The dangers of target fixation

Dailies -



Remember when your MSF instructor told you to look where you want to go, not at what you don’t want to hit? Well, this is why. The two riders in this video are regulars on the section of Mulholland Highway known as “The Snake” and they had a rough time on Thursday afternoon.


YouTube Preview Image

After making the slow right rock-overhang corner, the rider on the green Kawasaki bends left and as soon as he makes an attempt at acceleration, he loses all rear grip and low-sides.

With a rider and bike in the road, the R6 rider behind the camera immediately gets on the brakes. As he slows down, his friend stays almost exactly in the center of the video frame, right up until he’s nearly stopped and drops the bike in the dirt. That’s target fixation folks. He desperately wanted to avoid running his friend over, and in those brief seconds that was all he could think about and look at.

Luckily, neither rider was injured. The R6 needed a fork seal replaced, giving the owner an excuse to upgrade the valving and the rider of the Kawasaki even hopped back on his bike and rode straight to work.

  • gregorbean

    I target fixated myself right off the track at turn 7 at Road Atlanta during a track school. Luckily I just stood the bike up and was able to re-enter the track, but it was a valuable lesson in what not to do. I got in hot, and instead of looking down track and leaning further I looked off track and off I went. I think we had just gone over it in the classroom too, I guess I just wanted to practice ;^)

  • adrenalnjunky

    does it look to anyone else that when they pass the cyclist in the right hander, the Kawi rider looks over his left shoulder at him/her?

    From there it looks like he’s late getting over and settled in the following left hander,
    and then loses it.

    Like he let something mess with his flow and was behind the bike from there on.

  • Luke

    To be fair it takes a long time to eradicate this instinct. “Someone crashed in front of me, I must sit up and brake to avoid them! Oh dear, since we all started decelerating together, we all appear to be following the same trajectory out of the corner! Oh dear, I appear to have run over my friend.” *Shakes fist at physics*

    I remember the first time I successfully combated this instinct in a race. Turn 4 at Eastern Creek, first lap, first right hand turn. Some guy bins it *right* in front of me, with a huge shower of sparks. I recall thinking “idiot”, which wasn’t very nice of me, but it was the first time I calculated a trajectory in cold blood rather than just reacting.

    While I’m here. Worth mentioning CVC 40008(a), which essentially says that if you are driving recklessly or tailgating, and filming it, *and* it’s for a commercial purpose, then the DA *will* throw your arse in jail (which is normally optional for 23103 or 21703).

    So kids, don’t think of making a “best of” DVD of this shit and selling it ;) Also don’t ask me why I happen to have my head in the misdemeanor section of the vehicle code right now :/

    • David

      Luke – Love your “dramatised enactment” of our thoughts – scary part is I can relate to it way too much.
      Good post – cheers.

  • jason

    I went down after fixating on a ladder that was, oh, about 8 feet past the end of the truck bed as we came off of a very tight off ramp. I kept thinking “that fucker is right at my chest lever with the stupid red rag on the end making it “legal”. I was so fixated on the ladder that as we came off of the ramp the light turned yellow and ladder guy decided to almost lock his brakes stopping. I put the bike down instead of getting impaled. But either way it was my own fault for being too close and fixating. Great video to explain what it actually is.

  • Miticale

    Happened to me at my first track day @ Lightning, the hard left right before the bowl. Guy in front of me was running GP shift for the first time on his bike and ended up upshifting and cutting straight into the grass. Learned that lesson QUICK.

  • Mark D

    See also: piles of wet leaves, oil slicks, gravel, and standing water.

    A very valuable lesson to learn indeed.

    • Scott-jay

      How does a rider learn/reinforce subject lesson?
      I’ve had more than a few close calls due to target fixation (TF).
      I ‘know’ about it.
      But, frequently when the shit hits the fan, my body doesn’t take the time to check what I may know about the situation. Instead, I focus on the bumper & side marker light; the spot I must miss (like vid’s example).

      • michael.engle

        Have you ever watched someone go around an on-ramp or some other long continues corner and they make 15 small turns to get through the long one? Practice by not doing that. Look through the corner and don’t break it up into small straight lines. Part of what they are doing is “fixating” on the next point, and the next point, and the…

        Also, practice looking for your escape route. I forget what MSF calls it, but be looking for your way out of the mess. There is almost always a narrow path you can cut through and miss whatever is about to kill you. I relation to the video, his escape route could have been to go between downed rider and bike. If you do this you will create a habit of scanning instead of fixating.

        my 2 cents anyhow.

        • Gingerbeard

          I think you have some good advice, and so does MSF. Always pay attention for an escape route (which also means always pay attention for–but don’t fixate on–things that might need escaping from).

          It might be difficult for some people to focus most of their attention on the escape route and peripheral attention on the hazard, perhaps because there’s no object in the escape route, but there is an object you might crash into. You need to look at and track the empty (“negative”) space around or between the hazards, which is probably unnatural for most people.

          If, as the MSF teaches, you scan around you at varying distance, stay aware of things that might become hazards and plan alternate paths and actions to avoid those potential hazards (how soon something might become a hazard is roughly how much you should be thinking about how you would avoid it) while they’re still hypotheticals, I think you’ll be less likely to be surprised, more likely to have already seen and planned your escape route, less likely to react on fear/adrenaline instinct alone, and less likely to fixate on the wrong target, since you’ve already seen the less obvious target (the road itself, not the objects in it).

          In this video, the Kawasaki and its rider might not be obvious potential hazards, especially if you’re riding together and generally following (fixating on) the Kawasaki–maybe you’ve been riding together long enough that think you know what to expect–but there’s almost always a possibility of any traffic (perhaps anything moving along, across or into your path) becoming a hazard.

          Now, reviewing the slow motion video, I can see what seems to be an escape route between the bike and the rider, but it’s probably harder to see when it actually happens. It didn’t open up immediately, either, and going to the right may initially look like a good choice as the bike falls to the left of the lane (going around to the left means going into the oncoming lane, where there’s a potential for oncoming traffic and is a less obvious choice than staying in the current lane). Slowing down as the rider behind the camera did was a good choice in this situation; perhaps the intention from the beginning was to pull over to the shoulder and stop (it certainly seems to have worked out that way). Pulling over and stopping after passing (and ensuring visibility from the road) would have been ideal but may not have been a realistic expectation.

          Practicing to avoid a crash can be difficult. Probably not something you want to do full on in the real world. You can and probably should practice awareness and escape route planning on the road (as long as you’re not distracting yourself).

          One way to test hazard avoidance is to watch videos like this; videos of crashes and hazards avoided. See a variety of conditions, hazards, ways things can turn into hazards, strategies to avoid a crash and mistakes that can cause a crash. Sometimes people will discuss strategy in YouTube comments or on forum posts linking to videos. It might help, if there’s some video before the crash or escape, to look at the scene as if you’re riding, scanning for potential hazards and planning escape routes. You might pause the video a few times to review your knowledge, quiz yourself by thinking about what you would do and what you would avoid before you look at others’ comments (which, by the way, aren’t always right).

          • Sean Smith

            That right there is some good commenting Gingerbread.

  • Darren

    My first time was with the rear bumper of a white PT Cruiser on the 405 SB. Instead of a quick/smooth lane change around the old lady who just cut me off, I fixated and lost my front tire on a tar snake…

    You can scrub off a lot of speed by tumbling down the 405, but it ain’t fun.

  • Sasha Pave

    Okay, I’ll play Mr. Mom and say that this kind of riding needs to stay on the track.

    Although it’s obvious that these riders are experienced, probably have track days/races under their belts, I worry more for the innocents who could be hurt/killed by a simple low-side like this.

    I’ve left plenty of skin on Mulholland until the moment I started road racing, so I’m not one to preach, but I found enlightenment once a lap timer was involved.

    • Richard

      I agree with you 100%. Between the tickets, tar snakes, sand, debris, shitty drivers, shitty riders, hidden driveways, and a million other dangers; spirited street riding just gives me anxiety. Glad the dudes are okay.

    • pinkyracer

      seriously! knee down on Mulholland? that’s just crazy. I’m not too proud to rock my chicken strips in Malibu and wait till I get to the track to wear off that last 1/2″

  • Plotts

    Dude’s lucky he didn’t highside it into the oncoming lane. Ride safe kids!

    I’m an MSF instructor 2, it’s comical how true this whole target fixation thing is with new riders (even “experienced” ones). Don’t do it.


    You learn real fast in the desert about fixation.

  • Skank NYCF

    He had no place to go. To the left into a possible on coming car, straight and possibly hit his friend or go to the right and risk going down instead. Hard to tell witch way this guy was going to slide. I think his judgement was pretty good.

  • AHA

    Wow adrenalnjunky – really well spotted. Looks like a little headshake there and could well have made a causal difference. His line into the next bend was maybe too sharp or he was a little too far over on the tyre or a little too quick on the gas.

    I think 2nd rider could have hugged the centre line and out braked the Kwak. He does so even on the dirt so he surely could on the tarmac…

    If only I could preview my riding, I’d be perfect! :)

  • Sean Smith

    From the kawi rider: “I used my buddies tire gauge that morning and it read 22psi and was actually 33psi.. we were just cruising down the mountain looking for rocks to clear out of the road. and back end slipped out when i wasnt expecting it.. lesson learned.. dont use someone elses tire gauge and complacency kills.”

  • 1

    Really good piece. Glad HFL exposes subjects like this.