TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
We try to keep training stuff out of the website, mainly because of the problems involved in learning a practical skill from the written word, but as a result of feedback asking for some, here we go.
Most of us, even without advanced training, know that for a right hand bend we get over to the left and move to the right for a left hand bend. Sounds simple enough, if only it was!
Think of a right hand bend. The key to getting it spot on is assessing it as early as possible. As soon as you can see it's there, you need to be moving onto the correct line. This is where most people go wrong. If you are still moving towards the correct line as you go into the bend, it's already gone wrong. Get your machine on the most accurate line that you can, and once there focus on looking through the corner.
What most newcomers say after a demo ride is 'I can't get the bike that close to the edge of the road.' Like most things it is practice that makes it slot into place. The reason you feel uncomfortable is obvious: it's the thought of hitting the kerb. Done correctly, I promise it won't happen! Firstly we need to do all of this on the straight approaching the corner. Get the bike as close to the verge/ kerb as you feel comfortable. Once there you must look where you want the bike to go, i.e. to the right. The bike will always follow your eyes; look at the exit of the bend and it will come off line to the right. Simple, yes? Well, no, don't expect all this to slot into place after two corners. A common theme with new riders is that they want to be so good so quickly. Give yourself time to become fluent. Once you have this accurate line, make sure you are always riding at the view, it is easy to stay on a line too long and find yourself riding all the way round the outer edge of the curve. Not the right way at all.
Bends should link together with a flow from one line to the next. If you find yourself wrestling the bike to get it on line early enough then you have done it wrong. People have fewer problems with the line for left handers. Riding in the middle of the road is easy. There's not much around you so you feel safer. We often get asked how far to the right can I go? Yes, if you rode in the offside gutter you could see further round the corner, however not all roads in this country are one way!
You may know why you are on the wrong side of the road, but what about the guy coming the other way? You are putting a lot of trust in someone you have never met! Yes, he may do nothing, but he could swerve to your side of the road. This can at least look tacky, and at worst be dangerous. Rapid's policy is ; go as far as the hazard line but don't cross it simply to increase the view. This doesn't mean you can't straighten out bends where appropriate, because in that case you already have the view.
Remember bend lines are meant to be flexible. Compromise your line and your speed for situations that you see. Don't ride through pot holes in the gutter or too close to oncoming traffic. There's more to bends than I could ever hope to cover here, but remember, the more you practice, the better you will get!
When we are trying to introduce students to the principles of Hazard Perception, one of the phrases we use is 'more paint, more danger'. For those who haven't done any training, in short: where there are no hazards you normally just get a lane line in the middle of the road. When things get worse (approaching a junction for example) the line lengthens. When things get even worse (no visibility) the lines become solid. A simple principle, which, even if you don't know the theory will prick your subconscious.
That was then, and this, as they say, is now. Buckinghamshire, where I live, are now employing 'ladder hatchings'. This is the metre wide hatching in the centre of the road that goes for miles. They are putting this everywhere. In fact the A413 from Aylesbury to Buckingham (a great biking road) is now completely covered in the stuff, or solid white lines for its entire length. Its aim is to put people off overtaking.
It is not illegal to cross these lines. The Highway Code says 'if the area is bordered by a broken white line, you should not enter the area unless it is necessary and you can see that it is safe to do so'. Necessary? Well if it's necessary to overtake then it's ok to enter them. The problem is that miles and miles of these things just bring the whole system into disrepute. They are on long straights, where even cars can overtake in safety. There is now less paint at junctions as the nearside line disappears to make a right turning slot. There is no extra warning of bends or hill crests. This is pitching traffic signs at Plankton level.
As time goes by and people see cars regularly overtaking on these lines (and we do in marked police vehicles) they too will have a go, probably choosing the wrong place; a junction or hill crest to do it. You can't teach people how to overtake safely simply by trying to put them off doing it. Yes, before anyone writes in I know they make a handy bikes only overtaking lane! I'll just get down from my soap box, if you'll excuse me!
Overtaking should be a simple procedure on a bike- after all we take up so little space and have the performance and acceleration of a surface to air missile. So why does it cause so many problems? Overtakes don't just happen, they are planned, and the planning starts the moment a vehicle appears in front of you.
Make sure that your attention does not become focused on the back of the vehicle. Ideally you should reach it and pass it with the minimum possible disruption to your progress. Normally the danger for motorcyclists is not hitting something coming the other way, but more often the vehicle they are overtaking, usually as it does a sudden right turn. Check for offside dangers, especially any form of junction or entrance. Be suspicious of vehicles travelling at less than the normal place ; are they looking for a picnic spot, or a convenient place to turn? Being able to blitz past them at five times their speed may be (and is) fun when it goes right, but the sight of the driver's door blocking your path is a simple and effective cure for constipation!
Watch out for hazard lines; why are they there? This much misunderstood white line is the simplest and most effective warning sign there is. Remember that a single long line with a short gap means a hazard, which is usually a junction, bend or hill crest. Whichever it is, you must check it out before committing yourself to crossing the line.
We must put ourselves in a position where we can see, so don't get too close to large vehicles. You end up closing off your view, and all you can see is 'TESCO' in 12-foot high letters. Don't be afraid to look up the inside of vehicles. If the road is going even slightly to the left, then that's where the view will be. Trying to look down the offside won't work. You simply will not be able to see far enough ahead. Once you can see, pick your time; don't be rushed into taking an overtake. You must know where you are going before you commit yourself, if there isn't a space, don't presume that one will appear.
If you are overtaking lots of vehicles in a line you usually end up having to take a few at a time. When you come back to the nearside lane, make sure it's under smooth deceleration. Whacking the brakes on and diving into a gap looks naff, and it is naff! As you go out, accelerate, but come off the gas alongside the last vehicle so you can lose your speed and blend back into the line of traffic. Don't get too cosy because you are not staying, just stay out by the centre line and don't go making yourself at home. When the next gap appears, off we go. Try not to swoop in and out with gusto, it looks tatty, and like you don't know what you're doing!
The other thing riders do a lot of, and which is a total waste of time, is indicating. The last student I followed who did this a lot, was riding a ZX9R. I counted one flash of the indicator and the overtake had been completed. Who was supposed to see that? Most people don't indicate their intention to overtake; they state the bleedin' obvious! If no one will benefit, don't bother. If you need to indicate it's usually for the benefit of oncoming traffic, or anyone following who may be looking to overtake you.
The other thing to watch is rear observation. Don't look over your shoulder, use your mirrors. You should have been checking them often enough to know what's there, but we don't want you looking over your shoulder when you are 'too' close to the car in front. If it does anything unexpected, you have lost some valuable reaction time.
Keep it smooth and controlled. Remember overtakes are not a percentage game, they are either 100% on or we don't go. When in doubt, bottle out! Finally, on a licence/ self preservation note. However safe you may consider it to slip across a solid white line, our advice will always be don't!! You will almost never get a caution for this offence. What the copper sees is a rider saying 'I know this is a dangerous area, but I don't care'. From an accident reconstruction point of view it makes life very simple. It turns a Careless Driving charge into a Dangerous Driving charge. One means points and a fine, the other crap food, table tennis in C wing on a Wednesday night, and showers with Big Ron for a few months. Can't you just wait till the line ends?
Summing it up, you'll never get good at something unless you practice. Practice makes perfect, so if there's a vehicle in front of you, get practicing.