YOUR VI­SION & RID­ING

Blink at 120mph and you’ve just trav­elled 70ft with your eyes shut, but what to do, eh?

Fast Bikes - - MASTERCLASS -

Ig­nor­ing the ba­sic visual skills a mo­tor­cy­cle rider needs can lead to many com­mon faults. These skills can pretty much be summed up as: you go where you look and look where you want to go.

Once the con­tin­u­ous, un­bro­ken flow of in­for­ma­tion about the road ahead com­ing through the eyes is frac­tured by some visual hic­cup, rid­ers ex­pe­ri­ence an al­tered and warped sense of time, their lo­ca­tion in space, and their speed. Over­ac­tive scan­ning, tar­get fix­a­tion, and tun­nel vi­sion are the three ma­jor causes of a world of com­mon er­rors and prob­lems. But there are other fac­tors to con­sider, and one of them hap­pens so fast that if you blink you’ll miss it.

Blink­ing is nec­es­sary to lu­bri­cate and clear the eyes, but a quick cal­cu­la­tion of an av­er­age blink re­veals what’s missed in that in­stant when your eyes are closed. The av­er­age eye blink lasts 300 to 400 mil­lisec­onds (0.3 to 0.4 se­cond), not a prob­lem when you’re sit­ting watch­ing TV. But when you blink while rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle, sim­ple math shows you what you’re miss­ing out on: at 60mph you’re trav­el­ling 88ft per se­cond, mean­ing each blink blanks out 35ft. But it gets worse.

Blink­ing is con­nected to one of the more fas­ci­nat­ing func­tions of the brain, one that can be dan­ger­ous for a rider at speed or one deal­ing with heavy or con­stantly shift­ing traf­fic. That’s be­cause not only does the phys­i­cal blink take time, but there’s also a phe­nom­e­non called mask­ing, dur­ing which your vi­sion is shut off briefly by the drop­ping of an in­ter­nal brain­blan­ket over what’s in front of you. Not only are you blind dur­ing the mo­ment your eye­lid is shut, but your visual con­trol cen­tre can also mask vi­sion just be­fore the blink be­gins and keep do­ing it for a short time after your eye­lid is fully re­opened. The whole process can take half a se­cond or longer, 44ft at 60mph.

What hap­pens dur­ing that half se­cond and in those 44ft can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween rid­ing in a con­trolled and con­fi­dent man­ner and hav­ing a con­trol-panic at­tack and grab­bing the front brake or lock­ing up the rear be­cause you missed the car’s brake lights flash­ing on. In rac­ing, top speeds of 180mph are com­mon at many tracks; 180mph equals 264ft per se­cond or 132ft of blinked-out space in that same half se­cond. You could ar­gue that blink­ing as you ap­proach that brake marker at the end of the straight could be a hid­den rea­son for brak­ing er­rors.

What’s the pur­pose of mask­ing? Re­search sug­gests that it helps sup­press the per­cep­tion of visual dis­place­ment, mean­ing you don’t no­tice that things have moved dur­ing your blinks pro­vided they haven’t moved any great dis­tance. But when you’re rid­ing, you re­ally do want to know if things have moved, even a lit­tle, in case you need to re­spond to, for ex­am­ple, the tiny ini­tial change of di­rec­tion that fore­shad­ows a car swerv­ing into your lane.

One study noted that an av­er­age of 17 blinks per minute across all age groups in­creases to 26 dur­ing con­ver­sa­tion; nearly half of that minute is blanked out. Although you can’t stop blink­ing al­to­gether, you might try string­ing to­gether two or three blinks in rapid suc­ces­sion on a hot, dry day in ur­ban traf­fic, or on that fun and twisty sec­tion of road, or any­where you have the po­ten­tial of a life-and-death rid­ing sit­u­a­tion. In any case, don’t blink too much – you might miss some­thing.

Blink­ing, as the front starts to rise, like here, is not ad­vis­able!

May I sug­gest some match­sticks, sir?.

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