Where does Point and Squirt come from?

Every few months, someone asks the question: "what's the best way to get round corners?" and they get (mostly) sage advice. The general consensus these days is that the best way to deal with a bend that the rider can't see round (which is most of them when you think about it) is to go in deep and relatively slow, turning tighter and straightening the bend only when they see the exit.

For something like 15 years I've been riding this way, and since 1996 Survival Skills has been training riders this way too. I called this technique "Point and Squirt", because that's exactly what you do. You wait till you see where are going next, then turn sharper, point the bike at the exit and turn the throttle harder to squirt the bike out down the road to the next hazard.

And so to Visordown, and Spring 2000, and the launch of the Survival Skills section on there. For the first time, I'm on a national platform writing about "Point & Squirt". And suddenly a load of people appear and tell me: "ah, but that's the line you'd take if you follow the advice in Motorcycle Roadcraft." And every time year or so, the discussion about whether they are the same thing resurfaces.

However, the more I think about this, and the more the supporters of Roadcraft discuss this with me, the more I beg to differ.

Now if you've not a) already switched off because this is too technical, b) face down on the keyboard through boredom or c) thrown your hands in the air wondering why on earth we instructors can't agree on something as simple as how to ride a bend, I'll tell you why I think that understanding where and how Point and Squirt came into being is an important issue. Firstly you need to understand my own sources and background.

Many advanced instructors are ex-police, and have had benefit of police training, or like the IAM observers or RoSPA diploma holders, they absorb Police-style techniques because their trainees are examined by ex-Police riders.

Coming from a non-police background, I learned my riding in the way that the vast majority of ordinary riders have to - buying books, reading magazine articles galore, discussing riding with motorcyclists from all over the world, and then going out and trying it, particularly before it became a bit more common-place to do advanced traininng.

Naturally, one of the books that I bought was Motorcycle Roadcraft, both the latest mid 90s edition but also I bought and read a much earlier 80's "Blue Book". I also have a couple of IAM guides on riding from both the 80s and the 90s which are heavily influenced by Roadcraft.

Unfortunately none of these books really give a lot of help on cornering. The advice which stuck in my mind was that the rider should be using a wide line to "avoid working the tyres hard" and to use "throttle sense" to speed up and slow down as the radius of the bend changes by using the Vanishing Point technique. For a number of years, this is what I tended to do, particularly as magazine articles written in the late 70s and 80s tended to repeat these points. And, truth be told, on the smaller capacity bikes more common back then, maintaining momentum is rather more of an issue than it is with the more powerful models of the last 15 years or so.

It's these issues that generate the bulk of the argument between myself and the pro-Roadcraft lobby. I'm usually told that either that I misunderstand Roadcraft, that an instructor would show a rider how to interpret and apply the bald advice in the book correctly on the road, or that my memory is fallible and I've got it all wrong.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I went back over a number of books and articles in my collection (or at least, the ones that I had immediate access to) to see if my memory really was failing.

Turned out I wasn't. I dug out five or six books and several magazine articles dating from the early 70s forward. The only REAL exception to the "wide in, clip the apex, wide out" line was an article in a series called Survival Arts (from 'Motorcycle Sport') which showed a deeper, tighter turning, exit away from the white line approach. It's quite obviously different from the diagrams in the "Blue Book" edition of Roadcraft which show near-symetrical maximum radius lines worked into the width of the road.

So why such a radical difference? I think it stems from several things. The first is that the old 'Blue Book' was written for 50-odd hp Triumph Saints and BMW R80s. Modern bikes respond very differently to throttle use and have vastly more power. Even the mid 90s version makes no allowance for that fact. Wide lines taken on modern sticky tyres and good handling bikes simply invite high mid corner speeds and extreme lean angles, which goes right against the idea of "not working the tyres so hard".

It's also a fact that Roadcraft is aimed at police riders and so the safety message is somewhat subordinated to making progress. As other instructors have pointed out the book was only intended as reference material to the practical police training, not to be read alone. This is almost certainly true, but surely the advice in the book should still be unambiguous?

It might also be worth noting that the Survival Arts series was written by a rider with courier experience, but with reference to a police rider, who'd had that join the dots instruction that was surely intended to go with the book!

This Survival Arts article appeared in April 1990. I was doing a lot of cross country courier stuff from Kent from 90-95, and with the aid of those articles, I altered my cornering technique and I found it worked. This is where I developed my "slow approach, deep in, turn late and quickly, fire it out" riding style. I've got some notes which date from 92 or 93 when I actually started to write up the "on the road" benefits of what would become Point & Squirt.

In 1993 Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist 2 was published. I read it, and have to admit I didn't really "get it" first time round. As I've said before, the combination of Californian English and psycho-babble doesn't make it an easy read. It went back on the shelf.

Sometime in 1994, I got online and started discussing riding with riders from all over the world. Naturally bends cropped up and I called this late, quick turn technique "Point & Squirt" when I was trying to explain it to someone on CompuServe.

As a result, I started to get useful feedback from US riders who'd done Code's California Superbike School as well as Reg Pridmore's CLASS in the United States. So I re-read Code, rather more carefully this time.

What struck me immediately was that the stability issue of keeping the bike upright as much as possible, keeping the throttle open through a turn and using the quick steer that Code thinks very important made immediate sense to me, and confirmed what I was already doing.

It also went diametrically against Roadcraft's "vary throttle/speed with radius" and "maximise the radius" advice, as did Code's approach to turning into a bend ("turn only when you see the exit" and "steer once only") and definition of the exit ("where you can do anything you want with the throttle - pull a wheelie if you want to") . [The "turn only when you see the exit" advice IS in the later edition of Roadcraft but it's not given any great emphasis.]

It was pretty obvious that I was actually riding the Keith Code approach to corners rather than what I previously used and now interpreted as the Roadcraft approach. What Code did offer was something I hadn't worked out for myself - a way of knowing exactly where the "entry", "turn in" and "exit" reference points in the bend are - his "two step" way of looking for the turn-in point whilst searching for a target point to aim for is an example.

Another useful source of information that came my way at that time was some training material for instructors belonging to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in the USA, the "Slow, Look, Lean, Roll" approach to cornering, quite a few years before Thames Valley Advanced Motorcyclists started using the selfsame approach to bends. That allowed me to break the corner down into sections.

I've been told that Point & Squirt is just the Roadcraft line "properly explained", but I'm still not convinced that Point and Squirt is the "plain vanilla" line that those critics suggest. Put the advice from the MSF together with Keith Code's reference points together as I've done with the "Bends" sections of my courses and you have a comprehensive "what, where and why" system for riding a bend, something that Roadcraft clearly lacks.

Whichever way you slice it, whether you believe that I got it wrong because I didn't read ALL the advice in Roadcraft (and I'm happy enough to accept that there are some warnings in the text which I obviously didn't pay enough attention to), or whether you believe that an instructor would join the dots and fill out what the book tells you with common-sense warnings (and I'm quite happy to believe that other instructors DO indeed do that), the fact remains that Roadcraft, whether in the earlier or later versions, IS capable of misinterpretation if it has to be "properly explained".

Certainly if the two are the same, it doesn't explain why, when in 1994 I joined the local IAM group, that I was told off by my observer for using the Point & Squirt, and had demonstrated to me the "proper" approach to cornering, which took Kerb/Apex/Kerb and White line/Apex/White line approaches to bends. I wasn't even warned to tuck in away from the white line on left handers as was advised in the old Blue Book. And on social runs I had plenty of opportunity to "observe" the members who'd passed as well as the observers themselves putting themselves into turns they couldn't possibly see round, and exiting millimetres from white line or kerb. I was also "lucky" enough to be given a demo ride by a policeman doing just this.

I'm also told that I'm out of date and that the Point and Squirt variant is now the accepted way of riding. Fair enough. Except that I rode with a very nice guy only the summer before last on the last but one CompuServe meet. He's had his IAM pass for 20 years or so, and is still active in his group. After one of our rides, he quizzed me on the lines I was taking. I explained Point & Squirt.

"Nah", he said, "I don't like that... it's all stop/start and sudden jinks... I like to avoid touching the brakes at all and use wide sweeping lines because the bike's more stable. It's how my two mates who are both ex-police riders ride too".

But... not everyone rides like that.

The first time I recall seeing Point & Squirt properly explained in a UK magazine would be Andy Ibbott writing as director of the UK version of the California Superbike school in MCN - without laying a hand on it, I'd hazard a guess that would be 6-8 years ago, late 90s - at which time Survival Skills had been teaching Point & Squirt for 3 or 4 years. Not surprisingly as I'd developed my ideas largely from Code, I agreed almost entirely with his assessment of bends. Since then, last summer's series of expert riding articles by Andy Morrison in Bike covered the same techniques very well indeed.

Most interestingly of all, the Bikesafe videos from Thames Valley and West Midlands clearly show the police riders using the deep in, quick steer technique that I call Point and Squirt. Illogically, the commentary on the second still talks about widening the line and not working the tyres so hard.

So, where do we go from here? There are obviously two approaches which are at some distance apart from each other each with its supporters, and probably with a bunch of riders doing something in the middle between the two extremes.

So what's right? At this point, the discussion can descend into a "we're right because Roadcraft is used by the police, so you must be wrong" slanging match which is not very constructive. It's also a bit of a shame because there is a lot of really good information available to all instructors and riders who want to get better from OUTSIDE the usual UK sources if only they care to look for it and accept that it can be used. I'm certainly not ignoring Roadcraft - but I'm not afraid to build on it, ask questions of it where I think it is of doubtful use, and discard it altogether where I think there is a better alternative.

I'm quite happy to accept I was "doing Roadcraft wrong" because I'm fallible and I do misunderstand things. But if I was wrong, so were my IAM group, the other two or three dozen IAM members from groups up and down the country I rode with around that time, and the many riders I've subsequently taken on training courses since who based their cornering technique on Roadcraft - none demonstrated a credible version of Point and Squirt, nor a full understanding of the techniques.

I'm not interested in scoring points and I'm not trying to put noses out of joint by appearing to criticise other instructors, nor am I looking to be "sole Guardian of the Truth" as one critic put it. (If I was, I'd hardly be publicising how Point and Squirt works, would I?).

But I do believe that an honest assessment of the sources we use is vital to help others understand what and why we do what we do. Blind acceptance of "what's always been done" is not something we should be aiming for. We need to make the effort to give riders looking for help the best possible advice to ride bends, whether we do that by building on what Roadcraft does offer, admitting that in some ways it is doubtful advice for modern riders or by drawing on new sources altogether.