Rapid Technical Series information sheet
Sometimes the very expertise you’ve taken so long to attain can lead to problems. Rapid Training’s boss Gary Baldwin tells John Westlake when to ignore the advanced riding rules.
John Westlake is one of the UK’s most experienced motorcycle journalists. The former editor of Bike and Ride has road tested almost every bike made since 1991 and is a contributing editor for Bike and Classic Bike.
Gary Baldwin is a crash investigator, ex-motorcycle cop, former racer and director of Rapid Training. He’s a blisteringly fast road rider and the man behind Rapid’s no-nonsense approach to fast, safe road riding.
JW: How can expertise cause problems?
GB: It’s not so much expertise, as sticking rigidly to advanced riding rules. I’ve been to several accidents recently that have involved experienced motorcyclists, and it’s their adherence to text book rules that have got them into trouble. Most people know that the right place to be for a left hand bend is out in the middle of the road so you get maximum visibility, but some advanced riders stay there when there’s oncoming traffic. The car or lorry only needs to deviate slightly and you’re suddenly dealing with a serious crash because of the combined closing speeds.
That sounds terrifying…
It is. I’ve watched people do this during courses and it’s very alarming – I’m often catching my breath, almost wincing, thinking ‘what the hell are you doing?’ And when I ask them afterwards they say ‘It’s the right place to ride’.
Isn’t it, technically speaking, according to the books?
No it isn’t. A lot of advanced riders get this accuracy thing into their head, telling themselves they must be inch perfect, and to demonstrate that accuracy, they ride in the middle of the road, even when there is traffic coming the other way. I think there can sometimes be an arrogance with people who regard themselves as advanced riders and that seems to overcome common sense.
So why are they doing it?
Fundamentally, they’re forgetting why they’re in the middle of the road: to see danger earlier. And if you see it, you need to react to it. It’s not much consolation knowing you were riding accurately right by the central white line if a lorry hits you. Also when you move away from the middle by a foot, what are you actually compromising? Are you really traveling so damn fast that moving that distance will mean you’ve got to change your speed radically? I wouldn’t have thought so.
But why do they do it? There must be a reason…
You could think of this type of riding as a form of showing off, proving that you can put the bike exactly where you want it to be. That’s great, but if you feel as if moving away from the centreline in the face of oncoming traffic shows inaccuracy, there’s something badly wrong.
The same applies to right-handers, and I see riders hugging the far left of the road, riding where all the potholes and dead badgers are. It’s common sense to move a foot or so nearer the middle of the road to the clean tarmac, yet a lot of advanced riders don’t do it because they’ve read that’s not the right thing to do. Motorcycling is a very practical skill and applying what you’ve read in a book is all very well, but you have to be flexible in the real world.
Any other experienced rider errors?
The other major thing that catches out these riders is filtering, because we can become blase and do it too fast. It’s the speed differential between the rider and the vehicles that matters and I’ve regularly seen people wanging between stationary motorway traffic at 50mph. That’s really just looking for trouble. You have no time to do anything if it goes wrong. Also, always keep the car in front in your peripheral vision when approaching roundabouts. You might be able to see the roundabout is clear, but he may not have even looked yet and slam his brakes on at the last minute to be on the safe side. That’s a classic experienced rider’s crash.