RIDING SKILL SERIES: Target Fixation Hurts
It’s funny how the human mind works. There are things you want to remember, but you forget. There are things you don’t remember doing or saying but you’re reminded that you ought to remember, usually by your wife or girlfriend. Then there are things you’re adamant to forget but your mind doesn’t want to forget.
Take this case for example.
It has been 23 years since that fateful night, but I remember it as well as last night’s KFC Dinner Plate Combo.
I had just taken delivery of my first big bike two weeks earlier, a Cagiva Mito EV. If you’re wondering how it looked like, it’s the baby Ducati 916. It had a rousing 125cc, two-stroke, liquid-cooled engine that sent 36bhp to the 7-speed gearbox, attached to a substantial aluminium frame, suspended by Marzocchi forks and shock, all wrapped up in a curvy bodywork. Since it was designed in the CRC (Cagiva Research Centre) together with the watershed Ducati 916, it looked totally sexy. Hell yeah, I was damned proud to own one! I even called it “Baby.”
One night, which was the first night of the Chinese New Year, I “decided” that I ran out of cigarettes. Any new motorcycle owner will tell you that’s just an excuse.
Instead of conveniently walking to the 7-Eleven down the block, I rode it all the way out onto Jalan Ampang.
At the traffic lights just before Ampang Point, a Suzuki Panther pulled up alongside on the left. I was in the rightmost lane. The rider looked over to me and started revving his engine. I looked away. There’s no point in…. His rear tyre started spinning up and spewing smoke! And he’s giving me that “Let’s go” look.
I replied with a huge twist of the throttle. Game on, foo’!
I dumped the clutch just as the light turned green and nailed the holeshot. The Cagiva might be heavier the Suzuki, but it really goes if you launched it above 6500 RPM.
2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th ge….. Hey, what’s that ginger coloured thing on the right side of the road….? OH MY GOD!!! IT’S A DOG!!! BRAKES!!! I didn’t know what happened, but the rear seat of the bike was suddenly smacked against the middle of my back and was still rolling, it didn’t stop. The dog appeared larger and larger in my field of view.
BAM! I felt the dog wrapped around the front wheel. It let out a loud yelp, I let out a loud yell.
Next thing I knew I was sliding on the road, watching Baby slide past me in a shower of sparks and that sickening sound of hard parts abrading themselves into useless pieces of plastic and metal. I screamed “BABY!” in my helmet.
I was back on my feet even before I stopped sliding. I saw the poor dog vomiting blood and whimpering. It collapsed at the road shoulder. It was gone. My heart broke, but what more could I do.
Looking myself over, I was full of scratches, jeans torn open like 70’s bell bottoms and my legs were starting to ooze crimson liquid. Baby was on its right side when I went over to lift it up. Scratches, and more scratches all over. The footpeg and brake lever were broken, but it was otherwise okay, although “okay” is relative.
I surveyed the scene: I had hit the dog and crashed on the leftmost lane of the three-lane road.
A few days later, as I recovered and while Baby was being repaired in the workshop, I picked up my first issue of Sport Rider. There was this article by Nick Ienatsch on guess what…? Vision.
I can’t paraphrase what he wrote, but it as about the danger of locking our vision on threatening situations, called target fixation. When target fixation sets in due to panic, we lock our vision onto a hazard or situation, hence steering unconsciously toward it, and end up hitting that very thing we wanted to avoid. Ironic.
There’s a simple saying, “You go where you look.”
I suddenly discovered my mistake, I had locked my eyes on the poor dog causing my vision to tunnel down on it. Next, I jumped on my brakes in panic which lifted the rear into a rolling stoppie, continued by unconsciously steering the bike from the rightmost lane of the road into hitting the dog on the leftmost part of the road.
I repeat, I stoppied over three lanes because I had my eyes locked on to the dog. Aaron Twite would be proud of the stoppie, except that I hit a dog.
What should I have done that night?
I should’ve looked for an escape route, say behind the dog, then countersteered to the right and continued on to beat that Suzuki, stop by at the gas station to buy my ciggies, before going home to enjoy the rest of Chinese New Year.
Let’s learn from my misfortune. It’s a free lesson.
Our human instinct is hardwired to “keep an eye” on a dangerous situation. From that, we determine the next course of action which is fight or flight.
Our job is to train ourselves to look away from the danger for space to escape. It’s not from over-speeding per se, but it’s how we train our eyes.
Next time you ride, look to the sides of that manhole cover and you will miss it. You will hit it when you keep looking at it. As a note, it not only applies to riding, but also when you drive. Have you seen a driver heading straight for an obstruction, although there’s plenty of space on either side? Yup, that’s target fixation.
This same principle applies to cornering, as well. Too much entry speed notwithstanding, if you concentrate on your line while applying correct throttle control, the bike will follow your chosen line. If you looked at the outside of the turn, the bike will overshoot, although the bike still has much, much more tyre grip and ground clearance. You go where you look.
Check out his video:
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Or, when you ride up Ulu Yam and a car appears in the opposite lane around a blind corner. If you panic and look at the car, you will steer toward it! Heck, you may even steer into another vehicle in the same lane! You go where you look!
Similar to this video:
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Besides that, remember to keep a wide field of view – resist the temptation to let it tunnel down into the distance. This happens the faster you ride, but keep telling yourself to push it wide. I know, it’s fun to feel the speed when you do so, but you will not have time to avoid if something, say a car, wanders into your path. With wide vision, you would’ve anticipated the driver’s intentions.
Another positive aspect of wide vision is the world around you seems to “slow down.” That’s good because it avoids you from being overwhelmed by the perception of speed.
Additionally, wide vision allows you to scan your surroundings, including the road sides for things that may jump into your path, including pedestrians, animals and other vehicles.
Think about watching Star Wars: Rogue One in IMAX 3D. Think about the awesome field of view. Do you want to watch it through a toilet paper tube with one eye closed?
Keep repeating to yourself, “I go where I look” and “wide view” everytime you ride until it becomes second nature, so unlike me, you could forget a bad accident from 23 years ago.