Life on bikes

Deal with target fixation and you’ll make your cornering quicker

Once you realise the exit point is one of the most important parts of the corner, focussing on it unlocks a whole world of progressive speed. Target fixation breaks that focus, so deal with it and you’ll naturally start to corner more quickly and far more safely. 

One of the hardest things to drive out of your riding is target fixation, where you become so fixated on a course of action, normally avoiding a hazard, that you fix your gaze and therefore direction on that object and promptly headbutt straight into it.

This doesn’t just happen in accidents. You might have seen a large, but perfectly avoidable pothole in the middle of a nice straight and wide road, thought, ‘Shit, massive pothole,’ and ridden straight over it.

We all are prone and I’m writing this because, on my last ride out, it found its way into my ride. And it slowed me down, significantly.

Target fixation isn’t just about seeing a danger and heading straight for it. It’s also about focussing on a particular subject, say another road user, and using that object to dictate your ride.

On the occasion in question, I was in a progressive group ride being led by our very own Jock McJock.

He’d come up with a great route through Kent, Sussex and Surrey and, as often happens, Jock and myself found ourselves ahead of the rest of the group and when this happens we tend to step on a bit.

Despite a similar number of years riding, Jock has covered way more miles, spent way more time on track and is way more knowledgeable about tyres (he tests them on behalf of manufacturers sometimes). He also knows his suspension set up and pretty much anything to do with riding a bike at progressive speed. He can wipe the floor with my R1 even when he’s on a GS.

But normally I do a fair job of keeping up, even shooing him on occasionally for shits and giggles. Not this time.

As we sat down for a mid-ride lunch he was surprised that I’d fallen back a few times when he wasn’t expecting it.

The reason? I was watching him ride instead of reading the road ahead of him – road that I would be heading into seconds later.

Time and time again I found myself in the wrong position coming into the corner or thinking that I was going to need to stand the bike up.

Time and time again I found myself wondering how he had got round a corner so quickly and stably when I couldn’t trust myself to do the same.

It took me a few miles of beautiful, but now wasted, curvy bits to realise what was happening. He was a target and I was fixating on his ride, not mine.

As soon as I got back to focussing on my ride, not his, I was able to get back to the cornering speeds, both safe and progressive, that I would normally be capable of.

To go quickly, you need to look and ride to the exit point of the corner. Once back in my own ride, that’s exactly what I did and from that moment on it was game on again.

second rider is looking at the next corner, not the rider in fron
Lesson from the track: Notice how the second rider is looking at the next corner, not the rider in front. His bike and body position indicate that he’s going to be a lot faster through it. Image: Flickr – Octanephotos.co.uk

Jock knew exactly what I was talking about. “I tend to give a little bit of extra space to allow their engine braking or fear factor to creep backwards into my safe space.

“It also allows me to focus past them and into the exit area once I’m happy with my entry into the corner. I use my peripheral vision to watch them for clues into the corner, for the ‘to and fro’ of the space we’re using, but apart from that I genuinely ignore the rider in front.”

How to overcome target fixation

There are few secrets to cornering quickly. The best advice you’ll ever receive is to look to the point where you want the bike to go – the famous, “Where you look, you’ll go.”

This means literally pointing your helmet at the corner’s exit point. Try it. It absolutely works.

When you look at something else, such as the rider in front, a telegraph pole or a manhole to fixate on, you are not setting your body’s or the bike’s position up for following the corner.

When you lean your helmet towards the exit point, your body naturally follows and there a subtle alteration in the bike’s balance.

You are setting the bike to head towards the object you’re looking at. Hence, while Jock was taking the right line each time, my focal point was leading me towards the area he was currently riding in and not to the point I need to ride to. They are not the same thing.

Reading the corner properly

To deal with the corner properly you first need to scan it, from distance, taking in direct information such as the length of the corner, the entry and apex points and where the exit isn’t fully visable, clues about the final exit point and any dangers, such as the corner unexpectedly closing up (a decreasing radius).

Road signs, hedges and telegraph poles are all part of the corner’s code. But to avoid introducing the bike to any of these items intimately, once you’ve taken in their intel, you should, as quickly as possible, move on to focus on the single biggest clue as to how quickly the corner can be safely navigated: the exit point.

Unless you’re going at warp speed, you’ll still be scanning the whole of the corner as you enter and negotiate through it, but the focus must be on the exit point.

My mistake had been to look at Jock for clues. Despite him being one of the best riders I’ve ever ridden with, he is pretty much the last thing to turn to for information from a corner.

He is riding his ride and you need to ride your own. You obviously need to include the rider in front as part of your scanning, especially if he or she presents you with a danger, caused either by their own riding or another factor.

But, to navigate the corner quickly and safely, you need to build your own route through the corner and forget about theirs.

It’s not always easy to do, but what sets better/faster riders apart from the people who can’t seem to evaluate a corner properly, is their ability to read the corner correctly and set both themselves and the bike up for it.

1: Set your speed for throttle control

This is road riding, not the track, so we don’t need to deal here with shifting weight onto the front tyre etc.

When you enter the corner you should be done with your braking and have a nice light grip of the throttle, which you’ll balance for maximum control ready to roll the power on as you leave the apex and head towards the exit. Obviously, you need to match the gear to your speed and it depends on the type of bike you’re riding, but Jock reckons on 2nd for hard riding and 3rd if you’re being less aggressive.

2: Use countersteering

This is a whole other subject, which we’ll let the video below cover. If you aren’t consciously using countersteering already, invest the time in learning it as it’s one of the most effective ways to master quick, controlled steering.

3: Look with the whole of your head

Don’t just use your eye. Turn your whole head into the corner. Your shoulders will follow and your body will subtlely tell the bike where to go, with the weight starting to lean into the corner. This also helps counteract any tendency you may have to counterlean when you are feeling unsafe.

4: Enter on the outside line of the corner

If you buy the principle that focussing on the exit helps you reach it quicker, then you’ll understand that it helps if you can see the exit as soon as possible.

By entering the corner on its outside line – so to go left you stay to the right of the corner, by the centre line, and to go right, you enter at the verge side – you get the earliest opportunity to see around the corner. This is a key technique taught by the police on BikeSafe courses and by the IAM on Advanced Riding courses.

5: Scan throughout, but focus on the exit

Your peripheral vision will be working on looking out for previously unseen danger so let it do just that. The focal point of your concentration needs to be where you are going, not where you are at.

And if you haven’t scanned the road well enough?

There can’t be a rider alive who hasn’t found themselves entering a corner and then noticed something they weren’t happy then promptly stood the bike up and pretty much come to a standstill mid-corner.

Leaving aside the fact you should have spotted it some time back, simply put your focal point back where it should be, on the corner’s exit. There will be very few serious dangers in the middle of a corner – if there were they would cause many accidents, so they tend not to exist. Recent roadkill excepted, of course.

Jock says he rides with a mindset that the worst is around the corner so when it rarely is, he’s already part way through the process of dealing with it, rather than it being a surprise and only then reacting to it. So far though he hasn’t come across the alien landing he almost wants to crash into…

Helmet and eyes to the exit, and the bike will follow. The minor alteration to the road’s surface will be dealt with by the bike’s momentum. It’s a hard thing to do, especially when the panic sets in.

But when you start to focus on the exit point as your standard way of negotiating corners, you’ll be panicking far, far less in the first place.

Get yourself sorted:

Remove target fixation as a fear in your riding by focussing on the exit, then move on to the other aspects of the corner, the entry point and apex, which we’ll cover in other articles.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns four bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'02 Suzuki SV650s
'09 Yamaha R1

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.