Don't just ride for yourself, ride for
I heard from a friend about a rider being killed the other day. Not
his fault, it seems a car travelling in the opposite direction came
under a railway bridge on the wrong side of the road. The car had
apparently been racing another bike.
"Jeez" I said to myself... situations like this are hard to deal
with... the story brought back memories of my regular weekend route
to work at Cinque Ports and an incident that occurred several
One section of the ride took me along a quiet country lane, wide and
well surfaced with good views everywhere and few houses, farms or
side roads. One section is a flat out downhill straight, about a
mile long with a 20mph right angle bend at the end... about a third
of the way along (by where it would be quite possible to be doing
well over 100mph on the FZ or the Gixxer) is a slight crest with a
hidden dip on the other side. I never took it too fast over the top
because there was a farm entrance just ahead on the right, but still
at a fair clip.
One Saturday morning sixth sense kicked in, I didn't accelerate as
hard as usual, and as I approached the crest the top of a coach
appeared coming the other way. I slowed down and moved to the
left... and damn me if a speeding car didn't appear over the crest
alongside the coach desperately trying to complete the overtake!!!
If I hadn't slowed, I'd have hit him head on at an estimated closing
speed of around 120mph at the top of the crest... As it was I had
30-40 yards warning and was able to hit the brakes and squeeze right
over to the left and we got past each other. By the time I got to
work I had stopped shaking.
I hadn't thought about this for ages, till I received Steve's
e-mail, but it brought it all back and I sat down to think about it
again. Who's fault is a situation like this?
Clearly in neither case should the car have been there. Driving on
the wrong side of the road into an area you can't see is incredibly
dangerous, not only for yourself, but also for the guy coming the
other way, like the unfortunate rider Steve told me about. Car
drivers do stupid things, but riders should know better - so why do
I see so many bikers making foul-ups of overtakes?
Was I or the other rider at fault in any way? Whether the car driver
was just incompetent or took a stupid risk is irrelevant, he was
there in front of me and it was a situation I had to deal with.
Riding over a crest or under a bridge into a situation you can't see
clearly demands some caution - "never ride at a speed faster than
one that allow you to stop in the distance you can see to be clear"
is the rule.
However, we all bend that rule or there would be some places you'd
be riding at walking pace, and we generally ride at a speed that
allows us (or we believe allows us) to cope with a normal situation,
like a bicycle, horse or a slow moving tractor in the country, or
perhaps a car stopping or turning unexpectedly or a pedestrian
dashing into the road in town.
Being perfectly honest, how many riders (myself included) would
actually predict a car making such a foul up of an overtake
approaching a blind crest? Only the most cautious. I've no evidence
how fast the dead rider was travelling and it seems no blame
attached to him, but for myself if I am completely honest with
myself, I used to take a bit of a chance and ride just a little bit
faster over that crest every morning than I should have done because
for months nothing had ever been coming the other way. But I am
still probably more cautious than 9/10ths of riders. It scares me
witless when I see riders take corners or launch themselves at blind
junctions at a speed that gives them no chance of dealing with any
single one of the above situations. And I see far too many... you
should always be thinking of that Worst Case Scenario, planning your
riding to take a course and speed that allows you to stop or take
But in my opinion, the driver who was really at fault in my incident
is the coach driver. Why do I think this?
Assuming he was even half awake, he would have seen the suicidal car
driver attempting the overtake. He should have been able to see the
car driver wasn't backing off out of the overtake nor was car going
to make it past before they reached the top of the rise. It doesn't
take a huge mental leap to imagine there might be a vehicle coming
the other way or the possible consequences.
Furthermore, from his higher up driving position, he would have seen
me a moment or two before the car driver and should have seen
exactly what was going to happen. All this evidence should have been
screaming at him to slow down and let the car in. So why didn't he?
In the event, as far as I could see he didn't even touch the brakes!
Bloodymindedness? Possibly, truck and coach drivers are loath to
lose speed because it takes them so long to build it up and there
are always gits out there who take a delight in making things more
difficult than they need be. More likely it was a complete lack of
recognition of the problem - it didn't threaten him, therefore it
simply didn't register as a danger.
Whatever the explanation, the coach driver by his inaction had
committed the car driver to a single, unalterable course of action.
I call it "putting someone in jail" - he had no escape routes and no
alternative other than to continue.
The point I am trying to make is that you might be riding along with
no danger to yourself but contributing to a dangerous situation
involving other road users simply by doing nothing, either because
you haven't recognised what going on or you are simply ignoring it.
Be aware of everything that goes on around, work out what problems
other road users face, consider what mistakes they might make and
what help you might be able to give them to get out of trouble in a
potentially dangerous situation - in short always be proactive as
you ride - not reactive.
Is there a parallel in the other incident? The car shouldn't have
been on the wrong side of the road racing the bike, but maybe the
second rider didn't think about the possible consequences to other
road users as they went under the bridge side by side...
I often wonder what gave me that premonition... did I in fact spot
the coach and car in the far distance before they vanished? I don't
remember seeing them, but it's possible I clocked them
subconciously. I don't give myself any credit for getting out of a
highly dangerous situation alive where another biker didn't... I'd
rather it was seen as a reminder that however careful we are, to
some extent we depend on other drivers and riders help out in
moments like this, and it's up to us as thinking riders to actively
look for the problems affecting other road users, be aware of their
mistakes and help them out too.
I mentioned this idea to my friend Keith on the ferry on the way to
Chimay this June (2000)... he was not completely convinced about the
value of keeping left over blind crests. Then what should we witness
on the way back? A driver at the back of a short queue of cars ahead
of us, saw us coming up behind him, decided he was going to get the
the front of the queue ahead of us, and went to overtake the lot. He
ran out of space and ended up overtaking the last vehicle over a
blind crest - just as a motorcycle appeared coming the other way.
Somehow they missed each other... I don't know how, because I was on
the brakes and looking for an escape route, convinced there was
going to be a big accident. Scary.