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This is a brief article on Target Fixation. Has Target Fixation snagged you before? How did you beat it and how did you train to avoid Target Fixation?
Everyone wants to experience pleasure without pain. It's one of our most basic instincts. For many of us, riding at speed through space fulfills part of that pleasure drive. Read Keith Code's explanation of target fixation , and how to avoid becoming target fixated. - Motorcyclist Magazine
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I practice target fixation avoidance on every ride. If there's debris in the road I will look to the right it left of it and that's exactly where I go. I try to train myself to look away from the object instead of directly at it.
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REAL Target Fixation has happened to me just once.
A van pulled out in front of my son (on the back) and I after dark at 50 (or so) mph and when I hit the air horn (I had my finger on it, traffic was heavy) he stopped so that all I saw (fixated on) was the driver side door.
It was so close I didn’t even consider braking, in fact, my first thought was to kill the driver by plowing straight into that door! I’ve often wondered if my son hadn’t been on the back if I might have done just that!
So this is what happened in the milliseconds before/during/after(?) my murderous thought:
I INCREASED the throttle slightly, leaned forward, raised my butt slightly to put weight on the floor boards (it was an ’81 Harley FLH) and I did this before I had a clue of what I would do next.
I suppose I should add here that I raced dirt bikes in cross country, enduro and hare scrambles for some 15 years and I’m sure my first reactions were nearly instinctual.
Increasing the throttle gives you increased suspension travel, critical for critical maneuvering. Chopping the throttle on the other hand sags your suspension.
Putting weight on the pegs puts your center of gravity lower also critical for critical maneuvering. Leaning forward gives you maximum leverage (control) of the handlebars.
The real key though is the near miracle of going from lethally fixated on that van door to the huge black night air in front of that van. It was like looking at the door to heaven!
As close as that van was I didn’t need to do a hard counter steering swerve (not that I could have anyway with a fully loaded Harley and my son on the back) It was close though, real close!
When we went by his front bumper I actually looked down and thought if I had gave a little wiggle to the bike I could have touched the bumper with the front crash bar (it was like an inch!) Believe me, this is not bragging! I am not the calm type! I went into a strange calm totally out of my character!
THE AIR HORN! No doubt, the air horn stopped that van that one inch sooner than a stock horn and saved us!
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After I had relived this experience in my mind later a strange thing happened. A new mental image developed.
This highway had a wide grassy flat median in the center. In fact there was an intersection across it where this van pulled out and was intending to go straight across in front of us into the median.
This new mental image was of car headlights bouncing around that grassy median as if a car had seen the accident coming and pulled off behind us.
Because this particular image came later I didn’t know if I should trust that it really happened or if it was my imagination.
I suppose it likely it happened.
The reason I bring this up…I have to wonder if those bouncing headlights in my peripheral vision snapped me out of my target fixation on that van door?
I’ve often wondered if some form of video game could program your mind to throw off target fixation? I know the term started with military pilots, it would seem they must have some cool videos in their training.
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Years ago I told this story to David Hough (Proficient Motorcycling) after one of his seminars. He said: “In a situation like that you do what you’ve always done”.
I don’t remember the conversation going much further and I’ve always assumed I made it out because of my dirt bike experience.
The Hurt study found that a significant number of riders apparently freeze and do nothing in accident cases where swerving out is the only option to escape serious injury.
I’ve often thought of going to an empty parking lot, marking off an area the size of a vehicle and see how close I can approach at speed and still swerve around it. I’m sure I would be surprised at how close and still safely swerve out.
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Nothing beats dirt experience.
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My 52 year old daughter had a very unusual brush/near miss with serious target fixation last Fall. I’ll be seeing her tonight to get any details she can remember, so don’t got away.
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I look forward to hearing about it.
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I talked to my daughter and came up with some new insights. I’m sure the process of writing this for the forum has made me think more critically.
My daughter and her boyfriend were riding together on a rural road after dark with no traffic.
My daughter was behind her boyfriend, she says at least two blocks, he says 1/4 mile, when an oncoming car swerved between them, steering at an angle directly in front of my daughter.
Like me she fixated on the car door but still managed to brake hard on both brakes. As the bike began to chug and near stall from the hard braking she down shifted, let up the brakes and counter steered hard, barely missing the rear of the still moving car.
She immediately pulled off the road very upset. The guy from the car (in his 20’s) who had pulled off to the road shoulder also comes running up all apologetic saying he thought the two bikes headlight’s was a car coming straight at him and starts explaining he has a vision depth perception problem at night sometimes.
They let him go as he seemed so sincere in his vision story and apology but it made no sense to me. I got troubled and suspicious.
What came to me this morning was the thought/image of the driver coming upon and passing the first bike and still continuing on to cut in front of my daughter. Unless the car driver froze somehow those actions look awful suspicious. Both bikes have front orange driving lights in the turn signals. Her boyfriend rides a 200? Aprilia and she rides a 2007 Kawasaki 650R.
My daughter has ridden dirt bikes since she could hold up a Honda Z50A and still rides a Yamaha 125 YZ occasionally, no doubt that helped her out of this one.
I always wear a reflective vest and recently bought a Schuberth day glo helmet. I’m not so sure this particular guy really had vision problems or was criminally insane but no doubt there are people out there with night vision problems.
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You know, I used to be quite skeptical about the "two bikes look like a car" at night but then I had something interesting happen.
I was in my car and it was quite late at night. I was at an intersection turning right. At some distance I could see a truck approaching from the left. I had plenty of space but something didn't look quite right so I paused as I realized the left headlight was actually a motorcycle approaching at speed. The motorcyclist was near perfectly covering up the left headlight of the truck causing the bike to be nearly invisible.
That experience stuck with me.
has driving lights low around his wheels which provide a 3D perspective that makes it easier for the human eye to judge the distance of your approaching bike. After years of resistance, I'm considering adding these driving lights to both bikes.
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