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Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
From time to time, someone comments on my articles by saying: "you write too much. Your articles are too long. They cover too much. There's too much detail to take in". I understand the criticism - here on the Survival Skills advanced motorcycle riding website I do tend to write long articles. Here's why.
A while back, someone emailed me to say my articles were too long and to point me at another training school's riding tips. Over a couple of rounds of mail we ended up talking about an article that dealt with the 'advanced' approach to roundabouts. To go straight ahead, the writer was advocating a straight line. The rider starts on the left, clips the island mid-roundabout, then exits on the left. It's sometimes called the 'kerb/kerb/kerb' (or KKK) route, and it's not uncommon for it to be taught on post-test training.
What's usually discussed is how the rider gains 'advantage' from the route. The benefit usually advanced is that the KKK route "improves stability" because the straighter route means the bike stays more upright when compared to the 'around the outside' route taught on basic training.
But let's flip the question in the usual Survival Skills fashion and have a think about the potential problems rather than the possible benefit.
The first is that any straighter route is almost always used to carry more speed. That's just as true on a roundabout as it is in a corner. So let's think about how that works. Any gain in stability is very quickly traded away to increased stopping distances and a reduced ability to swerve. There's a simple bit of physics to remember here - if we double our speed, we QUADRUPLE stopping distance and swerving also takes longer to achieve. What this means is that relatively small increases in speed have a proportionately greater impact in terms of longer stopping distance and reduced agility than might be obvious. Meanwhile, let's remind ourselves of just what a roundabout is - it's a junction. Does it make sense to carry additional speed into a junction? If we want to increase stability, perhaps we should be thinking of reducing speed, not finding ways to carry more of it.
The article in question didn't discuss this. Nor did it really explore the next issue.
The Highway Code lays down 'standard procedures' for dealing with roundabouts for good reason. If followed, we can look at another road user and know what they are doing. And another driver can look at us, and know exactly what route we're following. Everyone understands everyone else, and we can all make our plans accordingly. But once anyone - ourselves included - starts 'freelancing' with our own notion of how to ride across a roundabout, it causes confusion. It's easy to write "only use non-standard procedures in the absence of other vehicles" but look at the views on most roundabouts - it's often far from easy to be certain we're alone.
And there's another problem. There's always someone faster. One of my nearest-misses came at the end of a sequence of roundabouts I'd straight-lined. The rider who had followed me through the previous three tried (and failed) to out-brake me into the last one. It was only because I used effective rear observation that I was able to take evasive action and save us from a coming-together.
I felt that their article glossed over the issue that there are likely to be other road users using the roundabout as well as the need for good rear observation before committing to a straight line approach with a passing reference, whilst pushing the minor benefit of getting to the other side of the island slightly more quickly as 'advanced' riding.
Somewhat to my surprise, my correspondent forwarded the emails onto the training school for their comments. In essence, they agreed on the overarching need for safety (not surprising seeing as we are both essentially teaching safe riding), but not on the need to include that in the article. I was told it would be covered when you took an actual course.
Eh? The risk of only giving out half the information on the grounds that it will be covered in a training course should be obvious.
So to get back to my original point about depth of content, I try to balance any positive benefits with possible negative aspects, even if that makes for a long read. It's particularly dangerous to leave out the cautions. Not everyone will figure out the pitfalls for themselves and as one of my earlier trainees said - she was a horse-riding instructor - if we ASSUME it makes an ASS out of U and ME!
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