Pure Magic: Head and Eyes

Pure Magic: Head and Eyes | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

Have you ever tried using a Magic Eraser to fix a display of childhood wall art? Just put a little water on the thing and it works. Like pure magic, it removes marks from almost anything. What’s the worst that could happen if it didn’t perform as advertised? A trace might remain, which is not a big deal unless it resulted in the mother’s wrath. A coat of paint and all will be forgiven—eventually.

Our roads are painted with skid marks. Just imagine the stories behind them. A single black line fades into a guardrail on a two-lane curve. Clearly, it was made by a motorcycle. What events preceded this ominous brushstroke on the road? Maybe the rider was unfamiliar with the curve and approached it too fast. Were they late for work, rushing home, or simply riding carelessly? Regardless, they entered the curve too quickly and the reason became insignificant.

As they realized their mistake, they must have panicked. Their respiration and heart rate increased. An expletive might have escaped their lips and their muscles would have tensed, bracing for impact. Survival instincts would’ve kicked technique out the window. Target fixation overcame them as they stared at the guard rail, dreading the imminent pain that would follow.  Smoke must have erupted from the tortured back tire as a frantic pull on the brake painted the skid mark on that two-lane blacktop.

If only the rider in this scenario had the magic eraser. In fact, they could. But for motorcyclists, that magic eraser must be applied before leaving the driveway. With proper technique, these marks can be erased from the stories of our lives before they ever occur.

Pure Magic: Head and Eyes | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

The Moments Before Disaster

For the magic eraser to work, riding habits must change. Initially, entrance speed should be lowered because speed kills. Appropriate gear must be worn at all times. A surface appraisal should be performed for every foot the bike travels. This would involve looking for debris, gravel, fluids, and other such things. Head and eyes should constantly be searching, aiming for the apex of the turn. Approaching the apex, the rider should extend their focus, looking for the exit. Here, they could smoothly add power and ride out. Applying these methods would have erased the mark and helped the rider triumph over the curve. And still more could be done to erase those black marks from our future.

Most riders eventually experience the phenomenon of riding over an object or exiting a roadway, even though there was plenty of time to avoid it. Why? Because they look at the threat. We learned as toddlers to fixate on what can hurt us and it has become a habit. We must always identify threats, but fixating on them doesn’t fare well for the motorcycle rider.

So, what is it that causes the motorcycle to go where we look? The answer is the combination of the head, hands, and eyes.

Head, Hands, and Eyes

The secret to motorcycle riding is that our hands follow our eyes, and the motorcycle follows the hands. We can control our hands by effectively using our eyes, thereby controlling our motorcycle. One of the first exercises in police motorcycle training is head and eye placement. This lesson comes early because skillful application of “head and eyes” becomes pure magic and helps build a safe and successful riding career.

The first lesson is on how to pick up a fallen motorcycle. Lesson two begins when the student pushes the motorcycle around the perimeter of four cones set up in a 100-foot square. We don’t share the secret magic of head and eye placement until they have pushed past the first two cones. During this portion of the exercise their heads and eyes are all over the place. They may look in the general direction of where they want to go but they don’t maintain the reference. They commonly look down at the ground in the direction of the perceived fall, especially when they feel the motorcycle tip unexpectedly to one side or the other. Without a reliable point of reference, they tend to overcorrect and sometimes regress back to the first lesson.

An instructor stops each student after the first two turns and gives them one of the most valuable components in their growing bag of tools. He shares the magic of head and eye placement. The instructor tells them to “focus on the cone you are approaching until you are within five feet. Then shift your eyes to the next cone.” The result is almost magical. A series of successes like these build confidence in their abilities and in the program. After the student employs head and eye placement while pushing the motorcycle, they see for themselves how much easier it is to maintain control. They learn to use the horizon as a point of reference. That reference, combined with what they sense in the inner ear, helps them realize immediately that the motorcycle is becoming unbalanced. They are less likely to overcorrect because of the sudden realization that the motorcycle has passed the balance point. They are better able to make tiny adjustments early because they are looking directly where they want to go.

Head and eye placement works at low speeds and high. Practicing in a parking lot will ingrain the habit and prepare the rider for higher speeds.

Pure Magic: Head and Eyes | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

Say Goodbye to the Magic Eraser

When an object appears in your path on the highway or you suddenly find yourself closing in faster than expected on a curve, simply look to the right or left of the object or look deeper into the curve and let the magic eraser do its job. Practice at increasing speeds by looking for a mark on the road, then avoid it by shifting your gaze to a safer trajectory. Do this until it becomes second nature.  

It’s important to assess what you see on the road ahead and determine if it is a threat or not. A road gator (chunk of tire from a vehicle) is obviously a thing to avoid. An empty bag blowing across the road may not be worth the disruption in your path of travel. Don’t pay it any mind and continue riding straight ahead. An attempt to avoid it could be more dangerous than simply running over it.

By committing this technique to practice, you’ve given yourself an out when a threat does appear. Good head and eye placement is just one of several magic techniques that, when applied, make riding so much safer and more enjoyable. Learn it well and you won’t be wishing for a magic eraser.