Scan With Your Eyes

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The best riders don’t just look farther down the track or road, they are constantly scanning back to what’s right in front of them. Use this pre-ride drill to understand the importance of scanning back while riding.

The best riders don’t just look farther down the track or road, they are constantly scanning back to what’s right in front of them. Use this pre-ride drill to understand the importance of scanning back while riding. (Nik Wogen/)

In the next few weeks, this column will give you some pre-ride ideas to experiment with in the hope that the ensuing ride is better than the one before. That means safer, more consistent, and more pleasurable if you’re a street rider, and safer, less dramatic, and consistently faster if you are a trackday rider or roadracer.

Although my name is on this column and my fingers type these words, the thoughts come from riders who have achieved much more than I have on two wheels: motorcycling’s world champions. What are the best riders in the world doing? How can we mimic those actions and approaches with the goal of attaining a champion’s consistency? That’s a little insight into why we named our school the Champions Riding School back in 2008, rather than Quick Nick’s Bag O’ Tricks School.

Examples Everywhere

We can look to other sports too. Watch professional golf and you will see each player has a pre-swing routine. If that routine is interrupted, they stop and begin it again. Watch a professional baseball player’s routine before he digs in at the plate: same glove adjustment, same practice swing, same foot movements. Why? Because their success improves with ritual.

A ritual before any sporting endeavor—including motorcycling—helps get the mind focused and prepared for what lies ahead.

A ritual before any sporting endeavor—including motorcycling—helps get the mind focused and prepared for what lies ahead. (Brian J. Nelson /)

But how often do we simply jump on the bike and go? I do—or did—all the time. Golfers and baseball players find increased consistency and mental focus with a pre-play routine, and that’s what we will search for in the next few weeks. My own riding, lapping, and racing has improved in consistency and enjoyment due to the discussions we will have here.

Part 1: Eye Warm-Up

The best riders don’t just “look farther” (you’ve often heard “get your eyes up”), they look farther sooner, and then scan their eyes back. They look all the way through the corner, and then scan back to anything that needs attention like leaves in the center of the lane or a tall inside curbing at the track. Out sooner, scan back. Out and back. Constantly and quickly. Street riders can throw in a mirror check too. Jump. Those. Eyes.

So before your next ride, get that out-and-back eye pattern established with a quick game of catch with a friend. Use your riding glove or a water bottle and throw it back and forth.

A quick game of catch will easily show the importance of constantly scanning with your eyes. Ever try to catch a ball while only looking at your hands or the person who threw the ball?

A quick game of catch will easily show the importance of constantly scanning with your eyes. Ever try to catch a ball while only looking at your hands or the person who threw the ball? (Nick Ienatsch /)

You will need to look at your friend who has the glove, and then follow the thrown glove as it comes toward you. Looking at him is the long look through the corner; watching the glove approach your hands is the scan back to the midcorner pothole.

If you’re riding solo, then throw a ball up against a wall and play catch with yourself. You will instinctively watch the ball all the way to and from the wall, mimicking the eye patterns of world champion roadracers who must feed their brains with their eyes as early as possible, but not lose their place on the track, especially in close quarters.

Experiment To Learn

Try two things:

  1. Look at the eyes of your friend who has the glove, and leave your eyes there as they throw the glove to you. If the throw is awesome and hits your hands, you have a chance to catch it, but learn how difficult it is to catch an imperfect throw when your eyes do not scan back with the glove. <b>What are you learning?</b> That placing the bike consistently is very difficult when you get your eyes up further and leave them there. I wrote “very difficult” and that means uncomfortable, creating a lack of confidence and enjoyment: two reasons riders quit riding.
  2. Give the glove to your friend and this time, stare only at your outstretched hands. Have your friend throw the glove and see how easy it is to catch consistently and confidently when your eyes are focused closely to your body. <b>What are you learning?</b> You’re learning the main reason coaches say, “Eyes up,” because it is very difficult to plan for the future when you aren’t looking at it. Riding with your focus right in front of the bike is scary and uncomfortable—another two reasons riders quit riding.

If you are riding solo, stare only at the wall for a few throws and then stare only on your hands after you throw the ball. Not much fun chasing that ball down the driveway!

“Get your eyes up!” is great advice—if it is followed by “and scan back.”

“Get your eyes up!” is great advice—if it is followed by “and scan back.” (Barry Hathaway/)

In these experiments you clearly see the issues created when simple coaching phrases are uttered. “Get your eyes up” is great advice for the very common problem of riding with your eyes too close to the front of your bike, but the first experiment shows you that “and scan back” must be included.

Now And Then

Put this little game into your pre-ride routine now and then. See if it increases your comfort in the initial mile or first few corners. My hope is that it specifically helps your eye moments, but there’s more. As you toss that glove or ball, your brain knows that this ritual is because you are about to do something with risk, and your brain is ready before the key turns.

More next week!

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