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Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Years ago, I went along to one of the very first BikeSafe courses run by the Met Police, and had a good day, picking up a couple of useful tips and generally being impressed with the comments. One of my few negative observations on the day was the way the police rider taking us out held a wide line, right out on the white line, around left-hand bends even when there was traffic coming the other way. I felt the position was too extreme, and when writing up my day out, I made this comment on my regular bike forum. The ensuing discussion surprised me.
One forum member, a former bike cop himself, took me to task and insisted that if the rider gained an extra half-second view ahead, then the wide position was worth it.
I thought about the cornering crash stats, and just how many riders are killed on left-hand corners. It's pretty obvious that seeing the spiky thing on the front of the tractor half a second sooner if it's about to impale us doesn't really help much. A second trainer said:
"There are times when position for view is the last thing (but not 'final') to be considered. Narrow lanes, tight blind corners? Forget 'progress', hug the left verge."
Then up popped a third instructor with:
"Seeing something half a second earlier CAN make a difference. What is important is that your speed is right such that you are able to deal with any situations as they occur.
"Very often people are simply carrying too much speed as opposed to being in the wrong position. The two combined are a lethal combination, 2 mph can be too much, just lose it and manage the problem."
So which is it? Should we hold that wider line and get a slightly better view around a left-hander? Or should we tuck in a little closer to the nearside and sacrifice a bit of view for some extra clearance to oncoming vehicles?
The answer, to my mind, usually lies with the simpler option.
If we hold the wide line out alongside the centre line, and we DO see something we need to avoid, then we need to move - and pretty rapidly too - to the left to get out of the way.
If on the same corner we hold a slightly tighter line, we have slightly less view around the corner, but the chances of meeting a vehicle cutting the corner and requiring some evasive action are lessened. And we'll probably not have to move so far for that evasive manoeuvre.
But there's another consideration. The only real reason for holding a wide line around a corner is to carry more speed. Think about it - we need to be able to 'stop in the distance we can see to be clear on our side of the road' etc. That's the instruction from 'Motorcycle Roadcraft', the police manual. If we move left, we can still apply the rule, just at a slightly slower speed because we can see a little less far.
How much is our view restricted? Well, mid-corner it's not nearly as much as is generally believed. The diagrams in Roadcraft are massively exaggerated in terms of width of the road, simply to make the point clear. But on real roads which are much narrower, the extra distances we can see by taking up wide positions is just a few metres. If you're sceptical, you can easily see for yourself. Stop near a left-hand bend, and walk to the centre of the lane - look up the road and see where the limit point is. Now walk out to the centre line, and have a second look. You won't be seeing much further around the corner. If you don't fancy getting round down, you can achieve much the same result by using the satellite view on Googlemaps and zooming in on a bend. Lay a straight edge over the screen and move it around to simulate the different lines of sight. I think you'll be surprised how little extra the view moves forward as you shift from a centre-of-the-lane position to the extreme right.
The real benefit of the wide-right position on a left-hander is not what we can see of the the road ahead, it's actually an earlier view - and more separation from - the other big threat on any twisty road; blind driveways, entrances to fields, and side turnings on the inside of the corner...
...and if we DO find something pulling out from the left or turning into the entrance across our path, we better be able to stop in short order.
Suddenly, the benefits of carrying more speed around the bend don't look quite so important as the ability to stop when we find the road blocked.
* I repeated BikeSafe in 2018 and am happy to report that the police rider was taking up rather less extreme positions!
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