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The eyes have it!

Eyes UP: The secret to success

This may not be the first time you’ve heard the term – “Eyes UP!” Many people who have taken a basic or intermediate rider course probably heard it a few times from instructors during their field training. Some people don’t walk away retaining that knowledge. Where do you fall in here?

The concept – “Eyes UP!” specifically is about getting your eyes up looking ahead to where you want to go. Some recite the term “Look where you want to go, not where you’re going,” as a similar instance to the need for us to look well ahead while we’re operating a motorized vehicle in excess of 3 mph. 3 mph?

A little history

Eons before you were born, the human brain was designed to operate at a speed of three miles per hour – the average speed humans walk. In order to keep from stumbling over rocks, tree limbs, puddles and stepping in animal poop, we tend to look down. You think we’ve evolved since then? Nope. Ask yourself when the last time you saw someone using a cell phone while walking or driving. We have not evolved.

But motor vehicles travelling at higher rates of speed require us to look ahead so our brains can do the algebra required to determine the next move. If we don’t – BOOM!

As an example

I’ll use my 3-year-old grandson as an example of most humans. I bought him a Strider bike. He hopped on it and I told him to propel it to the front door knob 20 feet away. Immediately the eyes went down and BOOM! - right into the coffee table he crashed. His intuition was to insure he didn’t stumble over anything on the way there.

But a funny happens when you raise your eyes up. You can look ahead and see any obstacles in advance and run the calculations of when to avoid them. The algebraic brainpower kicks in and you know how to avoid these things as they come into your riding zone. You may no longer see them, but you will avoid them, and you will be amazed. And your brain loves this ability and soon you will, too.

Pretty soon you might end up like my grandson. A little more confident, not crashing into things, not dropping your bike and repeating to yourself, in a happy way – “Eyes UP!”

How it works

Because peripheral vision is what it is, you will see obstacles out of the sides or the bottom of your eyes, while still holding a focus on what’s ahead – like a door knob or a semi. It’s amazing what you’ll see when your eyes are up. Deer, tree falls, signs, police, bears, cafes, pedestrians, elk, bicyclists, crazy drivers, doughnut shops. It’s all there. If you’ve been missing these things and others as you ride, it’s time to get started practicing.

Practicing new concepts is what makes us better riders. If all we do is go over here and over there and don’t move our riding up to a higher level, we’re simply closer to becoming a statistic.

The concept we want to practice is the “vanishing point,” which is more important than braking technique, throttle control, cornering speed, or knowing how to accelerate out of a turn.

The vanishing point is the beginning of all the algebraic calculations you must make from one point to the next. With your eyes focused on the horizon line of the road – the furthest point out on the road you can see, your eyes know what’s going on ahead as far as they can see. And by knowing that, they can help your brain calculate your next reaction. Throttle, brake, slow, glide, turn, fast and so on. If your eyes are not focused ahead, these calculations can’t be done smoothly over a longer period of time and occur rather abruptly over a short period of time. That’s when many riders crash a bike.

To put it another way… The average car driver burns through a set of brakes every 30,000 miles. Sound like you? After a while that gets expensive. But, if you used the vanishing point technique of looking ahead to where the road ends, your reactions occur sooner and smoother. You could get 60k, 90k and possibly even 120k between brake jobs. That’s a huge savings! And you’ll be a much better driver for it.

Where could we go to practice this technique? A lone twisty road comes to mind. But have you noticed how many drivers in traffic operate their vehicles so close to the one in front of them that they are basically asking for trouble? You can spread out anywhere you want. In traffic, on a lone road, the freeway or otherwise and look for that horizon line. Of course, like the instructor said, it’s a good idea to keep scanning all around you for potential negative situations, but with your eyes up, all the sudden scanning becomes a lot simpler.

Try this

Try this out right now. Look down at your computer keyboard, tablet or mobile phone and get an idea of how little is actually in your vision. Count how many objects you can see. Then raise your eyes up, looking straight across the room or place where you are and notice how much more you can see. Without moving your eyes off that horizontal viewpoint, look at all the things you can see. Did you notice that includes just about everything you could see when you were looking down? Plus the pictures on the walls, the blinds on the left, the refrigerator on the right.

And that was your at-home practice. Now go for a motorcycle ride and look at your speedometer or the center line, then focus far ahead. You still see your speedometer, the center line, plus the garbage truck, ambulance, j-walker, red light, fire truck, Whole Foods, dog, Uber driver, and more.

This should be the beginning of every positive motorcycle experience you will have from here on out. If not, then perhaps it’s BOOM for you. But I hope not.

Patrick Thomas/March 2018

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