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Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School - Visual Skills

Text: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst • Photography: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst

Whether you're riding on your favorite road at a relaxed pace or lapping Road Atlanta at speed on a Suzuki GSX-R1000, more than 90 percent of the information you take in and process is visual. How you look at things as you ride determines nearly every action you take on a motorcycle. And that's why the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School's first lesson is in visual skills.

The first thing we want you to do is look where you want to go. It sounds so basic, but especially in panic-provoking situations, it can be your greatest undoing. Your mind tells your body to go where you're looking, whether you want to go there or not. Don't fixate on what triggered your panic. Peel your eyes off that mid-turn patch of gravel and look for a clean way around it.

Look Ahead
The next skill is to train yourself to look farther ahead (try for four to six seconds in front of your bike) in a scanning motion, making use of your peripheral vision, rather than fixating on individual points. This scanning gives you a few key advantages. First, it gives you what we call high-beam vision, rather than low-beam vision. It gives you the Big Picture of what's happening in front of you, and it also slows things down visually.

Imagine going down a two-lane road at 60 mph and looking one second in front of you at the yellow dashed line separating the lanes. The dashes are blurs OR blurry, right? Focus farther ahead and look five seconds in front at the same dashed line. Now the dashes appear to be coming at you more slowly, and you can pick them out individually. Your speed is still 60 mph, but you've slowed things down visually.

A byproduct of this is that you also have more time to process the information. Think about your reaction to finding a flattened possum in your path one second in front of your wheel. A sudden, panicked steering input is your best hope of missing it, but it's just that - a hope. Now give yourself five seconds to react, and suddenly all these much better, more controlled options open up.

Keep 'Em Moving
It's also important to keep your eyes moving (scanning) rather than fixating on a single point. If your bike is in motion, it's important that your eyes stay in motion. The minute your eyes fixate, you start falling behind where you should be looking.

On the surface, some of these tips may sound too basic to be of value, but try them out and see if they don't change your riding for the better. In practice they may not come naturally because in many ways these techniques fight our natural instincts of how to look at things. Remember, our instincts were programmed a long time ago for travelling as fast as we could run, say 15 mph, not as fast as we can now ride. In practice you should find that this way of looking at the world you ride through makes you more aware, confident, and relaxed, and puts you in better control of your motorcycle.