Target fixation is one of the main causes of single vehicle motorcycle crashes and fatalities among new riders. The term was originally coined in WWII to describe how air force pilots could potentially fly into targets during bombing or strafing runs. When you target fixate, you are likely to steer in the direction of what you are looking at, ultimately causing an otherwise completely avoidable collision.
A common and usually benign example is that of a pothole. You see it ahead of you and what happens? You keep looking at it and run right over it instead of making a slight course adjustment and missing it. The phenomenon of target fixation usually occurs because of the following:
- We see the object or hazard too late and we don’t think we have enough time to avoid it and hence, “lock on” to it with our eyes.
- We panic and instead of reverting to training, fixate on something we think we could possibly crash into.
Strangely, there isn’t a great deal of scientific material on the psychology behind target fixation, but it’s a very similar situation to when people freeze up when under pressure. The only difference is that on a bike, you’re not standing still – you’re moving at a rapid pace with the risk of hitting something very, very hard.
So how can you overcome it? Like almost everything, practice will greatly reduce and hopefully even eliminate the risk of target fixation. Here are some practical ways to overcome it.
1. Look with your head, not just your eyes
If you’re merely looking with your eyes and not moving your head, it’s possible you’re just going with the flow and not actively thinking about riding. By keeping your eyes as forward as possible and moving your head in the direction you want to look, you’re concentrating more and are therefore more actively engaged in your ride.
2. Actively scan
By actively scanning with your eyes, you minimize the amount of time you look at one particular object. Keep your eyes dancing around so to speak. Never let your eyes lock on something for too long – that helps prevent you from focusing on an object in an emergency. Another way to put it is to look in the general direction of where you’re travelling, not a specific point.
3. Talk to yourself.
Doing this might make you look crazy, but it’s actually a fantastic way to not only prevent target fixation but to break out of it should it actually happen. By talking to yourself, you’re actively reminding yourself what you should be doing.
Begin by saying something like “Look” as in look where you want to go when you’re in a corner, or “Push” as in push the bars of the bike. Eventually, you won’t need to do this all the time but you’ll have it in your mind so that if you do find yourself target fixating on something, use that key word – shout it to yourself and you’ll hopefully break the spell your mind has on you.
4. Look through the corner
This relates to 1 and 2, but is more broad and is a skill that you should use for riding anyway – not just to avoid target fixation. So often, we look just in front of our bike. You’ll see hazards doing this but it’s generally too late to do anything about it.
By looking ahead and through corners (and straights for that matter), you give yourself plenty of time to not only avoid hazards, but set up correct riding lines too. Look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid.
When you tense up, you tend to make errors. Your body clamps up both physically and mentally and you greatly increase the chances of doing the wrong thing. Of course, learning to relax isn’t always easy. Breathing exercises help and again, talking to yourself. Telling yourself to “Relax” can actually work – it reminds you that your bike is far more capable than you give it credit for and it will make the turn if you ask it to.