought at all: Avoid the pothole, turn here or there, pass the car or wait.

Making a decision to arrive or not to arrive, to hit or miss an apex or obstacle, hinges on answering this question: Where am I? Not wanting to run off a corner onto gravel or accurately hitting your apex requires identifying a) where you are, b) where it is, c) calculating your line, d) your speed, and, e) how much time you have until you arrive there. Lean angle also factors into the equation, which connects directly to how quickly or slowly your steering rate needs to be.

What begins as a simple concept—stay on the road or hit an apex—becomes more complex. It’s a testament to our ability to control complex situations and sheds light on both how we make mistakes and what is needed to get it right.

Once recognized, we instinctively track and hold potential danger in the center of our gaze. If the object of our fixation is in motion, the eyes automatically target-track it until we can determine our own and its direction and get a bearing on velocity.

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

Unfortunately, the evils known as target fixation and tunnel vision, our deadliest Survival Reactions (SRs), often come in pairs. Things appear as though looking through the wrong end of binoculars. Once the pair attacks, in less than a heartbeat, we can lose our depth perception and our valuable peripheral vision—both of which trash our senses of speed and time.

When speed and time become vague, your SRs tend to spring into action, and either freeze you in the doubt of the moment or promote nervous, poorly timed, and unneeded corrections like stabbing the brakes or chopping the throttle.

The business of cornering is all about calculating the trajectory of our line’s arc and, of course, 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; turning too early; any hesitations with the throttle—these all accompany any doubt you have in exactly where you are and where you are headed.

How well can we track something once we are target fixated on it, if our eyes are nervously scanning that space, or we have tunnel vision? Not well at all.

The solution is finding another Reference Point (RP). Once you can locate one more object, the eyes begin to work for you, not against you. An additional RP gives your decision—hit it or miss it—some traction. This RP becomes a second opinion and it provides just enough perspective to help ward off tunnel vision and target fixation.

Take the exit of a corner where you can see the edge of your lane. How fast and exactly where will you reach it? Aside from the edge, we need one more RP. With it you can rapidly determine speed, arc, and exact direction. Without it you cannot.

We need a second RP to determine where we are and to assist with making important directional decisions. The result? Accurate control inputs to the bike, less panic, and a reduced tendency to target fixate. In other words, increased safety and control, and the peace of mind that comes with it.

By Keith Code
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