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Thread: Seeing is Riding!

  1. #1
    Super Moderator Old Fox's Avatar
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    Default Seeing is Riding!

    Seeing is Riding

    Motorcycling is primarily about motion. And to predictably control motion, we need vision the most. What follows below is an attempt to explain how we ‘see’ while we ride and also ways to improve our ‘seeing’. Apart from my own two decade long riding ‘innings’, I have had the good fortune of having an Aviation Medicine specialist for a good friend. A lot of what I have put out here came from our long talks, with me looking for parallels between flying and motorcycling and he bemusedly helping me along.

    Seeing is Riding!!

    Situational awareness is the key to safe and enjoyable motorcycling. And situational awareness is all about eyesight. All top athletes and performers in motorsports have exceptional visual acuity, i.e. great eyesight coupled with exceptionally fast assimilation ability. As a small comparison between the top performers and us mortals, there is a visual ability test in which the subject sits in a darkened projection room and a series of numbers are projected on the screen in front. The numbers are flashed on the screen for a short duration and the subject has to tell the first and the last digits of the number shown. The catch is that as the number of digits is increased, the time duration for which it is flashed gets reduced. So it gets progressively more difficult to catch the first and last digits. A few of the better ones amongst us might manage upto a maximum of 8 digit numbers. But gifted riders like Rossi and Doohan could probably go upto 17 or 18 digits without breaking a sweat.

    MAINTAINING VISUAL ACUITY IN AN ENVIRONMENT AS DYNAMIC AND SPONTANEOUS AS MOTORCYCLING REQUIRES MORE THAN MERE 20/20 VISION. The brain is the actual processor for our vision. The eyes are just the cameras that take in a picture and send it to the brain for processing (i.e. squeezing all the relevant and useful information out of it - like the mathematical details of her curves under that tight dress or the slippery gravel on the inside of the turn you’re taking at 70.) The brain resolves the image, processes it, analyses it with respect to our knowledge, skill and intentions and sends out the relevant motor inputs that either make you look at her a little longer by turning your head as you pass by or make you counter-steer out of the lean and brake hard to avoid skidding on the gravel.

    A relatively less known aspect of vision relates to the ‘Dominant Eye’ principle. Of both our eyes, one sends the visual signal a few milli-seconds faster to the brain than the other. And in the process also guides the other ‘recessive’ eye as to where to look and what to focus on. And if your dominant eye happens to be on the same side as your dominant hand, then you have a natural advantage in hand-eye co-ordination. To check which eye is the ‘dominant’ one, overlap both hands with your arms extended in front of your face and leave a small hole, about an inch across, between the hands by sliding them apart. Look at a distant object through this hole with both eyes open. Now, without moving either your head or hands, close one eye at a time. The eye with which you can look at the object, i.e. the eye that lines up the object with the hole, is the dominant eye.

    While riding, we use two different abilities of our eyes to give us situational awareness. One has to do with focusing on an area of interest and is called ‘Fixation’. The other is the familiar ‘Peripheral vision’. The human eye has a surprisingly narrow field of ‘focused’ vision. Barely 3 degrees of the arc. Hard to believe but think of how your eyeballs have to move across even a sheet of paper as you read. The whole page cannot be focused on simultaneously. To give you an idea of how much 3 degrees would span of the actual world, hold your thumb pointing vertical at an arm’s length. Its width is the approximate area that is in sharp focus. The narrow focus allows for the brain to ‘resolve’ the scene better. To get a seamless real-time picture of what surrounds us, the eye ‘tracks’ the environment. ‘Tracking’ happens when the eye follows a moving object. But here again, smooth tracking or visual pursuit is pretty slow, not more than 70 degrees a second (which in real terms is as fast as a person walking past a few feet away.) Any faster and the brain would not be able to produce a 3D stereoscopic image that gives us depth perception. Improve this tracking by making a friend move a pencil or a pen from left to right (or vice-versa) about 3-4 feet in front of your face and follow the movement just with your eyes, without moving your head.

    But to follow faster moving targets or to look where you’re going while moving fast, as in motorcycling or any other dynamic sport, the eye ‘saccades’. Saccadic eye movement is a very rapid re-positioning of the eyes from one ‘fixation’ to the next. This movement can exceed even 700 degrees a second. The issue for us motorcyclists lies in these ‘saccades’. While the eye saccades from one fixation to the next, the intervening eye-ball movement creates a blurred image on the retina. This blur is of no use to the brain as nothing can be resolved from it. So the brain blanks it out of our awareness. Technically, that’s ‘saccadic suppression’. We get the impression that we were not momentarily blind while our eyeballs were moving but in fact we are. (Check this out by looking at your image in a mirror from one side to the other. You will never see your eye-balls moving while a friend watching you will do so.) Trouble is that this ‘saccadic suppression’ begins just before the actual saccade. And a rider saccading between the road and the tachometer will not see anything that happens in-between as the eyes are ‘switched off’ between ‘fixations’. The way out? Bring the mind into the picture. Visual prediction, based on past experience, present alertness and future projection takes the rider ahead in time, helping him predict the possible outcome. He has to be in the ‘groove’ while riding, observing, analyzing, evaluating and predicting all that goes on around him. Visualize the route you shall take before you begin the ride. Imagine yourself moving firmly and resolutely through traffic, adding situations from your familiarity with the route and past riding experiences. The brain gets kick-started into the ride by the time you kick-start your bike. And it begins working on the ‘predicting’ just as you slide the Bike into first gear. Some even call it the ‘sixth sense’ while in fact, it is the optimized use of one of the five senses, the sight.

    Peripheral vision is familiar to most. Check your out. Extend both arms along your sides, parallel to the ground, and keep those thumbs vertical. Looking straight ahead, without moving the head or the eyes, slowly start moving the hands in front together. The thumbs will creep into your awareness when the hands have moved some 6 inches or so. These mark the outer boundaries of your peripheral vision. Though the eyes lack colour sensitivity in the peripheral, but they more than make up for it by being super sensitive to movement and luminosity changes. The peripheral vision helps the motorcyclist monitor his immediate surroundings for movement without having to shift focus from a high threat area he is looking at. Improve your peripheral vision with a simple exercise. Sit in your room and while looking straight ahead without moving either your head or eyes, start making a mental list of all that you can see apart from straight ahead. Cross check by looking around. Do this in strange surroundings. Your list grows in length as your peripheral vision improves.
    Adding another dimension to our visual ability is Dynamic Visual Acuity (DVA). Simply explained, it deals with how quickly the eye focuses between up-close and distant objects. And while the eye is switching from short focus to long or vice-versa, the saccading blanks out the vision. An impression of visual continuity is maintained as the brain keeps the last ‘focussed’ image on screen, while it waits for a new updated one . DVA is critical to good riding ability. If your eye takes long to focus when switching between the instrument panel and the horizon, then you are effectively riding blind while your eyes refocus. To improve this ability, extend your arm in front with the thumb vertical. Now focus on the thumb till you see a sharp image. Then quickly shift focus to a distant object, say a picture on the wall or even a far off building. Let its image become sharp and again get back to the thumb. Keep flicking rapidly between focused thumb and focused building/picture, willing yourself to be quicker and quicker at focusing. And feel the difference in your riding with a few days of practice.

    Complicating the issue further is the ‘blinking’. We all blink our eyes, primarily to lubricate them and wipe them clean. Each blink shuts the eye for 1/3rd to 1/4th of a second. And about 8-10 times a minute. Imagine riding at 70 kph down a moderately trafficked road. You’re doing about 64 ft/sec. With every blink, you ride blind for almost 15 ft. Add to this the DVA time and you begin to get the drift. Say, the blink and the saccade happen back to back. At 70 kph, you are blind-riding for almost 30 ft. What would happen if a d*g dashed in meanwhile? The Bl*&%$ d*g came out of nowhere right in front of my bike. Didn’t even have time to brake or swerve. Oops!

    Not much you can do about the eye’s physiological limitations (including the blinking) but there is much you can do by staying alert and focused on the ride and also by practicing to make your eyes look sharper and quicker.

    Ride long and safe...
    Old Fox

    Read this on Hard Torque
    Last edited by Old Fox; 11-05-2008 at 05:28 PM.

  2. #2
    MotoGrapher Sunny's Avatar
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    Hard Torque Approved

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    @Old Fox: Very very well written article which gives the information about 'seeing' through the eyes perfectly. Thanks for penning (or rather typing) it down.
    ...in search of that perfect world - My Travel Blog :)

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    Rusted L.P.'s Avatar
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    The Article you wrote above is just fantastic.. it includes somethings that happens on the road,it includes things that we should even think and take care of..

    I still remember what you told me the time we were returning from the dirt pratice..and trust me bhiya..i still try to implement it.. on road..
    Seeing is RIDING..
    Key Point: Maintain Visual on the road.. Right..??
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    This is amazing stuff. Not just the information but putting across the information so brilliantly man. Kick @$$ stuff old fox. i did have a hard time doing those tests to see which is my dominant eye . Am sure vision is one of the more important aspects of motogp and am guessing how deep other aspects wud be

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    Blinking and refocusing, or blinking while refocusing has taken a toll on me once. I assumed that the lag in refocus is becoz of my glasses/power.
    After that I kept saying to myself, that I wont blink while refocusing.

    Now I got to know the technicalities, the real cause and measures to overcome it. Thanks OF
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    Super Moderator Old Fox's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for your appreciation.

    LP: you got it right.

    Nirvana: yes, vision is THE most important element in all dynamic sports. And motorcycling is as dynamic as it gets.

    Quote Originally Posted by prabhubravo View Post
    Blinking and refocusing, or blinking while refocusing has taken a toll on me once. I assumed that the lag in refocus is becoz of my glasses/power.
    After that I kept saying to myself, that I wont blink while refocusing.

    Now I got to know the technicalities, the real cause and measures to overcome it. Thanks OF
    The confusion is natural. We usually limit our perception of 'seeing' just to our eyes whereas we actually 'see' with the brain. And the brain can be trained to compensate for the optical deficiencies of the 'seeing' cameras.

    Try one little exercise to improve your re-focus time. Stretch your hand at an arms length and raise your forefinger straight up. Now look at the finger and as soon as it gets in sharp focus, flick your vision to an object far behind it. As soon as this object far behind gets into sharp focus, shift your vision again to your outstretched hand's finger. Do this repeatedly, as fast as you can, taking care to actually allow your eyes to focus on each object before shifting to the other. In time, you will feel a definite improvement in your power of visual acuity and assimilation.

    Meanwhile....ride long and safe...
    OF
    I don't let my motorcycles interfere with my motorcycling...

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    A very informative article over there OF sir.

    Focus on the road with a vision of surrounding needs to be practised

    If only everyone applies it in real world many accidents and deaths can be avoided.

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    I think you'd posted this article on the pre crash xbhp. It was brilliant and greatly improved my riding skills!

    Awareness = safety!

    Thanks once again for the repost!

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    I was tested for something called "field test" for eye vision.and I passed it! .
    that is ,While you look straight ,still you may be able to see LHS and RHS side without the eye moving to either of the sides.
    They Plot a graph in Hospital.It is good.
    Last edited by prakash_mvpa; 11-12-2008 at 08:40 PM.

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