44 MCN I For Enthusiasts MCNEWS.COM
CONTROL > By Lee Parks
GROWING UP WITH computers in the
80s, I remember when I got my hands
on the first true WYSIWYG ( What You
See Is What You Get) desktop publishing
software. Back then, it was a revelation of
how direct, unobstructed vision of what
you were doing could transform your
ability to create art.
Similarly, having direct, unobstructed
vision on a motorcycle can mean the
difference between life and death. It’s
interesting to note that virtually all
riders, from newbies to MotoGP racers,
struggle with maintaining proper vision
in a corner. The reason for this is our
eyes evolved over millions of years to
deal with potential hazards based on our
maximum running speed.
Currently the fastest human is Usain
Bolt who has been clocked at just over
27 mph in the 100-meter dash. Because
we can far exceed that speed on our
motorcycles, we need to retrain our eyes
to look much farther in front of ourselves
than what seems natural. This is the only
way to identify potential hazards early
enough to deal with them effectively.
The main reason for vision being so critical is that you go where you look. You’ve
probably heard this before. The reason
has to do with our biological makeup.
Although we don’t normally think
of ourselves this way, biologically
speaking, human beings are predators.
As carnivores, specifically, we have
binocular vision where our eyes are set
close together in the front of our heads.
This is optimal for tracking moving prey.
In the wild, humans are at the top of the
food chain, so this kind of vision helps
us. Unfortunately, on the road, motorcyclists are at the bottom of the traffic
food chain. That means we have to stop
seeing like predators, and learn how to
start seeing like prey.
What you are able to see is based not
only on the amount of light available,
but also on the types of things you
choose to notice. Much like a flash-
light with an adjustable beam, we can
illuminate a wide area with little detail or
a small area with high detail, depending
on focus. Most human beings have no
problem spotlighting on things. Unfor-
tunately, most of us have lost much of
our ability to use our floodlight vision
effectively because we no longer have
natural predators in the urban jungle.
SO HUMANS, LIKE all predators,
primarily use spotlight vision. On a
motorcycle, we call this target fixation.
A perfect example of target fixation is a
cheetah. Once it has locked its vision on
a target such as, say, a gazelle in a herd, it
will not stop until it reaches its intended
target. In fact, even if a slower or injured
gazelle crosses the cheetah’s path, it will
literally jump right over it and continue
on until it reaches its original target.
This is how hard-wired into our DNA
this predator vision is. It’s why when we
focus on a pothole or a patch of gravel
30 feet ahead, we often run right into
that which we’re trying to avoid, even
though we know we should change our
line. Such target fixation is normal for
humans and it has survival value in the
wild. Unfortunately, it has the opposite
effect in traffic.
In the American education system,
much emphasis is placed on discovering
life’s details. We use microscopes and
telescopes to examine objects both near
and far. We use computers to analyze the
world by breaking it up into microsized
bits. We have, in essence, been trained
to rely on the spotlight and forget about
the floodlight. By contrast, prey uses primarily floodlight vision, what a biologist
would call “environmental awareness.”
They try to always have a sense of where
potential predators are (or could be lurking) in their area of influence. We need
to be able to use both types of vision.
For instance, we use spotlight vision to
pick out specific reference points. These
include corner entry and exit points, and
Growing up, the only floodlight-type
training I received was in driver’s education class. Some of you might remember
the Smith Driving System developed
in the 1950s. In that system, one of the
tenets of good driving was to “get the
big picture.” Smith was right. Using your
vision as a floodlight slows down your
“sense of speed” and helps you see more
potential hazards and opportunities.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO make a distinction
between your actual speed and your
perceived sense of speed. Your mind
can play tricks on you when you rely on
your spotlight vision while operating a
moving vehicle. For instance, if you look
at the ground directly beneath you while
riding at even moderate speeds, it may
seem that you’re moving crazy-fast. If
you then focus on the mountains in the
background, it feels as though you’re
barely moving, even though your actual
speed hasn’t changed.
When you’re riding over your head,
you develop a similar sense that things
are moving too fast. This occurs when
you narrow your perspective to the
spotlight view. The solution is to widen
your perspective to the floodlight view
because the bigger the viewing area, the
slower things seem to move.
Widening your viewing area certainly
takes practice, but the farther ahead you
look in a turn, the better chance you’ll
have to make an evasive maneuver and
avoid a crash. Remember, what you see
is what you get. MCN
Lee Parks (MCN editor ’95-’00) is author
of Total Control Performance Street Riding
and proprietor of Total Control Training.