Improve your riding: Basic road positioning
Ride better. Ride smarter. And it won’t cost you a penny to improve.
WElCOmE to the Improve section of MCM. Everything you need to know about motorcycling but were afraid to ask. Because no matter how long you’ve been riding; 30 days or 30 years, there’s always something to learn. Especially as so many riders of our generation are... ahem... self-taught and survivors rather than highly trained and invincible.
First up is road positioning. In some ways it’s the simplest part of better riding. Ride here, not there – how much more straightforward can things be? Except, so many of us don’t quite get it right. And being in the wrong place compromises your ability to get through a corner as smoothly, safely and quickly as you could.
And as always, the key is practice. Read the feature, follow the instructions and swap those ingrained bad habits for shiny, fresh new ones. Good luck.
Step one: Straight, not narrow
Visibility is key here. Your ability to see what’s coming at you, whether that’s traffic or changes in direction of the road. But also other road users’ ability to see you.
So let’s assume that you’re riding along a straight, level road. There’s no other traffic... so where should you be positioned? Ideally, if you imagine you’re looking down on the road from above and the left side of the road itself is split into equal thirds then you should be sitting on the line one third in from the centre of the total road. Or two-thirds away from the gutter, if you’d prefer.
There are three main reasons for this. The first is so that you’re not in the gutter, riding over debris. You’ve paid for your part of the road and you’ve got every right to be on it, so make the most of it. Don’t be timid. Control your part of the road, and ride in the two-thirds position confidently.
The second is so that you have the most available amount of road to either side of you quickly should you need to get on to it to avoid trouble. And the third is that ‘V’ word again, visibility. Ride in this position and you will be able to see the progression of the traffic in front of you and the progression of the traffic coming towards you on the other side of the road.
Step two: Left-hand corners
Getting in the correct position for corners should be done in plenty of time BEFORE you get to the corner. Get this right and you can see much further round the corner much sooner so you can plan your line through it and set your speed and gears accordingly.
So, nice and early you need to get over to the right-hand side of your lane – without drifting too far and crossing the white line (because this is a road, not a racetrack and we’re having fun, not setting records).
If you’ve never done this, you’ll be genuinely surprised how much more visibility you can get from an extra foot to the right. If you do it already, try another six inches and see what happens.
Traffic makes it trickier. Should you find a truck blocking your view, the smart move is to hang back a bit and shimmy left so you can see down the side of him (if the geography of the corner will allow without having high hedgerows etc) and judge the road ahead for overtaking opportunities once the corner opens out. It feels weird at first if you’re new to this, but once it becomes a habit you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t ride this way. Out to the right, look across the inside arc of the corner and get an idea of what’s up ahead in some cases even before you enter the corner.
Step three: Right-hand corners
The procedure is exactly the same for right-hand corners as for left, except you are moving to the left of the road. Get into position early, and move as far as you can comfortably get without riding in the gutter.
Once you’re there make sure there’s enough room between you and the vehicle in front so that you’re not focusing on what he’s doing in order to give you some time to look around. Then look across the corner to the right, just as you did for the left-hand corner set-up, and get all that lovely information about what’s around the corner before it’s even got anywhere near you.
Step four: The right distance back
We’ve all seen the impatient rider sitting right up the chuff of a car or van or lorry, weaving and neckcraning around the edge to see if it’s all clear.
Er... no. The key here to being safe and clever is distance. You want to be between 10 and 15 bike lengths behind the vehicle, in the two-thirds lane position. From here you can see over most things and still have the immediacy to get up to speed safely and make the pass.
If the vehicle is a behemoth-type truck similar in height to a small building, then dropping back that bit further will have a dramatic effect on how aware you are of traffic coming at you. Any further than 15 bike lengths and two things happen. Firstly, some clot in a car will overtake and fill the space, but more importantly, when an overtake presents itself, you might not have the time to take advantage of it safely.
Step five: Look well ahead
Hold a pencil in front of you and stare at it. Now, move it away to your left while staring straight ahead. You can move that pencil 90 degrees to the left and still see the outline in your peripheral vision. This phenomenon is your biggest friend in advanced road positioning.
Approaching a right-hand corner, move as far to the left as you need. Now, stop looking at the kerb and stare straight ahead. Don’t worry about where your wheel is, peripheral vision is keeping it in check. Somehow you instinctively know and the more you ignore it and focus ahead, the easier it becomes, letting you focus on looking through the corner and not at your boots.
Step six: The safety bubble in town
When you’re in busy traffic the need to maintain your area of safety grows.
This is all about being aware of what’s around you. Good observation is key here, as it is during all rides, of course, but when you find yourself surrounded by several tons of metal then position and thinking ahead are critical.
Position should stay basically the same at the two-thirds of the lane spot – own the road, don’t be intimidated... control what’s happening. Staying there will stop drivers chancing their arm and muscling in, especially if things have ground to a virtual halt.
Slowand steady wins the race in town traffic though, maintain forward momentumas much as possible and keep the clutch and brakes covered at all times.
In short, treat every town driver like they haven’t seen you, own the space and do the thinking for them. Take responsibility and you’ll be far better off for it.