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The Limit (or vanishing) Point - is it enough?

As soon as we take a look at post-test motorcycle training, one of the concepts we're likely to come across is something called the Limit Point or the Vanishing Point (or Convergence Point or Visual Point - call it what you like, it's the same thing). It gets particular focus in UK-based post-test training because it appears in the police handbook 'Motorcycle Roadcraft'. And because the police manual discusses it, it's a feature of the IAM's own RoadSmart 'Advanced Rider Course' and in the training delivered by RoSPA instructors and virtually anyone else who bases their training on UK police practice. Not surprisingly, it also regularly pops up on advanced riding videos and guides in magazines and on the internet. It's also been adopted abroad. So just how useful is it? And just how do we set our speed for a bend? Is it ONLY based on 'limit point analysis'?

Because the Limit Point has been explained so many times and done to a crispy turn on the internet, I left it the topic alone for many years - why add another article to an already-sizeable pile that say much the same?

So what changed my mind?

Have a read of this. It's a post made on the bike forum I used to moderate by another advanced instructor with impressive ex-police credentials:

"The main thing you have to learn about safe riding is the visual point or vanishing point. I teach this to clients all the time. Some tell me in detail how or what they look at at and when I take them out on the road it seems no one understands it too well. All police riding is based on this because if you know how to use it, it gives you everything you want. Position on the road, speed on the approach to any bend, how fast you can enter the bend, how much power to apply to the throttle, where to move the bike from the corner for the next position. In my experience it is not the technique that is hard but the believing what you see and having confidence to use it anywhere in the world. It is very exciting once you know how it works."

The writer continued by explaining the 'stop in the distance we can see to be clear' rule, and explained that as the limit point is as far as we can see, that's where we need to be able to stop.

Except it isn't.

Firstly, it's assuming that any obstacle in our lane revealed by the receding Limit Point will be stationary. Of course there's no guarantee that's the case as any biker who has ever misjudged an overtake approaching a corner and gone into it on the wrong side of the road will know. The narrower the road and the tighter the corner, the more likely we are to encounter a vehicle crossing into our lane, and in the worst case, driving towards us in it. It's important that we add the extra words that are actually clearly stated within 'Roadcraft' - and that is that we must actually be able to "stop WELL WITHIN in the distance we can EXPECT TO REMAIN clear". That's a significant difference.

Secondly - and this is not mentioned explicitly in 'Roadcraft' - there's always the possibility of an oncoming car turning across our path. Now, if we're rounding a left-hander, we'll see that car appear a few moments before we can see the junction it's aiming for on the inside of the corner - our line of sight always unveils the outside of the bend before we see the corresponding point on the inside of the corner. What that should tell us is that we won't know if there's an emerging car on the inside of the bend, even though our formal Limit Point is already beyond it. The reverse applies on a right-hander. We'll see the junction to the inside of the bend, but the oncoming vehicle about to cross our path into it will be out of sight. Just as 'Roadcraft' says - without explaining why - we MUST be able to stop well before we reach the Limit Point.

Here's a third issue that isn't mentioned either. Let me introduce you to what are sometimes called 'Surprise Horizons'. A Surprise Horizon is any point which lies between us and the Limit Point, from which another vehicle (or cyclist, pedestrian or even an animal) MIGHT EMERGE and BLOCK OUR PATH. And that means we actually need to do is be able to STOP at that point, NOT at the Limit Point. And that is a very different concept. The term Surprise Horizon comes from a book called 'Mind Driving' by Stephen Haley, a car trainer.
Even though we might have a clear view of the Limit Point itself, a Surprise Horizon can lurk unseen in any blind area. Even on a near-straight road, a slight kink in the hedge, the narrow gap between two buildings, an opening between parked cars, or a blind crest all have the potential to conceal anything from a tractor tugging a trailer to a sheep.

The Surprise Horizon concept is one that really should be added to 'Roadcraft' and to any explanation of how to apply the Limit point concept to judge speed. If we simply see the road as guaranteed to stay empty between ourselves and the Limit Point, we really are risking a nasty SURPRISE! And remember...

No Surprise? No Accident!

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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