The other day while jogging through my neighborhood, I happened upon an amusing and rather interesting scenario. There was a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, on a tiny bicycle attempting to learn to ride it. There were two women watching him and cheering on the little tyke. I assumed one of the women was his mother. Though they were doing a good job encouraging the kid, neither one of the women made any attempt at instructing the little guy other than to scream, “Keep pedaling.” I’m sure the reason for this was that they had no idea of what to tell him.
“In so many things, you should follow your instincts;
but not when it comes to riding a motorcycle or a bicycle.”
The street had a slight uphill grade and while going up the hill, he would pedal like mad and was able to maintain his balance. The whole time his head was down and he appeared to be staring at his feet. By the time he got to the end of the street at the top of the grade, he was out of steam. As he slowed to a crawl, he attempted to turn around while staring at his feet, and of course, he fell over.

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I found this amusing because in my classes I see adults with many years of riding experience making exactly the same mistakes. That is, staring down at the handlebars or the ground and attempting to U-turn with almost no forward momentum.
In both cases, instinct is at fault. The brain is telling the body what to do. The body does what the brain tells it to do and the result is a tip-over. Now, I would love to be able to tell you exactly why your brain does this, but unfortunately, I have no idea. In so many things, you should follow your instincts; but not when it comes to riding a motorcycle or a bicycle.
One of the exercises at my Ride Like a Pro course consists of a series of quick left to right transitions. This exercise simulates the swerve you would need to make to avoid a vehicle that turns left in front of you or pulls out from the right. Since the transition must be made quickly, the rider must turn his head and eyes from extreme left to extreme right quickly. The rider must look at the spot he or she wants to place their front tire long before the bike gets to that spot. The rider has to have some speed in order to allow the bike to lean as it transitions. The speed can be from 10 to 20 mph.
Mastering Head and Eyes Technique Swerve
Practicing the swerve.

Just like the child learning to ride the bicycle for the first time, the riders in the class will at first attempt to make the transitions at a slow walking pace. What’s more, the riders attempt to look where they are at the moment instead of where they want to go next. This of course will not work. I try everything possible to get them to pick up their speed including constantly prodding them over a P.A. system. In real hard cases, I’ll run in front of them on foot while telling them to look at me and try to run me down. This gives them something to look at and at the same time, allows them to see how slow they are actually going. While this almost always works, it’s very tiring.

Another way to get riders to use the head and eyes technique and understand how much easier it is to control a two-wheeled vehicle with a little speed, is to have the rider try the exercise on a bicycle. Since the principles are the same on the bicycle and since the fear of dropping the bike is completely removed, most riders catch on very quickly.
When they get back on their motorcycle, they are much more inclined to pick up their speed and turn their heads faster and further. Once the rider feels the bike lean and transition quickly, it’s a good sensation and they want to repeat that feeling over and over again. When the riders move on to the next exercise, which is more difficult, they do so with more confidence and a better idea of what works. In other words, they are less willing to listen to their instincts and more willing to use technique.
Mastering Head and Eyes Technique
A scene from a Ride Like a Pro course where participants use their own motorcycle.

The proper use of your head and eyes is a lifesaver out on the road. Always look where you want to go, not where you are at the moment, but where you want to go next. As an example, at 40 mph you’re covering 60 feet per second. Look down at your tank or your handlebars or the ground right in front of your bike for one second and 60 feet has just gone by.

If instead you look well ahead of your path of travel and through a turn, your hands will follow your head and eyes and you’ll go only where you want to go. If you don’t believe me, try it on a bicycle.
Riding Right No More Wide Turns Jerry Palladino

About the Author

Jerry “Motorman” Palladino is the founder of Ride Like A Pro, Inc., a company that teaches advanced rider training classes, and produces motorcycle instructional DVDs and books. Jerry is a former motorcycle police officer who teaches riders the same skills that motor officers use when riding their motorcycles. His classes are aimed at experienced riders who want to enhance their motorcycle skills. Visit RideLikeAPro.com to learn more about the classes and to purchase and download digital copies of the DVDs.

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16 thoughts on Safe Riding Tips: Mastering the Head and Eyes Technique

  1. Love this article. I am living proof this works. Right after I got my license, I was riding to work. Making a simple left turn from a stop sign, was worried about a tall curb across from me. Guess what happened? Up and over the curb. Thank goodness the parking lot was empty at the time. Next time I turned my head to the left before taking off and I was fine. I’ve been riding five years now, and still remind myself mentally a lot to look where I want to be, especially in tight taking off or parking situations.

  2. Thank you for this article. Everything you said is true and it works every time. I just need to remember to do it. The need for speed is also true. The bike wants to go but needs the speed to make those maneuvers. Great reminder!

  3. Thank you for this article! I am currently taking my beginner safety class with MSF and I find myself having a tough time with 90 degree right turns from a stop. And the swerving around an obstacle. My test is in three days so I’ll be practicing quite a bit.

  4. Thank you for this article. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ground in front of me. After reading your tips I got the push to get my bike out and this certainly helped me to get back on my motorbike and keep my eyes up where I want to go.

  5. I love these posts. I recently retired at 65 and haven’t ridden for 26 years. This is helping me get my confidence back. I had a Gold Wing before and dirt bikes before that. You really can’t practice enough at riding a motorcycle — with cell phones and texting added to the other dangers out there.

  6. This has been the hardest part for me! I can go straight all day long, but when it comes to turns I freeze up. I’ll be doing more practice on my bicycle before my MSF class.

  7. Hi I was wondering if there is a similar class for men and if so how much this class costs and if there is a class in Minnesota in or near city of Hutchinson or St Cloud.

  8. Rosa, My hubby told me on U-turns you want to shift in your seat and look through the turn (so your bike goes where it should and you’re scanning for any oncoming possible obstacles). It works for me. I haven’t mastered the tight U-turns he does, but I’m on my way. In regards to sharp, slow turns, just don’t use the front brake. I learned the hard way – you will go down. I just use the same principles as the u turn. Practice, practice, practice.

  9. Great article! I took the riding course and I still hear my instructor saying, “If you look down that’s where you’ll end up.” So true. However I’m still nervous when it comes to U-turns or sharp slow turns. I ride a Road King so it’s a heavy bike and I know I have to give it a little more gas to not fall over. I laid the bike down just yesterday trying to make a slow sharp turn. Very minor fall but still not good. I do need to practice more. Thanks for the tip of trying it on bicycle, I’ll try that today.

  10. Do you think having a fairing on your bike helps to make you look forward? I don’t have one, and sometimes find myself looking down toward front wheel and think maybe a fairing would prevent that.

    1. No, that will just make you stare at the fairing. It sounds like what you need is some training to keep your head and eyes UP and looking well ahead of your path of travel. Looking down at your front wheel or the ground right in front of your motorcycle makes you a crash looking for a place to happen.

  11. Looking where you want to go was one lesson that I really learned in class. I was riding on a back road the other day and a sharp curve was coming up. I was a little nervous, slowed down a little, then looked where I wanted to go and smoothly went through the curve! It’s amazing how just remembering that one thing can help you so much. Also my first time at turning onto a side street with a sharp turn, I looked where I wanted to go and the bike did all the work.

  12. Jerry, I get a lot from your articles and I thank you for them. As a graduate of the MSP and a pretty active rider in my fifth season I have good basic skills but I know I can always improve. I practice what I’ve learned in your articles often, especially on the sharp S turns and in parking lots.My question is about situations, like those twisty back roads that a lot of us live for. The problem is that although I know to point my eyes and head through the turn in the direction I need to go, I find my eyes constantly darting back to the pavement watching for pot holes, gravel, and broken pavement edges. I’m never sure what should take priority, looking through the turn or watching for all of those potential hazards. Do you have some advice for these situations?

    1. Lisa,Keep in mind that while focusing on the end of the turn, you can still scan the road surface for debris. As long as you’re looking well ahead of your path of travel, you should be able to see a potential obstacle. In other words, don’t scan the road surface directly in front of you, as that will not give you enough time to react to the hazard. Generally, on a winding road with blind corners, You need to maintain a speed that will allow you to stop within your sight distance.

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