Stayin’ Safe: Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

look through the curve
When approaching this blind left curve, the guardrail and outside edge of the road tend to attract the rider’s eye. The trained rider sets a slower entry speed and keeps eyes up and left, looking through the curve toward the desired exit. Photo by Kevin Wing.

I know. You can’t help it. No matter how old you get, the moment your eyes spot an attractive, tight set of curves, your mind goes straight to the gutter. But be careful! There’s a good chance that’s going to get you in trouble one of these days.

I’m talking about curving roads. Left ones in particular. What is it about an obscured left-hand bend that makes it so intimidating? What is it that draws a rider’s eyes to the edge of the road as predictably as an ninth grader’s eyes wander in co-ed gym class?

Often, it’s the concern we’ll inadvertently get our tires too close to the edge of the pavement and ride off onto the shoulder (what’s known as “edge fear”). It may also be due to the sense we are carrying too much speed for a given corner and worrying that we will run wide off the outside of the curve. No matter the cause, the solution is the same; we must get our minds out of the gutter at the edge of the road and, instead, up into the heart of the corner, gazing far through the curve to where the turn exit will ultimately reveal itself.

Having difficulty keeping your eyes trained on the exit? Try slowing more than usual for each corner. Entering a curve at a slower speed than you think the curve requires gives you more confidence and can remove the mid-corner anxiety common to left-hand bends.

The bottom line? Enter at a conservative speed and focus your eyes and mind on where you want to go and not at the ditch where you fear you’ll go. Get your mind out of the gutter…and let pure thoughts of successfully executing that intimidating left-hander get you through safely. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Quite right! I was riding my new 1970 Honda CB350 (purchased in Jerusalem) on a winding road in the Italian Alps when I entered a left-handed curve a bit too fast. Instead of looking left and pushing a bit more on the left handgrip to tighten the turn radius, I got “target fixation” on the low stone wall — right up to the point that I hit it! Fortunately I didn’t tumble over the wall and down the side of the mountain, but only bounced off the stones, fell over, and broke a few bits and pieces of the bike (not myself, happily). Lesson learned: look where you want to go!

  2. This is one of the first lessons you will be given when you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s basic rider course. Recommended.

  3. For me, it’s tight right-hand turns. I simply don’t see well around them, especially when going downhill. Maybe it has to do with being left-eye dominant. Who knows. Truth is, all of the 15-20 mph turns require good control. Anything above that seems mostly evident to me, considering the road is well marked. It’s amazing how a little ‘decel’ can put you back on track.

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