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 them?

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 gestures.

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 safe?"...

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 advantages?"
    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.