Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Joys of Learning to Ride - To See and Be Seen
Taking a motorcycle class gave me a heck of a lot of questions that I didn't yet have when I walked in. For instance, you're usually not worried about where you should be in a lane while you're driving as long as you're between the lines. But on a motorcycle, you have options. Whether you're riding on a straight road, a curved road, a road with no traffic or a road that's packed, there are lane positions best suited for each.
From what limited knowledge I had of riding a motorcycle before taking the MSF course, I had always thought that the best place was to ride is in the car tracks of other cars. My thought process was that the part of the road had less debris as it would have been previously moved into the center or outsides of the lane by other vehicle's tires.
Then, during the class, I was constantly told that the outside to inside to outside lane position method was best for going through curves on roads. Wait... what? I stared at the diagram for what seemed like hours and still could not understand what exactly outside to inside to outside meant. Sure, this may seem so easy to people who ride everyday, but for someone who had never once considered where their car was positioned while in a curve, it was like reading Italian for the first time.
So I didn't get it. Sure, I remembered the concept and got it right on the written MSF test, but I was still clueless as to what it actually meant. So I started to pay attention. While driving around my car (don't judge but holiday shopping has kept me from buying my first bike right away... feel free to start a fund) I started to go around curves with that little diagram in my head. Outside to inside to outside. Outside to inside to � OHHHH! I got it. That's what they meant when they said that it would give you an easier turn. It was more like trying to go through a curve diagonally so that you didn't have to lean so harshly and had more control. Plus it gave you more time to make corrections as you got into a turn.
So I patted myself on the back and stored that little nugget of wisdom away for when it was time to ride and started to study the California Motorcycle DMV Handbook for my license. Sure, I had passed my MSF class which waived a DMV riding test, but I still needed to take the DMV's written exam to get my motorcycle endorsement.
My boss had recently taken it and I asked if it was easy but apparently the DMV snuck a few trick questions in there that you could swear you knew the answer to but didn't such as, "when riding down a two lane road, what section of the lane should you be in?" I though the right, away from oncoming traffic and still in the section of the road with less debris. But no. The correct answer was the center. Why? Heck I can't remember. So I started to do a little more research and found a pile of exceptions and suspicions and rules that bikers have come up with over the years to explain the best lane position in various scenarios.
For instance, it's actually a better idea to ride towards the center of the road and in the left side of your lane on a two lane road in order to give oncoming traffic a better chance of seeing you. However, if oncoming traffic happens to be a massive truck, riding more to the center or right side of your lane can help reduce the wind blast when they pass you. Also, if you're stuck behind a slow moving vehicle and a car behind you decides to pass, stay more towards the center or right of your lane in case they forget they have mirrors that could hit you or they get close enough to sideswipe you. And any time that you ride next to another vehicle, position yourself accordingly to their blind spot. Either move to the left or the right of the lane to where they'll be able to see you in their side mirrors. Oh and that's why the center of the lane is better when following someone! A driver directly in front of you will be more likely to see you directly in the center of their rear view mirror than their side mirrors.
Of course, where you should be in your lane also applies to how closely you follow or how closely others follow you while on the road. Following too closely can severely limit your reaction time. Keeping a 2 to 4 second time cushion between you and the car in front of you can be the difference between you spotting an unexpected stop and you becoming a pancake on someone's bumper.
So what do you do when drivers around you don't follow the same rule? Having a tailgater can be a million times more worrisome when you're on a motorcycle. If the car behind you doesn't give enough time for an emergency stop, you won't just have a dented bumper and a touch of whiplash, you could end up with some serious hospital time. Let tailgaters pass. If they don't, slow down to make your time cushion between you and the car in front of you even longer. Plus slowing down will encourage the rude maniac to pass you.
But I'm sure most riders have already figured this stuff out. Still, there are tons of guidelines tucked into various scenarios. If you live in a place that tends to thrive with wildlife, ride towards the center of the road to avoid deer or other various animals from jumping into your path. Still, it's actual experience that I've found is the best teacher of lane position rules... So what are yours? What lane position facts have you found over your years of riding?