Make target fixation work for you

Target fixation

Have you ever heard of target fixation? It’s where your eyes focus on an obstacle and you end up riding your motorcycle straight into it.

My wife had a big case of target fixation on her learner course: she saw the fence, thought she would hit it, didn’t take her eyes off it and … she hit it!

Riding experts talk a lot about how to avoid target fixation, but it is really difficult to stop fixating on a target or ignore impending danger.

Road Crash target fixation
Young rider escapes injury in this case of target fixation

Good instead of evil

However, target fixation is not necessarily a negative thing. You can use it for good instead of evil, like steering your bike toward a corner exit, or around an obstacle.

Have you ever gone into a corner too hot? Yeah, all the time, right? What happens next is you tend to look at where you think your bike is going to go and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But what if you shift your gaze toward a more appropriate target? Say, for example, the exit of the corner. Chances are your body will shift stance slightly and you will counter-steer toward the proper exit.

Similarly, if you see a pothole or a rock on the road and you stare at it, you will hit it. But if you see the harmful obstacle and then re-focus your eyes to a harmless sport nearby, you will steer there and avoid the danger.

Target fixationPick your target

It’s all about picking another target. One that is not going to end in tears. I’ve done it on several occasions to avoid danger, but it takes a bit of practice.

So how do you practise refocusing on harmless targets? It’s easy.

Pick a spot on a quiet stretch of road and then find something like a mark on the road to act as your “obstacle”. Then find something nearby to refocus on.

Ride by and focus on hitting the first target. It won’t be difficult to hit it. Then ride by and focus on the first target, but refocus on the new target and see if your bike follows your gaze.

Blind corners

Target fixation crashes often happen on blind corners. An unusual object on the side of the road or a vehicle coming in the opposite direction suddenly grabs our attention.

The problem is that when we are surprised by something we may hit, the natural reaction is to turn the handlebars away from danger. That actually stands the bike upright and steers you toward the object.

You have to teach yourself that counter-steering is your natural reaction to a surprise.

To do that, ride into every blind corner expecting to be surprised then you will be prepared for it.

Your plan should be that if your attention is suddenly diverted by any object, you are ready to counter-steer toward the object which will actually steer you away from it.

 

3 Comments

  1. Classic – been riding a week, going round a mini-roundabout the teeniest bit too quick yesterday – could have made it if i didn’t know i was going to go straight into a lamp post. couldn’t look away from it, and doink! new helmet and new fairings are already on order – a pricey lesson, but one I am glad I learned early (and on a 125!).

    It’s frustrating, but its something I know will have such an impact on how i ride in the future. Once i had gotten up, dusted down and gotten over looking like an idiot, I was able to get it home safe and sound. So today have been reading a lot about target fixation, and determined to take my experiences forward into every ride, and improve.

    1. Glad you escaped OK Rose. It seems the most serious injury was to your pride in this case. I’m a little off topic, but your story highlights for me the popular myth that “the rider always comes off second best”, which we often hear from well-meaning experts and safety advocates. Not to suggest that riders aren’t “vulnerable” – of course they are – but in reality, the rider sometimes walks away with little or no injury, while the bike can easily be up for thousands in repair costs, and gear needs replacing.

      Mark, I think you’ve made some good points about target fixation and how to overcome it. I have to suggest though that while it might be “easy” to practise the relevant skills, very few riders will actually be doing that with any sort of methodological approach as described. If validated, perhaps some of the advanced rider training courses could include such excercises in practical sessions, if they don’t already (which is likely).

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