Visual Skills and Riding Proficiency

What Are You Looking At? Identifying and Solving Common Problems With Your Lying Eyes

riding tips, riding skills, keith code, vision
Looking at a corner is not the same thing as visualizing the best possible line through that turn. Interpreting the visual cues is the difference.Photo: Marc Cook

I've written this column in Motorcyclist magazine for eight years now—that's almost 100 columns in case you're counting—and more than 20 of those columns have been on the topic of vision. But I still haven't said everything I'd like to on that subject. Visual skills are the backbone of riding proficiency. To develop solutions to visual problems, one must first determine the causes of those problems. Have you ever experienced any (or maybe all) of these common visual problems?

MORE CODE BREAK VISION RIDING TIPS:

Losing—or failing to ever acquire—a wide-view visual perspective can lead to tunnel vision and other problems. Random scanning is one such problem. Undirected scanning is not only time consuming, but it breaks the smooth flow of visual information. This happens because the rider just “looks around” without ever establishing clear reference points to use for guidance and without ever switching on his or her wide-view perspective.

Looking too closely in front of the bike is another common error. So is looking too far ahead. Riders sometimes hold too dearly onto the idea of “looking through the corner” only to miss targeting and then hitting a good, tight apex. Fear of running wide causes some riders to look toward the outside of turns or to look straight ahead of the bike, instead of visually tracking the arc of travel through the curve.

Riders often fail to correctly identify the radius of the corner, even when it can be clearly seen. This leads to following the inside radius as a kind of rolling reference point, which almost always requires a series of steering corrections, especially in multiple-radius bends. Riders who do this are waiting for the road to tell them what to do rather than visually assessing the corner and then proactively creating a line plan to negotiate it.

Some corners are blind-entry and therefore offer little or no hint of their radius. Failure to establish a “lead-in” reference point that you can rely on when you enter such a corner the next time, if it’s located on a racetrack or familiar road, makes navigating such corners a hit-or-miss proposition every time. Not having a lead-in reference point creates the feeling of being rushed, which cancels any hope of visualizing what is ahead—even when it is already known to the rider.

When a rider notices his line is inconsistent in any given turn, it can create anxiety about that turn and lead to either target fixating or random scanning. On the other hand, having a very good reference point—like the apex—and lingering on that too long can also cause the rider to get visually lost. Be aware of how long you look at any reference point, and don’t linger. Keep those eyes moving, with purpose.

Finding visual reference points off of the road or track surface sounds logical, but that can be another time-consuming practice. The best reference points are on or right next to the road’s surface, so you don’t spend too much time scanning the surrounding scenery. The same goes for scanning back and forth between the turn entry point and the apex or the apex and the turn exit point. Both habits interrupt the smooth flow of visual information.

Finally, operating a fixed or a compulsive visual pattern where the rider is looking at the exact same points each time through the corner—especially one with any of the flaws listed above—will only force the rider to repeat the same control inputs every time. This is a major cause of why riders sometimes feel as though they’ve hit an “improvement ceiling” and can’t step their riding skills up to the next level.

The bad news? These visual faults are largely a product of our innate survival instincts. The good news? Identifying these faults, and noticing when they come into play, is the first step to overcoming their negative impact and making real improvements in your riding ability.

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.