The importance of positioning
Why is positioning so important and why is positioning for learners so dramatically different than that of an advanced rider?
Learning to ride on the road for the first time can be a daunting experience. Not only are you ‘coming to terms’ with the weird controls by using both hands, many fingers and both feet, there is also that little issue of balance of the bike.
To make matters worse the instructor then tries to explain the physics of counter-steer when cornering, which confuses everyone. Of course there is that other little matter of stopping, recognising different road surfaces, weight distribution at braking and which brake or combination of brakes should I be using anyway! Don’t seem to remember learning to drive a car being that difficult.
Add to that a feeling of being very vulnerable as other road users show no mercy, even if you are displaying ‘leave me alone’ L plates. It’s because of all these factors and the chances of you being repeatedly told by your instructor to cancel the indicators and remember PSLM, that for learner training and test purposes they keep you at harms way by getting you to adopt a position centre of your lane.
The video below from Total Advanced takes us through the positioning process while cornering.
Obviously, if there is a hazard, or developing hazard then move away, but the only latitude normally afforded is when entering a RH bend when you can move more to the left. The prospect of you going anywhere near the centre divide would attract criticism.
Whilst that totally makes sense for an inexperienced biker, once you find riding a bike has become ‘second nature’ your brain has capacity to take on new skills and a new system of riding and this is where many riders can benefit from additional training and the transition that lays ahead.
Whenever you take the transition from learner to post test/advanced, don’t ever lose sight of the principal that it should make you much safer and if any time you feel that isn’t the case, the chances are it’s been lost in translation as the system is very sound.
Positioning can seem quite alien to some riders…
When teaching riders advanced positioning techniques for the first time many describe this as being alien to them and not anything they would have considered themselves.
Many have adopted rigid lines perhaps from years of experience of driving a car where flexible positioning with a car is limited due to its width.
Also at the time of the learner training it would be very conflicting if they explained post test positioning as their job is to get you through the test. Motorcycles are fundamentally different to cars especially on size, which is why we can be far more flexible with positioning, which can both increase your safety margins and improve your view. Some riders will wrongly prioritise visibility above everything else, but it should never be implemented if it means sacrificing your safety.
- We can be more flexible with positioning on a bike than in a car
- Positioning on a bike can increase your safety margins and improve your view
- Do not sacrifice your safety when positioning
A good example of this is the practice of ‘off siding’, whilst going into a sharp left hand bend from over the crown of the road. Whilst the more you are to the right the more you can see into a left hand bend – it still has to be safe.
That means negating any threat from a RH blind entrance and should a car suddenly appear travelling towards you, that your closing distance allows you to get back to your side of the road safely.
As an examiner, riders on test who try to introduce this into their ride, get it more wrong than right. You have to always think ‘what is there an advantage that can be had from doing this manoeuvre’ against the risk.
The straight lining of some slight bends can be achieved in reasonable safety by an inexperienced rider whereas to correctly know when to use offsiding requires a greater ‘skill set’, as the risk can be potentially much greater.
The video below from Total Advanced demonstrates how visibility and safety can be incresed when off siding.
Not limited to bends:
Some experienced riders who have not completed any post test training may already introduce elements of flexibility with entry/exit lines into corners, but as hazards can appear from both sides of the road and at any time, this shouldn’t be limited to bends.
As riders we should try to maximise our position by making us visible to other road users at all times and because of this advanced riders are taught to ride more towards the centre of the road. That is on the basis there is no apparent hazard identified.
Some wrongly hold onto that position when traffic is passing in the opposite direction. Unless the road is that wide, or there is a divide, the opposing traffic is a hazard and you should move away. Tucking in an elbow isn’t moving away, as once again safety is everything.
- Hazards can appear from both sides of the road
- Ride towards the centre of the road to maximise your position, improving visibility to other road users
- Tuck back in properly once traffic is passing in the opposite direction
Blind entrance and junctions:
We know motorcyclists, are significantly at risk from vehicles pulling out of nearside junctions and entrances. With no apparent danger to the off side we should approach these blind entrance and junctions placing good distance between us and the mouth of the junction.
By adopting an advanced position we should already have achieved an increased safety margin. It’s not just about you looking into and controlling the junction it’s equally about you making yourself as big as possible to any vehicle considering pulling out.
Don’t be a reactive rider, which is only moving away when a car appears. With no apparent danger to the offside, ride proactively anticipating a car may appear. Our perfect world can quickly be shattered, as even with a great approach line, headlight on, and wearing a hi vis jacket, the car can still pull out you.
By not now being centre of your lane, but centre of the road has doubled the distance between you and the bonnet. Usually the more time we have the better our decision making process can be. In those circumstances you have just bought yourself a lot more time and distance to negate the threat.
- Gives you a better view
- Increases your safety margins
- Maximizes your visibility to other road users
- Provides you with more time to make a better informed decision
At the end of our training days we give riders written feedback in 12 areas of riding competency, with some areas being better developed than others. If I could get all riders to consistently ride in the correct position I would feel it was a good day at the office!
Mick Jones is the Chief Instructor for Total Advanced Training, a Bike Safe Assessor and a Rospa Motorcycle Examiner. He was a former Bike magazines resident expert for 4 years on their column ‘the riding clinic’ and ex Police Surveillance Motorcyclist in London.