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Who is writing your biking advice? Make sure it's good!
Some years back I was reading a new section on advanced riding on another website. The section was designed to pull in readers to the business, and I wasn't surprised to see that the first article dealt with cornering - it usually does! But rather than being written 'in-house', contributions were from readers. In this case, the article appeared it was written by someone who had completed a two day Motorcycle Appreciation Course (MAC) in 1998 as part of that now-defunct Honda-run training initiative. No problem, I thought, I'm always interested in new ideas and new sources. However, reading it more closely revealed a couple of misunderstandings. At least I hoped they were misunderstandings and not what was taught!
So what did I spot that concerned me? The most important one involved our old friend the Limit Point (or vanishing, distance or convergence point) and what we should do with it.
He states "quick riding particularly through bends is all about position. Correct positioning will enable maximum visibility and consequently more rapid progress."
Uh-oh. First warning sign. Notice the emphasis on quick riding and progress. As I stated in a previous tip, skills-based training has to be tempered by a knowledge of what can go WRONG. My first thought would be "what might make me slow down and maybe even stop", not how fast I can get around the bend. Our goal in a bend is NOT 'more progress'. It's all about identifying hazards that might make us slow down. IF and ONLY IF we are certain that we cannot see any reasons to slow down, THEN we can choose whether or not making 'progress' is appropriate. And I know this is where the Survival Skills risk-based approach to training parts company with a lot of other post-test training in the UK.
"Therefore moving to the left for a right-hander, staying in to the left watching the vanishing point until you can see the exit then drifting away from the left towards the right easing out the bend and accelerating away will open the bend out allowing more brisk progress. The opposite applies for left-handers".
No. Once we realise that our first task is always to work out where we might to stop, then we need to look out for the hazards that might make us stop. Gaining the best possible view around the bend isn't the same as maximising our view of hazards.
If we're going to experience a nasty SURPRISE! on a corner, it's most likely to appear from a hazard called a 'surprise horizon'. The surprise horizon is a blind area between us and the furthest point we can see is clear. The reason a surprise horizon is a hazard we need to be aware of is because of the risk that a vehicle (or a cycle or a person or even an animal) could suddenly appear. And it's appearing between us and the limit point.
And that in turn leads to two other conclusions:
positioning to see as far as the limit point MUST be subsidiary to changing position to open up views into these blind areas. If we simply ride to open up view around a right-hand bend, it can place us perilously close to these blind entrances on the nearside.
our speed must be set to allow us to take some evasive action at the surprise horizon, not the limit point
Are there any other hazards?
We mustn't forget that the more we position to the right-of-centre and close to the centre line, there is the potential risk of conflict with oncoming traffic. The narrower the road or the sharper the corner, the worse the risk. Too far to the right and the only benefit will be that we see what we're about to hit a moment sooner. We must give up position if keeping right on a left-hander would potentially expose us to a risk of head-on collision. We MUST maintain a broader focus on the ROAD, not just the the corner - we must maintain SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.
Then he continued: "if all this seems rather obvious, it is probably because it is and certainly it came as nothing new to me. So why was I losing speed on the approach to bends and in some cases while negotiating them?
"I had forgotten not the need to assess the line of the road well in advance, but to maintain concentration on where it was going, in other words where I wanted to go... It took me some while to realise that instead of watching the vanishing point and chasing it, my eye was straying to changes in the road surface, the instruments, or minor obstructions. As soon as my concentration strayed, my momentum through the bend or on its approach reduced."
Maybe I'm deliberately failing to read between the lines, but to me (and possibly to someone reading this with whilst looking for advice) this reads as if the broader situational awareness is being seen as a distraction from the all-important task of 'making progress' through the corner.
Of course we look at the road surface, of course we look at 'minor obstructions'. We have to, because we are not on a race track and we need to keep an up-to-date 360 degree mental map of our surroundings, and a lot of vital detail can only be assessed when we're closer-up. What's a dark patch spotted in the distance? Only close up will we be able to tell if it's a road repair with different coloured tarmac, a pothole, a damp patch or a fuel spill. Clearly, there are good times to make mirror checks and glance at the instruments, and that's probably not in the middle of the corner, but denying that we need to check the surface or what's left and right of our path is just plain wrong.
My guess is that the entire diagnosis of the writer's problems was wrong. It was not 'lack of forward vision' so much as a late response to the hazards he had spotted - hence running in on a closed throttle - plus a general lack of idea of how to plan bends as a flowing sequence. Possibly he got a lecture on the dangers of target fixation.
That would tally with what he says later about it being "a truism that we go where we look". That's another old chestnut. We actually look at what scares us - it's built-in to human responses to threats. It's target fixation and it's a far more natural response to the threats of the road, and it takes a real effort to lift our view further ahead. And one of the things that creates target fixation, pulling our view down and to the immediate surroundings, is trying to ride too fast. If we haven't got time to spread our vision around, then we're riding too close to our limits. And there's another reason progress should never be a goal of training, but an outcome of eliminating risk.
So next time you're out on the bike, have a think about where you are looking. If you're being surprised by hazards appearng AHEAD, then you need to pick your vision up and search further ahead. If you're being surprised by hazards appearing from the SIDES then you need to spread your view left and right. In either case, you may need to slow down initially, but what you should not be doing is focusing exclusively on the limit point.
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