Target Fixation

By Clifford Meier
October 12th, 2008


Back in the early days when Carol was first honing her skills to ride, we were going over a mountain pass. I believe it was Trail Ridge but it doesnít really matter.

As we hit the summit I see this beautiful vista of the area below and I radio Carol, ďCheck out that view to our right.Ē After a brief pause, during which I incorrectly assumed she is looking, she radioís back to me ďHELL NO, look right, go right!Ē

After a brief chuckle I congratulated her for recognizing the concept of Target Fixation. Simply put, we go where we look.

Target Fixation by definition is when a motorcyclist often inadvertently looks at an object and finds himself or herself headed straight for that object. 

Even the most skilled rider can experience this, especially when it comes to road hazards. We see a pot hole, a rock, even gravel and while looking for a clear path our eyes lock on the hazard and invariably we hit it. Target Fixation is real.

The best example I read was this. How wide is your bike? How wide is a sign pole or telephone pole? As narrow as they each are, why is it most motorcycle accidents that go off the road end with hitting the pole? Out of control and going off the road you would think the odds are high that you would miss the pole but yet most riders seeing the pole, worried about it, fixate on the pole and the rest as they say is history.

Our motorcycles tend to go in the direction we are looking. From the first day of learning to ride we hear, look and lean and look where you want to go. Yet the example Iím sure weíre all familiar with, if you see a pothole in the street ahead of you and donít take your eyes off it, you are likely to hit it.

This is usually no big deal. A pot hole shakes us up a bit but beyond that, itís no real problem. What happens if youíre in a corner and youíre swinging wide? What if you look at and fixate on the oncoming traffic or the opposite shoulder of the road? No doubt you will miss the corner and this can be serious.

The other day I was in a corner just before the apex. I noticed a bike accident on the opposite shoulder being loaded on a truck. I remember thinking, he missed this very corner I was now in and I soon realized, I was swinging wide, heading straight for the truck and about to miss it myself. Looking hard right I pull the bike back on my line. At this point I would like to thank my buddy Coop. At our next break with a big smile, he reminds me and everyone in our group ride that I must have been looking at the truck. As I told Coop, the truck was a good excuse and probably didnít help but that corner has my name all over it. Itís the weird decreasing radius on Hwy. 74 between Morrison and Evergreen, my nemesis and I donít think Iíve ever followed a good line through it, but that's another story.  
At our 2007 July Ride we had two major accidents as a result of Target Fixation. The front bike goes down. The rider immediately behind seeing this, not able to take his eyes off the incident, follows the downed bike right off the road. I remember talking to Mike at the time who was involved in the second incident, pictured here as bike two. He new immediately what he had done wrong. He said, "I saw him go down and I knew I should look away but Iíve never seen a VTX flip like that. I couldn't take my eyes off of it and I just followed him into the rail." Fortunately there were no major injuries in either incident. 

Itís easy to say "look away," but itís not always easy to do. Itís instinct to keep your eyes on whatís threatening you. 

Target Fixation is in our nature, so as easy as it is, letís use it to our advantage. Once you see the hazard or threat, look where you want to be, a clear path and fixate on your escape route. Force yourself not to look at the hazard. If you practice this now, when no threat is eminent we can make it a habit or part of our instinct to avoid the threat when itís real.

Developing this technique into a reflex now, could make the difference between avoiding an accident or being in one. Remember, the motorcycle will obey the laws of physics and respond to you.

Until we ride againÖ

Additional information: 
Motorcycle Tips and Techniques  Lessons on Target Fixation