Riding Tips: Wide-View Awareness

How to avoid target fixation by training your eyes to find reference points.

Placing adhesive circles (or stars) on your shield is a simple trick to help develop wide-view peripheral awareness.©Motorcyclist

We rely on our eyes’ natural ability to find reference points to help guide us safely through corners. Given the inherent frailty of our visual system and the confounding nature of our survival instincts, however, sometimes it’s questionable whether that’s enough.

It is easy to support the argument that our natural tendency to target fixate is any rider’s number-one enemy. Target fixation has sucked all of us toward danger instead of away from it at least once or twice. Tunnel vision is another closely related enemy of good visual habits. Riders who routinely suffer from tunnel vision risk losing sight of their reference points (RPs) because tunnel vision disengages our peripheral, wide-view awareness of our surroundings.

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Riders who use reference points but lose their wide-view context only get a fraction of the benefit. Riders who can maintain peripheral awareness at all times can better use RPs to their full extent, gaining an even more precise sense of speed and location in space.

A strong case can be made for the improved control to be gained by maintaining a wide-view awareness, but what does maintaining a wide view mean? Think of it as preserving your general peripheral awareness even when focusing attention on a specific point at the same time. You may target lock on a pothole, for example, but if you maintain a wide view, escape options can still be easily identified.

Tunnel vision negates most of the benefits of back-and-forth scanning too. Imagine yourself in a darkened room with only a pencil-beam flashlight, sweeping the narrow beam back and forth. You would see individual objects but only momentarily. Our field of sharp focus is only 2 degrees, or about the size of your littlest fingernail at arm’s length. Scanning with tunneled vision is like using that pencil beam. Think of wide-view vision like turning on the room lights, which makes scanning effective.

The rapid rescanning required with tunnel vision causes a rider unnecessary stress. Activating wide-view vision—turning on the lights—gives a clearer, more accurate view of any riding scenario and decreases stress too.

Here is a time-tested drill we’ve developed at the California Superbike School that will assist you in retraining your eyes to enhance your wide-view awareness:

  1. Put your helmet on. Looking straight ahead, have someone place two ¼-inch x ¼-inch pieces of tape on the face shield, one directly in front of each eye.
  2. Next take two ½-inch x ½-inch dots of any adhesive material (I like ½-inch sticky gold stars, myself) and place them 1 or 2 inches outside of the smaller center-gaze markers.
  3. Remove the center-gaze markers.
  4. Experiment with the placement of the ½-inch markers, moving them in and out. They should be far enough apart so they don't interfere with straight-ahead vision but still comfortably within your peripheral view.
  5. Once you locate the optimal location, stick a set of markers on the inside of the face shield in that same location so they don't blow off while riding.
  6. Now put your helmet on and walk around. Do not look directly at the dots. Let your eyes roam where they usually do. Just become accustomed to the placement of the markers and maintaining them in your peripheral awareness.
  7. Now go for a ride.

Maintaining that wide-view awareness no matter where you are looking is the drill. Learn to identify situations that cause your vision to tunnel—that awareness alone is a giant step forward. Retrain your eyes to do less random scanning. Develop that calm-eyed, 1,000-yard stare we see in pro riders. While you ride, compare the effect on your smoothness and confidence when maintaining a wide view to when you lose it—this difference can be striking. Discover your wide-view capability and learn to use it on every ride.

Keith Code, credited as the father of modern track schools, founded his California Superbike School in 1980 and currently operates programs in 11 countries and on six continents. His "A Twist of the Wrist" series of books and DVDs are thought by many to be the bible of cornering.