Whose Line is it, Anyway?
See Those Lines?
Many years ago when I had only just begun my research and helping racers with their psychology, a top level rider was referred to me because he was having some serious problems. He had been at the top of his game and he was a factory rider. When I spoke with him to find out what was going on he explained that he couldn't see his lines any more and he was really freaked out by this. I was just as intrigued and we spent a long time exploring exactly what he meant by this.
During our conversation he explained at length the quality of his experiences of lines, or not as the case was then. Initially, I made the mistake of not taking his description literally. But as it dawned upon me, this became the start of some lengthy research into the psychology of perception. I also had to go asking questions around the paddock to find out what other racers perceived too - you can probably imagine the looks I got from racers when I randomly accosted them asking: 'Can I ask you a quick question? Do you see lines inside your mind?' I think some of them thought I was bonkers!
The results were really striking though. Pretty much every top level rider had an awareness of seeing their lines in some manner or form. The key for me was that they described that they could see their lines in a kind of felt way. The two senses of lines went together. When I go inside to recall my perception from when I raced, I am aware that the way I perceived the lines was a bit like a funnel which guides me towards the ideal line. Inside the funnel the circuit is chrystal clear and outside the funnel it is slightly blurry. The racer I worked with above perceived his lines as transparent lines which appeared in front of him in his vision as he rode - they were extremely clear for him.
In my work I now explore the perception of lines with every racer that I work with. Sometimes it is because I am helping a lower level club racer to see their lines for the first time and sometimes it is about refining the perception and quality of lines with a high level rider. For example, using this concept, I helped a British Superbike rider gain nearly half a second through sector 2 at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. If you're not familiar with Brands Hatch, 0.5 seconds is a lot at the Indy circuit as the BSB lap times are usually sub 50 seconds. Another example is recently using this technique with a club racer whose lap times immediately improved by about 3 seconds per lap at Donington Park GP circuit.
I believe it can have a dramatic effect on any rider's experience.
The only place where I found support for this phenomenon of seeing lines was in some literature about the perception of fighter pilots. The psychologists wrote that the pilots reported seeing lines during manoeuvres such as dog fights. Unfortunately, the psychologists didn't go on to study this phenomenon and its role in effectively navigating through space, but at least I could breathe a sigh of relief that I wasn't completely crazy and imagining things. There is some theory behind the mechanics of this but it comes out of some fairly heavy duty psychology on perception mixed with a form of psychological research called phenomenology which is about how we experience things (I won't go into any detail about this here but will write about it more in a future academic section).
In my experience, when racers find themselves lost or they are inconsistent through part of a circuit, they do not have a clear flowing perception of their lines. Simply getting them to begin actively drawing lines that they feel are the right ones, usually improves the problem remarkably. They can then work on refining the lines once the foundation is in place.
This is something you can work on yourself. Firstly, think through any circuit and see if you see any lines. If you do, great, they can be refined to improve upon or change your rhythm. If not, draw some imaginary 'ideal' lines ahead of you and then do this while you ride the circuit following those lines. If you have a particularly problem corner, do the same thing through that corner - just imagine in your mind's eye what the ideal line would look like.
The advanced part is then to connect the lines with your rhythm, through the corner, the sector and eventually the whole circuit.
Try it out and enjoy!