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Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
"We can learn a lot by watching other riders". Someone told me that a few years back, whilst suggesting that we don't really need rider coaches like me, nor programmes like my Survival Skills advanced training courses. All we have to do, he told me, is what how other riders deal with situations and then copy them. Unfortunately, there's a major assumption built into that particular plan; that the rider we're watching is actually a role model from whom we should actually be learning.
It was a lovely warm evening in early April, so I took the (t)rusty old Nissan Serena people carrier down to Eastbourne to watch the Eagles take on the Poole Pirates at speedway. There were plenty of riders out taking advantage of the warm evening sunshine too.
And plenty of examples of poor riding.
Poor positioning on right handers, hugging the white line through a curve so I had to keep moving left to avoid decapitating oncoming riders was a favourite, as were the obligatory duff overtakes.
I saw plenty of the latter, but one in particular was a cracker. Rider 1 begins to overtake and Rider 2 follows. But Rider 1 decides NOT to go for the two car pass that Rider 2 is clearly expecting and slides into a one bike-sized gap between the vehicles. Rider 2 is of course left hung out to dry. Fortunately, there was plenty of room for rider 2 to complete the overtake. Except Rider 2 didn't, and decided to try to squeeze into the same gap.
But we should know that junction collisions are the most common crash of all, and it was two incidents at junctions that particularly stuck out.
Here's the first. I'm in the Serena, waiting to turn right at a mini-roundabout, with a stream of traffic approaching from the left who would have to give way to me when I move forward. Unfortunately, the view to my right - the direction where I have to give way to traffic - is partially obscured.
Now, put your biking hat on, and imagine you're approaching from that direction, where I'm searching for vehicles to my right. So my Serena is ahead and sitting on your left.
Here's the problem. You're approaching the junction around a bit of a kink which means your view only opens up quite late. And what you see is my Serena, and a big gap in that stream of traffic that's been coming the other way.
Let's hit PAUSE.
What could we anticipate? Firstly, as our machine's appeared around that kink, does the driver of the Serena know what's approaching from his right? If he didn't spot us on his last check to the right, what's likely to happen?
It's not difficult, is it? With nothing apparently coming from his right, he can pull out, but now the Serena driver's attention is almost certainly to his left, to make sure that vehicles approaching from THAT direction give way to him.
So back on the bike, what can we do?
Slowing down would be a good starting point. Covering the brakes would be a second. Watching the vehicle to see if it begins to move would be a third. Being prepared to sound the horn and hit the brakes hard would be a fourth and fifth.
Fortunately I DID spot the bike just as I was about to pull out, and I watched him as he approached and passed through the junction. He did none of these things. In fact, he approached (I guess) at around 10 mph over the 30 speed limit, and straight-lined the mini-roundabout riding straight over the paint blob. He didn't slow, he didn't look once in my direction, and I could see he wasn't covering the brakes or the horn.
Not only would he have been in big trouble had I emerged, but had the last car in the opposing stream turned right across his path, he would have been hard-pressed to avoid a collision. This guy was oblivious to the very real danger posed by the road layout. Why? Lack of knowledge? Or an assumption that he had right-of-way and that other drivers should signal their turns? My guess is the latter.
Two lessons. Just because an oncoming vehicle isn't signalling to turn right doesn't mean it won't turn right across your path. Just because you have right of way over a vehicle on the left, it doesn't mean a driver won't pull out across your path. Don't assume!
Just a mile up the road, I had to fill up before heading to Eastbourne. The filling station is on the other side of the road, so it meant that I had to turn turning right to get back onto the road - that direction happens to be to the west, and we'll see why that's important in just a moment.
Once gain, there's a slight kink just where the filling station is, so now I can't see left OR right. So like most drivers, I wait for a nice big gap in the traffic stream coming from my right. And when I get one, I pull forward to the centre line, and wait till a gap or some kind soul lets me complete my turn. Predictably, after I've sat there for a couple of seconds, a car driver hangs back and flashes me out.
Fortunately for Larry Lackwit on the bike approaching from my right, I've already clocked him at a distance, and double-check back to my right to see where he is before acting on the headlight flash.
Because Larry decides that he can make a point about him having right-of-way by aiming his bike for the metre-wide gap in front of my Serena.
If I'd just started to move as I double-checked, I would have punted him straight into the front of the car that had stopped to let me out, and we'd have been calling the emergency services. If I'd already gone without looking, he'd would have buried himself in my driver's door at 30 mph. He probably wouldn't have needed an ambulance.
Doubly-fortunate for him, the reason I knew he was there was because I'd been double-checking back to the right even when sat blocking the lane. And I'd looked VERY CAREFULLY because the light of the setting sun was right behind him. Even with his headlight on, he wasn't easy to spot.
Lesson? Another simple one about being impatient. Why put ourselves into dangerous situations simply to show off our right-of-way? It wouldn't have saved more than ten seconds - he could have just rolled off the gas, waited for me to complete the manoeuvre, and been on his way with barely a moment lost.
And remember, if the sun is behind us, we have a lovely clear view ahead with everything picked out in the evening light. Check the angle of shadows of the bike. If we're running over our own shadow, the driver ahead is looking straight into the sun.
Final point... neither of these incidents took place on the local roads where I know riders go hooning on summer evenings. The chances are both riders were locals, and almost certainly know that the mini-roundabout and the petrol station were there. My feeling was that both were making a very deliberate choice to enforce their own right-of-way, and would blame the other road user if things went wrong.
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