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Motorcycle Goes Where You're Looking
Magic? Undiscovered Law Of Physics? Does It Really Work?

By: James R. Davis

If you read the Case Study, you learned that Target Fixation is real. If you then read the article that discussed Target Fixation, you learned how to use it to get out of trouble. In essence, Target Fixation demonstrates pretty convincingly that your motorcycle goes where you're looking. But why? Your eyes, after all, are not holding your handlebars and you frequently scan directions other than the one you're traveling in without your bike wandering all over the road. Is it magic? Or perhaps an undiscovered law of physics?

In the case study you learned that Karen was intimidated by the truck that she was fixated on. She knew she was going to hit it and tried to lean away from the impact. In doing so what she actually accomplished was to PUSH her bike away from her body and towards the truck. What she should have done was to press the handgrip that was farthest away from the truck in order to force the bike to lean away from that truck. And the way to have done that was to look away from the truck and actively use counter-steering.

Besides fixating on the truck, Karen's mistake was that she actively counter-steered INTO the truck instead of away from it. Might there be a connection between the two errors?

The idea that your motorcycle will go where you're looking is merely a shorthand way of thinking about a phenomenon that virtually all drivers (of any kind of vehicle) have experienced before: that if you turn your head you tend to STEER in the direction you're looking. In fact, it might be clearer to simply acknowledge that it is HARD to steer in any direction other than the one you are looking at. ALL of your prior experience has taught you how to steer your vehicle where you want it to go. So, if you look where you want to go, you kick in all that prior experience and AUTOMATICALLY steer in that direction.

There is no magic here nor is there a hidden law of physics involved. Your bike (or automobile) TENDS to go in the direction you are looking because, via experience, you have taught yourself to steer, more or less subconsciously.

To take advantage of that phenomenon you merely need to actively look in the direction you want to go - away from danger. The rest is virtually subconscious reaction. Of course it takes more than a turn of your eyes or even your head. You still need to steer away from danger. Since it is HARD to steer away from what you're looking at, and easy (almost automatic) to steer in the direction you are looking, surely it makes sense to look where you want to go.

But, you say, there are many times when you look in directions other than the one you want to go. After all, one of the most important safety practices you engage in is to actively scan all around you looking out for hazards. Why is it that your motorcycle does not wander all over the road while you are scanning if it's true that it tends to go where you're looking? (More often than not, it does!)

The answer to that question is that when you are scanning or looking in a direction other than the one you want to go in you tell yourself to keep going in the direction you want - you turn OFF your 'autopilot'. If you don't believe me, next time you're out on the road and it is safe to do so, point your bike in the direction you want to go and look in any other direction. Notice how a part of your mind is CONSTANTLY VERIFYING that you are still on course. You do not normally have to do that - that's what your autopilot does for you.

[Keeping to the airplane analogy, we have been talking about how your eyes tend to control your ailerons (roll or lateral controls). A moving motorcycle does not have the equivalent of rudder or elevator controls.]

But we have also been well advised to keep our head and eyes 'up' and pointed at the horizon. Surely looking down will not cause a motorcycle to go down, or will it?

Well, not directly. If you are in a skid, however, and look down the odds are overwhelming that you will go down. That, because you will have failed to actively steer the bike in such a way as to try to keep it upright. But that's only one reason why you should keep your head up and eyes looking at the horizon. The other is that only by doing so can you actively scan for hazards or know, for sure, if your bike is vertical. But that's another story.

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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