Look where you want to go! Steer the bike with your eyes! You go where you look! How often have we motorcyclists heard these phrases?
Looking where you want to go obviously relates to vision, an important sense for everyday life; however when we introduce motorcycles, the importance of vision increases dramatically, not just as an essential tool for high performance riding and racing, but also for survival on the road.
The fact is most of us are damaging our vision, namely our peripheral vision, with our modern lifestyle of sitting in front of TV and computer screens. Compared to our ancestors, our visual field has narrowed dramatically.
If we get into the habit of looking directly at objects while restricting the awareness of our surrounding field of view, it’s comparable to not fully using other areas of our body.
For example if we routinely only bend our knee ten degrees, you could imagine this bad habit of restricted movement would ultimately lead to poor function, soreness, and long-term damage.
It’s safe to assume that our vision also follows the familiar “use it or lose it” rule that is evident in other areas of our body. In other words, if we only use one part of our visual field, the rest of our visual circuitry will begin to go inactive. So how important is peripheral vision to our riding and what can we do to increase our visual performance?
Peripheral vision is the part of vision that occurs outside the main focus of gaze or the means to know what’s happening around you without turning your head. The loss of peripheral vision is commonly referred to as “tunnel vision”.
The role of peripheral vision is to spot the predators that lurk around us, originally tigers and nowadays more like cars and trucks or other riders and hazards that can do us harm. On the track, peripheral vision is a mega important skill essential to cutting fast laps.
Peripheral awareness is also linked to balance, movement, reaction speed, reduced mental fatigue, and believe it or not intelligence. It’s powerful stuff and improving our vision with training, means heightening our riding is there for the taking.
Information from the peripheral retina goes directly to the center of the brain, rather than to the brain’s visual centers. This means that your reaction speed is increased by using your peripheral vision. Boxers and martial artists know this. They don’t look directly at their opponent’s fists or feet, and thus can react quicker as a result.
Good peripheral vision increases optimum awareness of your overall visual environment. The more aware we are of our surroundings, the easier it is to move around. As a coach, I see limited peripheral vision linked to a load of riding errors like target fixation, getting lost in turns, inconsistency, running wide, disorientation, mental fatigue, and so on.
Most students also don’t look far enough ahead; however you can also look too far ahead, and get lost in the turn, hence peripheral vision is only part of the equation. You also need to understand how to apply it to your riding.
How many of us actually practise or exercise appropriate vision techniques to develop this much overlooked skill? Fortunately, we can improve our peripheral vision by practising certain exercises.
Next time you are riding down the highway, use your peripheral vision or your mind’s eye to look at the vehicles around you whilst keeping your eyes looking ahead. You will be surprised by what you are able to see with your peripheral vision, different colors and different types of vehicles. Lookout for an important benefit – a slower sense of speed.
If you are on the track, you may want to use more advanced vision enhancement techniques such as light reaction training to improve reaction times and enhance peripheral fields of vision.
Vision, is a dynamic process that involves combining skills of aiming, tracking and focusing, along with a bunch of other mental and neurological processes. So how does peripheral vision help us on the track?
To figure this out, let’s consider the elements needed to negotiate a corner, elements known as reference points (RP). These guide us and are vital to help prevent getting lost in the corner. Typical reference points include, braking point, turn in point, apex point and exit point.
The trick is to look ahead, but not too far, and lock in these reference points with your eyes then use your peripheral vision to judge distance and track your motorcycle between those points.
The mechanics of cornering on a track go something like this: you approach the corner on full throttle, your vision is scanning for your braking reference point (RP), and you locate the braking RP, and lock this in peripherally. Next your vision is scanning for your turn in RP. You locate your turn in RP and lock this in visually too.
Meanwhile you are still on full throttle and have not actually reached your braking RP yet, however you are already aware of your braking and turn in RPs in your peripheral vision.
You reach your braking RP, located with your peripheral vision and brake, meanwhile your vision is further ahead, scanning for your apex RP which you locate and lock in peripherally. Meanwhile you haven’t turned in yet. You get the picture. Effectively you are connecting the dots.
As mentioned previously, using peripheral vision also slows down the sense of speed. If your average speed for the corner is 150 Km/h, that’s over 40 metres in just one second. In an 80 metre long corner all this would be over in 2 seconds, hence the value of slowing down the sense of speed!
So, like most things in life to be good at something takes practise and focus. Make a plan, get training, and improve your peripheral vision and ultimately your riding. Loosen up, relax your eyes and let the periphery in!
Mark McVeigh is a former international motorcycle road racer and MotoGP engineer who now works as a moto-journalist and development rider. He currently is also the Director of Coaching at the motoDNA Motorcycle Academy. Read more of Mark’s work on the motoDNA blog, and follow motoDNA on Twitter and Facebook.