Target Fixation: Look Where You Want to Go Because That’s Where You’re Going

written by David Mixson

Studies have shown (and I’ve proven it to myself with experiments) that your motorcycle goes where you’re looking. It’s kind of freaky how this works, but it does. 

The phenomenon is called target fixation. Understanding it can help you avoid a crash if you know how to use it. It can also kill you if you fall victim to its energy. See the videos below.

The key point here is to look where you want to go. Sometimes, this is easy. Other times, it takes extreme focus to make yourself look away from an approaching hazard. Your eyes will naturally fixate on the car sliding out of control toward you, the huge pothole 20 yards ahead, or the rabbit that decided to stop in the middle of your lane. 

When you see a hazard, pick a spot that misses it and look that way. If a car is coming toward you, pick a path that misses it and look in that direction. Then, use countersteering to make your motorcycle follow your eyes. 

This sounds so simple, but it can be so difficult. 

Try It for Yourself

When riding with no traffic or hazards, pick a spot in the road ahead and look at it. Notice how your motorcycle hits the spot. It’s amazing. Your body naturally steers the motorcycle in the direction you’re looking. 

Now you know why rider coaches tell us to LOOK DEEP INTO TURNS when riding around curves. See Figure 1 (below).

Figure 1

(Look Deep Into Curve)

Understanding target fixation is important because the last thing you want to do when you’re trying to dodge something is to look at it. 

Real Crashes Captured on Video

In the videos below, it’s difficult to know for sure what happened. But falling victim to target fixation is a likely scenario. In any case, the riders ventured off track and went where they didn’t want to go—most likely in the exact direction they were looking.

None of the riders were seriously injured, but these videos (especially the third one) might be uncomfortable for some to watch. They show the powers of target fixation and serve as a good lesson in what can happen when you’re looking where you don’t want to go, so I’ve included them.

Note: Keep watching past the initial crash scene. Ken shows each one in slow motion part-way through each video. Those are really interesting.

Target Fixation: Illustration One

In the video below, the rider ran off the road into an embankment. I’m guessing he went exactly where his eyes were looking. The rider appeared to be riding with plenty of margin—and could have easily avoided this crash by pushing on his inside handlebar and using countersteering to tighten his turn.

Target Fixation: Illustration Two

In the video below, the rider ventured off the side of the road and ran into the back of a parked car. The rider appeared to be riding with plenty of margin. He could have easily avoided this crash by pushing on his inside handlebar and using countersteering to tighten his turn.

Target Fixation: Illustration Three

In this video, the only explanation I can come up with for this crash is that the rider fell victim to target fixation. This video is only available directly on YouTube. You can watch it here.

The lesson of target fixation is simple—and should be used to our advantage.

NOTE: I’ve never (knowingly) watched a video on YouTube that shows a rider being seriously injured or killed. That does me no good, and I think it’s disrespectful to the rider and their family. But YouTube can be a great tool if used properly—because there’s usually a lesson buried in every motorcycle crash.

* A portion of this article is an excerpt from my book Motorcycle Smarts.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about the topics other motorcycle books gloss over. He worked as a NASA engineer for over thirty years and is the author of three books.

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