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Better Riding: Looking further makes you smoother, faster on a bike

Shubhabrata Marmar  | Published: July 04, 2013, 02:19 PM IST

Now you know where to look and where not to look if you have read the past two installments of Better Riding on OVERDRIVE. But there is one more thing about vision that changes the flavour of your ride and that is, how you look. Take a piece of paper and draw a straight line across it. But try it with your eyes looking more or less at the point of the pencil or ball pen you have in your hand. Now, make two points on the paper. Put your pen on point one, move your eyes to point two and draw another line. You will immediately notice that the second line is easier to make straight, looks surer of itself and if you use this method even those of you with doctor-grade hand writing will be able to consistently draw parallel lines.

As hard as this is to believe, the solution really is in your eyesAs hard as this is to believe, the solution really is in your eyes

Think about this, the only thing you changed was how you were looking at the paper. And that is our subject of discussion this time. The quality of what you are looking at. Most of us riding on the street have a big problem - the street surface is never consistent and you inevitably form a bad habit, that of looking down. What happens next is the same sequence of events as the first line. You look down and close to the front of the bike and this makes your control over the motorcycle shaky and reactive. Every change in surface (or traffic) arrives late into your consciousness and that makes reacting to it a more urgent, violent process. The overall result is a jittery, unsmooth, jerky ride. Other fallouts? Greater stress, higher fuel consumption and when you finally try to go really fast, being overwhelmed by the speed and getting passed by riders left and right.

As hard as this is to believe, the solution really is in your eyes. It isn't easy but it is something you can learn. Just like you did when you drew the second line, the thing you have to do is look higher up. This sounds silly. What if you miss a pothole and go right into it? Human eyes have two distinct zones of vision which do different things. The central or foveal vision is the middle bit where things are in focus. This part can see detail. The outer zone is your peripheral vision. Here the objects are out of focus - the details are blurred. But this area is great at tracking movement and you can actually use this to great advantage. To try this, just focus on the headline on this page but move your mental focus (not the eyes) to the picture on the right. You will be able to clearly make out the outline of the bike and all. This much information is enough to avoid a pothole, no?

On the bike, the trick is to focus your vision further away but allow your mental focus to shift up into the central zone and then be able to move it back into the diffuse zone between that focal point and the bike. What you will notice is that you will spot hazards - be it traffic or potholes - earlier and then your peripheral vision will track it smoothly. Knowing early means you can make smaller steering or throttle inputs that achieve the result you want - avoiding a pothole, for example.

Looking up essentially gives the brain more time to process the incoming visual information, which makes the brain run cooler. When the brains is in its sweet spot, it automatically means your next steering or throttle input is both more accurate and smooth. Which in turn means your ride will magically feel less stressful, less quick (even though actual speeds will go up), less hazardous and most importantly, smoother. And trust me, smoother is the holy grail. The smoother you ride, the better it will look to people outside, the better it feels to you inside. And ultimately, only the smoothest go blazing quick. It is the only way to achieve swiftness on a motorcycle.

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