Offsiding - what is it, and why you should
think before you do it!
A spin-off from an interesting thread on Visordown.com.
A new-ish rider with one year's experience post test did a riding
assessment and the assessor demonstrated what is often known as
"offsiding". It caused quite a lot of discussion.
If you're not familiar with the term, offsiding is positioning to
the right of the centre line to improve the view around a left hand
corner, rather than hold a line inside the centre line and thus
remaining in our lane.
What are the pluses, what are the minuses?
The pluses are rather thin on the ground, in my opinion. You might
see a bit further ahead around the corner. Errr... and that's about
it. One correspondant did suggest that you get a longer braking
distance and are not directly behind the vehicle in front, but I
rather think that I don't want to be braking on the wrong side of
the road, nor so close that I feel my escape route behind a car
extends on the wrong side of the line.
And the minuses? Well, they are pretty obvious to my mind. Sooner or
later, you meet someone coming the other way. And now you need to
TIGHTEN your turn to get out of trouble. That's a pretty big minus.
First and foremost, it's an issue of CONTROL. What do I mean by
this? As a rider you control what you do with the bike. You cannot
control what other road users do - you may be able to influence them
but ultimately you cannot steer or brake their vehicles.
For example, a tractor either stopped or pulling into or out of a
field round a blind bend shouldn't be a hazard you can't deal with
simply by setting your speed into the corner to allow you to stop.
You can CONTROL the situation entirely through your own choice of
speed and visual stop[ing distance.
What you can't CONTROL is the guy coming the other way. Only he can
drive his car.
OK, so the obvious retort to this is "oh, well I'll only ride at a
speed that allows me to swerve out of the way". Sounds good, doesn't
it? But what if he's going a bit quick for the bend? Can you avoid
him? What if the oncoming driver has himself cut the corner to
straighten it out, hoping that nothing will be in the way? Not
exactly uncommon, is it? Check out the worn paint on the middle of a
lot of fast kinks?
Think about the reaction you have to make to avoid the problem - a
swerve to the left - you may miss the car, but if you turn in early
from your original line will you run wide again later in the bend?
This is a classic bike accident so why take a line that actually
makes it more likely you'll make this error? Or will you panic too
and simply hit the brakes and run straight on anyway?
The tighter the bend, the later you will see the car coming the
other way. And the faster he's going, the less time you have to
react and to get out of his way.
The next problem is that if riders do decide to do it, they move too
late. You should think very carefully before moving to GAIN a view -
or it may reveal something you really didn't want to see. By moving
into position early you may be able to MAINTAIN a view, but as the
bend tightens, the distance you can see will diminish rapidly and
there comes a point at which you just don't see anything worthwhile
to justify the risk.
So - big risks. What do we gain that might make it worth taking
Actually, when you think about it, surprisingly little. Despite the
conventional wisdom that moving left helps you see round a right
hand bend, and moving right helps you see round a left hand bend, as
the bend gets sharper, so the advantage from that wider position
drops dramatically, at least until you are right on top of the bend.
And if I can stop in the distance I can see is clear, what do I gain
on a narrow bend by moving out wider to see further ahead? If I can
stop anyway on the tighter line, I've not gained by seeing it
marginally earlier. Only as the bend becomes more open radius does
off-siding give you a good view far ahead. Which now you don't
really need anyway.
Where there often is an advantage is on a kink rather than a bend.
By straightening out kinks, you can often MAINTAIN a decent view
ahead, you yourself are in view from the perspective of other
drivers far earlier, and you can often keep the bike more upright
which has stability benefits. But... with some provisoes:
is the inevitable temptation to carry more speed
because you can see further?? Because if it is, you negate the
better view by taking longer to stop and having to work harder to
steer - remember that momentum is a square function of your speed!
whilst you are straightlining your kinks, are
there any blind areas to the left and right into which you are
losing the view? Because if you see any hazard to the side later
just because you are intent on improving your view ahead, then
that's not any safer is it?
Whenever you chose to use the opposite lane, or even take up a wide
position in your own lane, there's another, absolutely huge issue
that is often overlooked.
Does what you are doing look safe to other road users?
What we tend to forget is that when we ride we rely on other people
behaving reliably. Swap directions for a moment and ask how you
would react if, completely unexpectedly, you turned into a right
hand bend and found a car heading straight at you on the wrong side
of the road? Would you think "ah, advanced driver off-siding" or
"what the ****?"
And if you might panic in this situation, think about the driver
coming the other way. I was positioned near the white line (on my
side of the road!) the other day on a fairly gentle left hander, saw
an oncoming car some distance ahead and had drifted to about the
middle of my lane by the time the car passed - perfectly safe, not
hurried in any way and caused the car no inconvenience whatsoever...
but the driver still swerved, sounded the horn and made rude
So before taking up a wide position, ask what the driver coming the
other way sees? Are you going to force the other driver to change
direction or speed to avoid you? Does he see a rider potentially out
of control on a collision course? You're now relying on that driver
for a rational, controlled decision and you've just scared the
bejasus out of him. What's he likely to do? Anyone's guess.
And remember that the tighter the bend, the later he sees YOU.
Your frame of reference on a bike is completely different to a
non-rider - and as a police rider I know once wisely said "very few
magistrates ride bikes". It may seem like bandying with words butf
it looks even vaguely non-safe drivers WILL react unpredictably -
just as you would panic if someone came round the corner and was
doing something you didn't understand. A friend of a friend used to
powerslide his Sierra Cosworth round corners under perfect control -
till he sent another driver into a hedge - exactly the same "what
the ****?" problem!
I moderate a lot of what I do based on that rule "does it look
If you want a simple way of working out where you should position,
there are some straightforward questions to ask on each corner,
rather than blindly follow the simplistic "keep left to see right,
keep right to see left rule":
Q1 - "What can you see?"
Q2 - "What can't you see?"
Q3 - "Is there a place with a better view?"
Q4 - "Is there a place that offers any stability
Q5 - "Am I safe if I go there?"
Q6 - "Does it look safe to other drivers?"
Offsiding is rarely done with a view to answering Q4 or Q5
adequately and it almost certainly doesn't address Q6. It's usually
done to get a wider line and faster entry so you have less time to
react even though your view is supposedly better.
In conclusion, offsiding has few advantages and a lot of big
disadvantages. Whilst there are some occasions I would maintain a
view through a series of gentle kinks, it's not a safe activity on
tight left handers, and something I would never recommend on a
training course, even to an experienced rider.