Rapid Technical Series information sheet
These can be tricky, often because we’re enjoying ourselves and not thinking about what’s going on in drivers’ brains. Rapid Training’s boss Gary Baldwin tells John Westlake how to stack the odds in your favour.
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: Are rural junctions really more dangerous than corners?
GB: As a crash investigator, I spend most of my time at junctions. Corners come a close second with bikes, but it’s intersections that are the most common accident site. We always over-estimate our conspicuity, under-estimate our speed and over-estimate our ability to do anything about it if it all goes wrong.
So speed is critical?
It can be, yes. Most of the time, our approach speed is too high. It doesn’t matter what the number is, but the lower it is, the more time the bloke in the car has got to get their decision right. Sometimes we don’t dial out of warp speed – we’re flowing through the countryside at a rapid pace, we’re relaxed and it doesn’t feel anything special. But those are speeds that motorists are not expecting.
But why don’t car drivers look properly and see we’re going a bit faster?
No-one does this. At a junction you look long enough to gauge distance, not speed. On average people look for 0.6sec to check for traffic. It’s not possible to assess speed in that time, only distance. And the driver thinks ‘he’s that far away, so I’ve got time because people normally go here at 40mph’. That system usually works because the traffic is travelling within the envelope of speeds we expect. If you’re actually doing 80mph, it’s going to cause problems. We have right of way, but it’s not much consolation being right from a hospital bed.
So what do we do?
There needs to be a presumption in your mind that the person at the junction has not got it right. There are few times I’d advocate looking at the speedo – to check you’re in a 30mph or 40mph speed limit where you’re likely to get booked is one, and another is on the approach to a junction on a rural road. Modern bikes can make high speeds feel moderate, so you need to check, and ask ‘am I doing the same speed as everyone else?’. There’s only one person who gets hurt in this kind of crash, so you have to take responsibility. Most drivers don’t want to spoil anyone else’s day. An awful lot of the crashes I go to, it’s clear the motorcyclist has taken it for granted that someone will do what they expect. A junction is a danger. A car waiting in a junction is a much more serious danger. You need to plan for that.
Any particularly dodgy junctions?
The ones to be especially careful with are where the car can make a smooth, fast exit from the road – for example, if they drive down a filter lane in the middle of dual carriageway and then turn right across oncoming traffic. Then they’re having to do two lots of calculations – working out their speed for the turn, and the speed of the oncoming bike. This is often too much to cope with and mistakes are made. Lots of these turns have been closed in Milton Keynes for just this reason.
Anything else we can do?
Throttle off a bit more than you think and move position in the road because that lateral movement can wake people up a bit. Put yourself in the driver’s shoes – it’s really difficult to tell the speed of a dot coming down the road. And we should also think about what’s behind us, and whether we’re going to blend in with that - this is particularly important at night, because it’s easy for our headlight to get lost amongst the vehicles behind. On the other hand, it’s often safer if you’re surrounded by traffic and doing their speed because the driver will see them even if he doesn’t notice you. If you’re on your own, be especially careful, because that’s when a driver might get it wrong.