Touring Tip: The Motorcycle Vision Thing

Jun 08, 2012 View Comments by

A “visionary” is someone who has the ability to evaluate current information, use it to project likely developments in the future, and take effective action today to manage future events and avoid having those events manage them. Former President George H.W. Bush famously referred to this ability as the “Vision Thing.” And the Vision Thing also can apply to riding a motorcycle.

Anyone who has taken the MSF Basic RiderCourse knows a motorcycle goes where you look, and effective cornering depends on a rider “looking through” the curve. But in many ways, that only scratches the surface of the “Motorcycle Vision Thing” for riders.

Focusing your sight on the proper “primary” and “secondary” targets is important both to achieving a smooth and effective riding technique and mitigating the dangers incumbent in riding a motorcycle on the street. Primary targets are those of the highest priority, and they demand a rider’s immediate, primary focus. Secondary targets, on the other hand, should be monitored by a rider’s secondary focus, or peripheral vision. For example, when a rider suddenly detects a pothole or other road hazard in his or her peripheral vision, that hazard should, immediately, become a primary target. But instead of fixating on that hazard, the rider should visualize and focus on the best path to avoid it. After the danger has passed, riders should then refocus their attention to the new primary target (i.e., the one with the highest priority).

In the absence of an immediate threat, riders generally should focus as far down the road as their sightline allows, but also keep their eyes roving 360 degrees (by using their mirrors) to detect potential dangers. The farther ahead you focus, the easier it is for your brain to process what you are seeing. It’s as if your bike’s forward motion is progressing at a slower pace. Focusing closer to the front wheel makes the activity being processed by the brain seem to be happening much faster. This often results in jerky rider inputs through the handlebars, brakes, and throttle and less time to detect and avoid hazards.

Let’s consider another example of how this riding technique should work. When riding in a group, particularly if it’s tightly packed, there’s a tendency for riders to focus on the motorcycle directly in front of them, making it their primary target. Because the following rider is not focusing on the road ahead, he or she is constantly braking, accelerating, and erratically executing corners. If, instead, the road becomes the following rider’s primary focus, and the other riders ahead are placed in peripheral vision, the following rider will be smoother and safer.

A rider can practice sharpening up their peripheral vision even when they’re not riding. For example, while walking down a sidewalk, try to pick out details in your surroundings without looking at them directly. With a little practice, riders can master the Motorcycle Vision Thing and improve their riding technique and safety.

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