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Time, Space and Speed

Laura B

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In 1976 I figured I had the world by the tail once I discovered how to use Reference Points while riding and racing. That realization set me on the twisty road of rider-improvement discovery and began my maiden voyage of exploration into rider training. I began coaching students one-on-one, developing a curriculum that relied heavily on Reference Points and how to use them at tracks. I applied the data from that coaching and the Superbike School which was born in 1980 just after retiring from racing.

Prior to those coaching experiences, Reference Points (RPs) usually only meant having braking markers. Lines were a topic of discussion but no procedure existed on how to figure out a line, how to dissect one or how to stitch a track together with RPs. From experience gained at the schools and later, coaching several factory riders, I wrote more on how to find and use RPs. That info came out in the first A Twist of the Wrist book in 1984. Today we know much more about RPs and what kind of visual skills a rider needs to develop.

RPs assist us in defining the Space we’re in and the Speed we’re traveling through it. Accuracy with those elements relies heavily on having a minimum of three Reference Points (RPs).  

An accurate orientation in space begins with two external Reference Points. We find two points or objects or areas first and this then gives us a reckoning of our own location where we become the third point of orientation. Together, that creates an accurate tracking of the direction of our progress in relation to the other two.

With those three, our eyes begin to create 3D space, which in turn improves our perception of relative speed and direction of travel. Also, and importantly, our sense of time and timing switches on quite automatically. In short, RPs help us create perspective.

Finding and using Reference Points is quite natural and native to our survival: rarely do we walk into a closed door or bump against the furniture nor do we count how many steps it will take to walk across a room. RPs are automatically taken into account and coordinated.

Some riders have a hard time finding and using RPs. While their very survival has relied on that ability they still insist that it’s difficult. This peeked my interest to find out why they struggle with something they already do.     

In riding there are many barriers but only two freedoms: The freedom to change the speed and to change the direction of the bike. Without RPs it’s impossible to do them well.

Having the bike pointed where you want it to go is another ingrained-use we make of RPs. Whether conscious of it or not, we always have an intended destination, a location we are seeking to reach.

Arriving at a location simply refers to staying in your lane, missing a pothole, not running wide, picking your turn entry, finding a line, recognizing you are on a line at all or simply avoiding hitting a car. Accurately gauging when and how much to gas, brake and turn so we can arrive somewhere depends on having three RPs.

So why the difficulty? Accuracy and purpose both have something to do with it. Starting off with the idea to keep the bike on the road is a good goal; when it comes to cornering motorcycles it isn’t enough. Lining up for a corner right on the edge, in order to open the turn’s radius as wide as possible is correct thinking for most turns. Starting that turn 3 feet inside the edge defeats that purpose; especially on the road where 3 feet is 25% of the whole lane. Not accustomed to being that accurate, riders default to “safe in the middle of the road”.     

There are other visual and control weaknesses that can contribute to this common error. Not being adept at steering the bike can make any rider edge-shy. If they subscribe to so called ‘Body Steering’ they’ve experienced the bike lazily changing directions often enough to avoid being too close to the edge of their lane.  

RPs themselves have a viable range of application. Too close or too far away on the road’s surface are their chief parameters. Too far to one side or the other of your intended line can also create problems.

The how, when and where of using RPs is nicely wrapped up in the two dozen drills I’ve developed which can be coached by someone trained to recognize the rider errors resulting from not having sufficient RPs. That’s good news.

The bad news is we now run smack into every rider’s mortal enemy, that of Target Fixation. Target fixated is bad; it signals the onset of varying degrees of panic. The kicker is that the main reason we panic is because we’ve lost our other RPs. When target fixed we only have that one RP and we need two.

Drilling and coaching on correct visual techniques with simple and doable exercises heads off the classic visual faults humans seem stuck with. It seems impossible to eliminate target fixation, tunnel vision and over-active scanning. However, through understanding and drilling of what, where, how far ahead, how wide and even how long we should look at our RPs we can make deep inroads into the problems and find solutions to them.

At the schools we haven’t sat still on these problems. At this point in time, we’ve developed 64 visual exercises our coaching staff use regularly to help their students understand and to improve what you could easily say is the most important part of any rider’s skill portfolio.

© 2017 Keith Code. All rights reserved.

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  • 1 year later...

I struggled with the notion of fixed reference points. For me the nearest thing to a reference was best described as a dynamic vector. The line, speed, and terminal point. Of course in normal riding the terminal point continuously changes. Thus the vector is not fixed. But then again most of my riding is on the road, amongst traffic, livestock, and wildly variable surfaces, with many blind, closing radius corners. But it must be noted that I am visual kinetic in orientation and my sense of 3D space is more kinesic than visual. N

On the few occasions I rode on track, even the entry point of the corner could only be described as a variable zone, predicated on my progressive approach to the limits, and responses to the erratic behaviour of the bikes around me. Even in that context the rule of go for the gap applies. That gap is a moving box slightly wider than the bike+me, and about two metres deep ahead, and one behind. With a centre just below the bikes headstock.

Riding through corners gives me a sense of inertia tied to the vector, and the moving box and my input determines the orientation of the bike in relation to the vector. My eyes determine the horizon, and location of the gap. But being a experienced and frequent night rider on winding mountainous rural roads, cornering becomes an exercise in imagination, confidence, and road feel due to oncoming headlights [including those several corners away).  When blinded by headlights the best one can often do is to roughly mark the corner location, likely radius and distance, then ride the curve in ones head based on road feel. Turn in when it feels like the correct moment.  With luck the oncoming headlights then pass behind one as mets the apex so one can mark the corners exit. In this instance the reference points becomes fuzzy in extremis, and the vector ridin  becomes more about the vectors of the oncoming headlights, on the other side of the road.

As a young rider most of my cornering errors involved misreading road surfaces, and overthinking and over reacting to contradictions between what older riders pointed to as reference points and my own misapprehension of my sense of vector. Then I learned what might be described as flow towards the exit vector. And learned to sit on the bike even when traction evaporates, and to wait for the optimum moment to correct my vector error with just the correct amount of input, based on where the box progressively needed to be. Sometimes the gap one must seek is even behind one, or beyond a blind closing radius corner, in the space  not within ones immediate vision, with reference points and vectors that exist only in ones imagination. Choosing a vector ( speed and direction) that is correct is a process of visual and kinetic imagination.

Funny, one might say that I eventually learned the art of riding the bike, by learning about myself. However, I recently chose to stop riding because I could no longer hold the vector in my mind, and because due to illness I no longer feel the road and dynamic balance accurately despite over a million and a half kilometres of experience. Oddly my vision is better these days due to corrective surgery. I might might perhaps learn to use reference points  with my improved vision, but doing so involves putting aside most of the experiential knowledge that has kept me from m/c accidents over the past two decades. The habits of an entirely different perceptual model of riding. The point of this is that as a rider one must discover the perceptual modalities that shape ones experience, and skills, to advance those skills.. And one must be open and honest with oneself to recognise when one needs further instruction,  and also when to retire from riding when it is unwise to continue.

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