Target fixation is one of the most dangerous traps to fall into for track riders, and it’s a trap that can cause the smallest mistakes to turn into the biggest repair bills.
In this article we’re going to talk about what exactly target fixation is, and what you can do to prevent it taking control of your actions so that you can keep your machine rubber side down.
Target fixation is what typically happens in panic situations. On track, panic sets in when you find yourself in a situation you didn’t expect, and from that situation you perceive an element of danger.
This could be running wide mid-corner, approaching a corner with too much speed, or finding another rider in a spot you really don’t want them to be in.
When you fall into a situation like this it’s extremely common that riders will fixate on the target that they believe is going to cause them harm – the edge of the track, or another rider they think they may collide with, for example.
When target fixation really sets in, you will focus intently on that particular spot or object to the point that your view becomes completely tunnelled down on it, and you lose all awareness of everything else going on and the space you have ahead of you.
This is a pitfall I have suffered myself, with the exact outcome you would expect.
In the second session of my second ever track day I had the overwhelming sensation that I was running into a corner too fast. This sensation left me target fixating on the outside edge of the track in the direction I was headed.
As such I froze up on the brakes, and my feeble efforts to steer meant the front tyre eventually gave up and I ended up in the dirt.
The key to dealing with panic and target fixation is, quite simply, to look where you want to go, not where you don’t.
Visual skill is such a key part of riding on the track. All things being equal, a rider with good visual skill will be able to reach a higher level than a rider with poor visual skill every single time.
But the benefits don’t just come in the way of outright speed.
Good visual skill allows riders to make better decisions in the moment, which means they tend to make fewer mistakes and deal with mistakes better when they do make them.
But as soon as you lose that visual awareness (through target fixation) your ability to make decisions and take action is compromised, or in some cases removed altogether.
In most cases when you fall into panic and find yourself looking at the area of danger, just by forcing yourself to look where you want to go and committing to going there, you’ll find that you can get yourself out of the sticky situation more often than not.
Now, vision isn’t the only thing at play here. Sometimes your skills may let you down if you’ve stepped too far out of your current ability zone, meaning you may not be able to do what you need to do with the bike in order to save the situation.
But having a level of visual awareness will at least allow you to better use your skill reserves to get out of a situation. In my experience, 9 out of 10 riders have enough in reserve to do just that.
Going back to my own experience, on reflection of this and other instances going through this corner, I noticed that I was actually travelling considerably slower than other runs through it at the time, but my target fixation meant that message wasn’t relayed to my brain because I didn’t know that was the case.
If I had just looked into the corner and committed to going there, chances are I would have made it out of that rough situation with my new and shiny R6 still intact.
So, if you find yourself in a panic situation and looking at the area of danger, first…
Regardless of your current ability, that’s going to greatly increase the likelihood of you escaping these types of situations more frequently
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