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Avoiding Target Fixation


Photos by Cathy Larson, Griz Girl Photography

Target fixation describes a situation where riders fixate or stare at an obstacle they want to avoid and end up hitting the obstacle. 

In the case of target fixation on tight corners, riders sometimes fixate on the outside edge of a corner out of fear of not making the turn.  This usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anyone who has ridden the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route has first-hand experience with extremely tight, steep, hair pin turns.  Combine these challenging turns with drop offs and exposure means riders must execute this skill flawlessly.

We’ve all heard “Look where you want to go.  The bike goes where you look.”  It seems like the solution to target fixation is to simply look where you want to go. But is that really true?

target fixation

Not exactly.“The bike goes where you face” is a more accurate statement.

The problem with “look where you want to go,” is that just swiveling your head around while your shoulders, arms, hips, legs, and feet are locked straight ahead does not turn the motorcycle.  One might assume that our bodies naturally follow our gaze.  However, new or frightened riders often struggle holding the bike in a locked posture while attempting this slow maneuver.

It’s easy to “overthink” as we try to remember to counterbalance, weighting the outside peg, outside elbow up, soften inside arm, point toes, knees, hips, shoulders, arms and LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER through the turn.  (Whew!  I got tired just typing all that!)  And, by the way, AHHHHH!!!  Don’t look over the edge!  There’s a 100 foot death drop!

The good news is, it’s a whole lot easier than all that.  In my Adventure Essentials class we teach riders to simply FACE the direction they want to turn.  We teach riders to be dynamic on the bike moving their feet and bodies to match riding conditions.

For example, when we want to turn left riders are taught to move their feet on the pegs so their toes point left in the direction of the turn.  When feet move, so do the knees, hips, shoulders, arms, head, and eyes.  This movement naturally pressures the outside knee into the motorcycle.  Riders quickly learn to balance and support the bike with their legs which allows them to soften their arms into the turn.  When properly executed, there is very little weight on the handlebars.

target fixation

Now let’s get back to target fixation.  ADV Woman Instructor and professional mountain biking coach, Lynda Wallenfells coaches her athletes to use “queue” words.  She uses different words to remind herself of different skills.

Lynda uses the word “soft” to cue herself to keep a loose grip on the handlebars.  Cue words keep things simple as we condition our bodies to respond to that word. (Think Pavlov conditioning.)   With this in mind, riders might consider using “Face” or “Toes” as cue words to remind themselves to turn their feet and bodies to face into the corner.

It doesn’t matter what word you choose to use, as long as that one word trains you to execute the steps of the skill.  By conditioning our bodies to respond to a cue word, we can look ahead to that tight switchback, chant “Face! Face! Face!” and muscle memory will take over so that we successfully execute the turn.  It won’t be long before those scary switchbacks aren’t so scary anymore.  And remember, if you have a relapse, no big deal.  Just go back to using that cue word!

Happy Trails Adventure Sisters!

On and off her motorcycle Pat Jacques is a genuine, courageous, authentic BadAss! She’s a pioneer woman who raced men’s motocross, successful entrepreneur, and founder of ADV Woman. In 2016 she hosted the first ever Adventure Rally for Women, by Women emphasizing on range and classroom training. All ADV Woman coaches are women.

PAT JACQUESPat’s passion is empowering women through personal and motorcycle coaching. She’s been riding, racing and teaching motorcycling over 40 years. She has a unique talent for breaking skills into teachable pieces, inspiring confidence, and helping riders to achieve tremendous success.



target fixation

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Ishret Mirza 2017 May 6 at 9:29 PM

I have successfully completed my C.B.T ( compulsory basic training) today and I am beaming! I know that this is just the beginning of my adventures, I start shopping for my own 125 cc very soon 😊. Thank you for the tips and demonstration video regarding the ‘ target fixation’ issues, much appreciated. Luv to all from Surrey U.K.

Women ADV Riders 2017 May 8 at 4:16 AM

That’s fantastic! All the best on your upcoming adventures – keep us posted!


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