It’s no great mystery what ultimately holds us back from going faster as track day riders. In the end what we do on the bike is governed mainly by the decisions our brains make, in turn allowing us to perform tasks based on the information our five senses are feeding them.
Out of the five senses then, which is the most important to have under control in order to go faster around the track? The title is a bit of a give away, but if you guessed vision then you are indeed correct. If you guessed taste….well then there’s no hope for you.
How fast you can go round a corner is massively influenced by what your eyes are communicating about the space ahead of you and where you are in relation to it. If your visual skills aren’t up to scratch, your perception of your speed, position and available space will be negatively affected and leave you riding well below your potential.
Having your visuals working to help you is one of the most important aspects of going fast, but it can also be one of the most complex, and while I don’t hope to perfect your visual skills in this guide I do want to open your eyes (no pun intended) to a few points that will get you going in the right direction.
The first and most common trait that new (and even some experienced) riders tend to show is a tendency to ride “blind”. This is from a combination of not looking far enough up the track through the different stages of a corner, as well as not having any real references for where they’re going and where they want to be.
The lack of real reference markers means that the rider is almost feeling their way around the track and as such they will be very inconsistent with their lines through the corners.
Another downside to riding blind is the fact that riders are often left feeling rushed, typically as they reach the entry point, because their brain is receiving all the information about where they are and what’s coming up in too little time.
As a result they are never fully prepared for what’s ahead of them, and when the time comes they have to deal with something unexpectedly, be it an oil spill on the track, a bike coming up the inside and sitting them up harshly, or they find they’re running wide, the panic buttons are pushed hard and the consequences are usually not so good.
Another common trap that riders get caught in is target fixation, something that is more often than not brought on from the above – riding blind and then being surprised by something. For example, a rider will go flying into a bend then on the exit realize they are starting to run wide, as a result they look at the exact spot they don’t want to go to – the outside of the track.
You may well have heard the phrase that when riding a motorcycle ‘we go where we look’, and that’s exactly what happens in this situation. The rider drifts further and further to the outside of the track because all of their attention is fixed there, they then become frozen on the bars and controls and sure enough end up taking an off track excursion. Instead if the rider was looking up the track where they wanted to go, their visual skills probably would have saved them.
Reference Markers – By using reference markers around a corner, it gives us a way to map out exactly where we want to be and where we want to go, as well as a way to gauge whether or not we are correctly positioned for the different stages of a corner. In the end you can map out your whole corner from braking marker, to turn, apex and exit markers. You are almost giving yourself a dot to dot map to follow around the track.
Looking Ahead – Moving your eyes up and ahead of you to your next reference marker is a sure fire way to have you feeling more calm and collected at speed. You can see where you are in relation to your next reference so you know how much time you have to get there, and when you do get there you know where the next one is because you are always looking ahead.
This means that not only do you know where you’re about to be, but where you’ll be after that, giving you a much better perceptive of the time and space you have to work with, which not only helps you ride faster but it also further goes towards stopping those panic buttons being pushed in the event of something going wrong or surprising you.
Wider Vision – While I am advocating the use of reference markers and focusing on them to map out your route around the track, it’s possible to be TOO focused. Focus too much on one marker to the point where you lose everything else and you’re going to run into the same problems.
By expanding your vision and using your peripherals to monitor other markers or other riders, you can take your ‘looking ahead’ skills that one step further.
A great drill that the California Superbike School teaches to demonstrate a use of wider vision is the Two Step. This teaches riders to focus on their turn marker as they are heading towards it, then when they reach a certain point, move their heads and look in to the corner to find their apex while they’re still heading towards their turn marker, using their peripheral vision to track it and establish when they have reached it so they know when to turn.
The benefit being that once you arrive at your turn marker, because you are already looking at your apex you know exactly where you want to go and how much and how quickly you need to steer to get there.
More information about the Two Step can be found in Keith Code’s: A Twist of the Wrist II
Once you start to practice widening your vision, you will eventually be able to “see” objects or markers without actually looking at them.
All too many people head straight for things like body position, braking and throttle control to gain time on the track, and while they are indeed important aspects, your visual skills are arguably the most important element to have in check in order to become a fast, controlled and consistent rider. It is not a skill to be neglected if you hope to achieve true speed (and safety) around the track.