Part one of a bg investigation into the most important maintenance of all: improving vision. Plus the opportunity to get yourself on an exclusive training programme to maximise what you have… Free. (forward to Part Two )
People spend considerable sums of money on improving the experience of riding: they want to be faster, safer, more confident, generally as good as is reasonably attainable. The machine, the kit, the courses and the track days: we never stop trying to better the package, because the reward outweighs the investment. At least, that’s the theory.
But is there something more basic that’s been overlooked in the quest for rider fulfilment? Perhaps literally so: vision is the bottom line when it comes to riding a motorcycle. We’re not just talking about regular visits to the optician – by which we mean kosher, ophthalmic opticians here, not some bored assistant at the local pharmacy eye ware counter: all of us who ride – particularly if you fall into the rapidly expanding demographic of middle aged motorcyclists – should regard bi-annual sight tests as a necessary part of motorcycle maintenance, like checking valve clearances. That single step alone could yield a pay off considerably in excess of outlay: but there’s more.
Recent research suggests that even riders with near perfect eyesight – the fabled 20/20 vision – could massively improve their performance by adapting visual response. This is the province of high performance sports vision, an area of training currently being taken very seriously indeed by top class athletes, and the doyenne of sports vision training is Dr. Sherylle Calder. Her CV includes work with cup winning rugby union teams, the Australian cricket team, numerous hockey teams, skiing, and – unsurprisingly – elite performers in target sports.
Almost single handedly, Dr. Calder paved the way for a completely new type of training. A South African hockey international, Calder tried analysing what it was that separated the great players from the rest. Physical condition (fitness, balance, strength) and commitment count for a lot, but all top performers have those qualities in high measure. There was a missing X factor involved, which turned out to be so obvious that everyone had largely ignored it: vision.
It is vision which develops co-ordination skills. It is vision which allows the top performers to find those extra fractions of a second in critical moments. It is vision which permits a great batsman or tennis player to take the ball early or late. More specifically, it is enhanced visual processing skills at work. Calder’s discovery was that like any other performance parameter, these skills can be enhanced by training.
That shouldn’t surprise us: eye movement is controlled by muscles, and just as biceps or triceps can be developed, so can eye muscles. And that is just the start point. I met Sherylle Calder on a flying visit to London from her Cape Town base, and she described different aspects of her work – and its relevance to riding a motorcycle. This is what she had to say.
” What is co-ordination? It is seeing, processing, and responding. If you can enhance the functionality, the accuracy and speed of seeing, you are beginning to improve the whole ballpark. The programmes we’ve developed are designed to do just that. And the programmes themselves have evolved in tandem with usage. We learn from the results we get. That has allowed us to customise programmes according to the sporting discipline and specific individual involved.”
How has her practice evolved?
” Originally it was very much practically applied, on an individual basis. Then in 2003 I worked with the South African Rugby squad and the Australian cricket team. I realised that much of what we did could be translated into software, and suitable programmes devised. Which took seven years. I still work with people on a practical, field basis. But right now someone over here, say, could undertake a programme and I could monitor their development remotely online, and respond accordingly, modifying and monitoring every day. The software freed up the possibilities for clients. But the emphasis is always on improving practical results on the field – that is what counts. The programme is simply the means to an end.”
But Dr.C’s programme has massive relevance in another area: improving road performance, in which guise it has the crucial additional advantage of helping participants stay alive. As we spoke, almost cue perfect, the mayhem of Tottenham Court Road outside ratcheted up a couple of notches, with sirens and horns blasting away while couriers took their chance slaloming through the chaos.
” We think this work has massive applications outside of sport, the road being an obvious example. We work with some of the best players in the world, but motorcycling crosses over into the business of survival. What would be a general definition of a road accident? ”
” Um…….when normally predictable events get out of control? ”
” Right – and they get out of control because someone has failed to manage the see, process, respond chain. Our aim is minimising the chances of that happening. “
At this point, a laptop is put in front of me by Christi Botha, Sherylle’s research assistant. An image of a rugby player in a green shirt appears on screen, just about to pass the ball. I’m told that at every so often, another green shirted player will appear somewhere on screen. I have to select the cursor arrow pointing in the direction of that player. Simple. The problem is that other, white shirted players keep popping up all over the shop. This all happens at manic, frenetic speed. I score two out of ten. The South African women glance at me pityingly…………
” You can train yourself to improve, not just with the software, but applying it out there. That’s the important part. Focussing too much on monitors or reading books is part of the problem. Our eyes were designed to facilitate the business of hunter gathering: an emphasis on near field vision compromises that. And for riding, we need to maximise both distance and peripheral awareness. The computer programme we use is the stepping stone.”
So does the Calder programme – consolidated by proper sight maintenance – help us out there?
To find out, Dr. Calder offered two bg users the chance to sign up to her elite programme. She will monitor your progress online and feedback: you can apply the results, and let us know how you get on. Interested? Drop us an email to the usual place, and we’ll put all applicants into the helmet and make the draw. For those of us who don’t make the cut, we’ve conducted our own research into maximising visual awareness, the results of which took us all by surprise: turns out there are things we can all do which will improve our performance, on road and track. Watch this space (no pun etc.) and meanwhile drop us a line if you want to take up Dr. Calder on her offer.