from Mike Wascak, Road Captain
From Motorcyclist Magazine - September 2015
It's easy to take your visual skills for granted, but don't. You can't afford to have lazy eyes when your survival depends on getting critical information to your brain as quickly as possible. Eyes that are on high alert help you avoid mishaps and keep small problems from become big problems. How effective your visual skills are can mean the difference between a minor annoyance, a scary close call, or a full-blown crash.
Mindlessly staring ahead just won't cut it. You've got to aggressively look for trouble before trouble finds you. Scan side to side, far and near, and up and down to spot errant drivers and sketchy surfaces. When approaching corners, look for clues to help identify the radius of the curve. And don't forget to check your mirrors and do quick over-the-shoulder head checks to monitor your blind spots before changing lanes. The hard part: prioritizing hazards to prevent devoting too much attention to relatively minor problems and missing more serious hazards.
Surviving in traffic means being on the lookout for subtle clues that can signal trouble, like driver head-and-arm movements and flashes of sunlight on glass or chrome from a turning vehicle. Keep your eyes moving like radar, scanning for anything that doesn't seem right. Use peripheral vision to monitor nearby obstacles while keeping your vision high and wide. This wide view gives you the best chance of spotting the enemy while also reducing speed anxiety by visually slowing down the passing landscape. As speeds increase, look farther ahead so you have enough time and space to deal with problems calmly.
You can't spot problems if you don't have a clear view ahead, so avoid tailgating and choose lane positions that provide the best sight through curves and around surrounding vehicles. Not only will this allow you to see better, but it also allows others to see you.
Your eyes not only gather information, they also play a key role in getting your bike to follow a desired path. This tendency is referred to as "visual direction control." By looking where you want to go you are telling your brain and muscles to go there.
Visual direction control is great for helping direct your motorcycle through turns, but it's equally useful when you need to avoid obstacles. Be sure to look where you want to go because fixating too much attention on a hazard can cause you to steer toward it. This is called target fixation. When trouble appears, avoid the negative magnetism of target fixation by looking to the corner exit or escape route instead of focusing on the guardrail or obstacle.
Most solo accidents occur when a rider enters a curve too fast (for his or her ability) and "freaks out". Many times the bike could have easily made the turn but didn't because the rider gave up and looked at the edge of the road in defeat. While eyeballs cannot physically turn a motorcycle, your visual focus makes clear your intentions to lean more and complete the turn.
When cornering, let your eyes scan from entry, to apex, to exit while maintaining a wide field of view. "Ratchet" your eyes forward from one visual target to the next to chart a course that forms a smooth cornering path. Glance downward as needed to get a closer look at possible road surface hazards, but then return your eyes and attention high and wide through the curve. Because you are turning, your eyes will naturally follow a diagonal "up and down, far and near" scanning pattern.
Sometimes conditions impede our ability to see. Slow down when weather conditions, fading light, solar glare, or fatigue prevent you from seeing far enough ahead. And remember, your aging eyes and reflexes might not be as sharp as they used to be, so ride accordingly.
Being visually vigilant will make you safer and more confident. Keeping your visuals skills sharp is one of the best ways to be a safer and more competent rider.