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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.

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

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