The biggest trap inexperienced motorcyclists fall into is not practicing good visual skills. This is probably the single largest cause of accidents for novice riders, yet it is also the most basic skill that forms the foundation for every control action you perform while riding. If you aren't looking where you want to go, how do you expect to get there? We see way too many riders caught up in two major traps involving visual skills: "riding the front wheel" (not looking far enough ahead of the motorcycle), and target fixation. These two traps are often interrelated; when the rider doesn't look far enough ahead and becomes surprised by an obstacle, he panics, which leads to target fixation.
We can't emphasize enough how important it is to look far ahead of your bike while riding. This applies not only to riding in the canyons or on the racetrack, but to city/urban riding as well. Scanning far ahead allows you ample time to formulate a plan for navigating that particular piece of road, whether it be carving the perfect line through a curve, or preparing for and avoiding a hazardous traffic situation. This is especially crucial for novice riders, who usually require a lot more concentration and time to devise riding strategies that experienced riders can perform with little or no effort. If your riding plan is rushed, the chances are good that it will have mistakes. We have also found that looking far ahead helps novice riders overcome their initial fear of using lots of lean angle.
Looking far enough ahead of your motorcycle also helps your ability to scan your peripheral vision for visual clues, whether they are hazards or turn reference points. You don't have to stare at something in order to "see" it; honing this visual skill will allow you to "hit" your turn apexes while already focusing on the next one up ahead. We see a lot of novice riders concentrating so much on trying to hit their apexes "just right," that they end up staring at them nearly to the point where they are upon them; by then, it's too late. If you're still staring at the apex 20 feet before you reach it, by the time you start looking for your next apex, you'll be upon it, and your riding plan will be rushed. Learn to hit your points without actually looking at them.
A rushed riding plan can result in a common problem for novice (and expert) riders: target fixation. When riders go into panic mode, they often end up staring at the most threatening object or area up ahead. This is often either a wayward car entering your path, or the outside of a turn when you enter it a little too hot. The oft-used phrase "you go where you look" is never truer in this situation. We can practically guarantee that if you continue to stare at something you are trying to avoid, you will hit it. Although easier said than done, this is why you need to build your visual scanning techniques so that you will instinctively look beyond an approaching hazard. If a car turns into your path, immediately look for an escape route while getting on the brakes; if you exceed your comfort speed entering a corner, look at where you want to go. Staring at a hazard won't help you avoid it-look where you want to go, and you'll get there.
This article was originally published in the April 2003 issue of Sport Rider.