Given average ability, you can ride bikes for a long time – for years – and still have the feeling you don’t quite get it. You can do track-days, refresher courses, race schools:  you can improve the technical side of your riding, yet remain miles off your true capability.

What does natural ability really mean? Simple. It means you have enhanced visual processing skills. It’s much easier to pass a couple of riders on the brakes if relatively you have more time to do it in – the result of processing complex spatial information more efficiently than the competition. Rapidly changing events become manageable. The gifted don’t even have to think about it, because they’re wired up naturally, courtesy of top notch visual processing, a by-product of which is superb hand eye co-ordination. The truly gifted  always seem to have that little bit more time in which to operate – on the cricket pitch, the football field or at the track. Then there’s the rest of us…

However, as noted in the first two parts of Visionaire, average riders can improve their own visual processing skills to considerable effect. Our own research highlighted the need for regular eye testing for riders, and proposed a strategy for dealing with eye dominance by adjusting head position when cornering. And the new world of sports vision training takes what you have, and enhances your response .

But is there another approach to achieving potential? It seems there is, and it’s all about adjusting the rhythm of your own riding to eek out those extra fractions crucial to both safety and performance. It’s more a psychological technique, a mindset, which compliments the Visionaire approach. It’s best described by Dave, a rider of some seven years, who surprised me at a local bike meet by claiming he’d only just learned how to ride properly, despite doing track days, schools and training.

This is what he had to say:

” Basically, as soon as things hotted up pace wise, I was always fighting everything: the bike, other riders, and sometimes other road users. I wasn’t smooth, and too obviously in a hurry: ultimately I was fighting myself. When I did my access course, my instructor said that I looked more involved when I was wound up. He may well have been right, but I interpreted this to mean that adrenalin rushes were required to make me fast. What he should have added, or what I should have deduced, was that there was another way. It has taken me years, literally, to figure out what the alternative was, and learn how to apply it. If you are an average rider like me, the easy solution is to use a bit of red mist to engage you with the process of going faster, when in reality the right answer is almost the complete opposite of that.

What you need to do is link up your progress, and in order to do that you almost need to slow down. You need to be in the zone but relaxed with it. You need to feel that pace is natural, not forced by means of aggression. And you find pace by smoothness, by discovering how much more time there is without actually going slower. It’s like you are slowing down real time. My technique is to constantly monitor line and vanishing point: by continuously reading ahead you create that bubble of time. I suppose I had a growing awareness of this feeling, but it all came together one evening, at dusk, so conditions weren’t perfect. But it just didn’t matter. Quite suddenly, time was on my side, and because of that smoothness and unity with the bike was there. I could ride properly. Despite conditions, I know I was faster and safer on that stretch than I’d ever been before.

It’s still easy to slip back into the wrong mindset. The minute you feel it’s all happening too quickly, means you are on the edge of loss of control. Back off, find that rhythm. Overtaking another bike should be a matter of clinical dispatch, not some testosterone fuelled aggro fest. Bide your time and suddenly it’s on your side, which is exactly where you want it.”

I don’t know what you make of this, but for me it has the ring of truth. Joined up riding makes a lot of sense. What we actually have here is Visionaire by other means:  if sports vision is essentially about the organisation of space to gain time via an optical approach, then Dave’s method is about exactly the same end achieved by different means. Vision is still the bottom line, but Dave is using cognitive planning to eke out those precious milliseconds.

The process of locating the right head space can start before you even get on the bike. Consider Rossi’s pre-race ritual , squatting down with one hand on the foot-peg. He is taking a moment to clear out the garbage, “moving from one space into another” . Which is almost a Zen thing, albeit mediated by image concious savvy.  Admittedly, hunkering down in a petrol station forecourt or outside the local library would look ridiculous, but there are less attention grabbing ways of getting in the zone. What matters is finding a few moments of calm, the right state of mind.

Optimise your sight and re-calibrate your head. Sounds like plan…

2 thoughts on “HEADFIRST”

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