Now that I have your attention, I am not going to regale you with a tale of some daring -- but not well-thought-out -- act that resulted in disaster. Nor, am I going to tell you that I have suddenly taken up stunt riding on my humble Ninja.
No, instead, I am going to direct our attention to a Motorcycle Safety Foundation [MSF] webpage that gives all of us something to think about when looking through the face shields of our helmets. Specifically, how we examine the world around us, searching for information on what is coming up, especially related to handling that next curve or potential hazard as we approach.
Even though we are instructed to scan our full field of view when riding, there are times when we tend to stare at some point ahead.
Click on the pattern below.
You will see the rotating pattern on the MSF webpage. There is a center green flashing dot and three yellow dots around the center one.
Now, stare at the center dot.
See the yellow dots winking out and back on occasionally?
That's in your head, not on the screen!
Don't believe it?
Look at the screen again, but this time make it a point to scan your eyes over the entire page, but still pay attention to the three surrounding yellow dots.
Now they are visible all the time. Neat, huh?
Try this, too: Blink more frequently than normal while looking at the page.
That keeps the yellow dots in view as well. Neat, again.
What is happening here? It is similar to an effect called Troxler's fading, discovered in 1804 by Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler, and which is part of the general principle in sensory systems that an unvarying stimulus soon disappears from our awareness. For example, if a small piece of paper is dropped on the inside of one's forearm, it is felt for a few seconds, then the sensation seems no longer to be present. Same thing with vision.
So, what does this have to do with motorcycle riding (and airplane piloting, and car driving, and a bunch of other things)?
This so called lack-of-motion-induced blindness can cause us to miss things that are in plain sight, such as potential hazards. That car about to pull out in front of us, the deer waiting to leap across the road, a pothole or patch of gravel or ice, and so on and on.
The following is paraphrased from various on-line sources:
Pilots are taught to scan the horizon for a short distance, stop momentarily, and repeat the process. This is the most effective technique to locate other aircraft. It is emphasized to not fix one's gaze for more than a couple of seconds on any single object or position.
Keep your eyes moving and your head on a swivel.
The most dangerous target is the one that has NO apparent motion. This is the one you will hit without evasive action.
Well, that is pretty good advice, and surprising to most of us.
Next time you're out on your bike, remember old Mr. Troxler.
Here are some other places to look for visual phenomenon:
- Troxler effect, Wikipedia
- A collection of optical illusions & visual phenomena, Professor Michael Bach PhD, Ophthalmology, University of Freiburg, Germany.
- MSF Rider Perception Tests