Space, the primary frontier, and where to get it

The concept of what constitutes personal space varies markedly around the world and within countries. What constitutes an invasion of it in one society would be considered laughable in another – hello Indian and Japanese rush-hour train commuters! On the road lane sharing and tailgating are non-issues to commuters in Hanoi whilst leaning on competitors and rubbing fairings is considered acceptable in some forms of racing. In WA it’s legal to lane share on motorcycles whereas in other jurisdictions it’s illegal. Everyone has their own interpretation of what is safe space, the problem arises when interpretation and fact don’t match. As Sting sang, ‘Don’t stand so close to me”.

How can we control our personal space when we ride, how does it change? When is fast is too fast? Is stationary the safest? it all depends on circumstance. Forget about measuring things by “car lengths” – it sure as hell ain’t accurate. Time is of the essence, it is a reliable guide. The general consensus  is that you need to have a  minimum 5 second view around you so you can evaluate and respond to any potential hazards with a little extra space to spare. Obviously the actual physical range of 5 seconds varies according to your speed and or the speed of others. On a desert highway you can probably see 5 minutes ahead and behind (or more) but scrub could obscure the view to the side to a matter of seconds.

Crashes are low frequency events, if we crashed all the time we wouldn’t ride, it’s the probable outcomes of the crashes that matter. Statistically most multi vehicle crashes happen at junctions. A basic survival technique is not to be sitting at the back of the queue on a road where the speed limit is above 60kph without paying rapt  attention to what’s coming up behind you. I’d suggest filtering past at least a couple of cars to get a buffer between you and anything approaching from behind. If it’s raining, or dark or on a freeway with standing traffic you would not want to be at the back of the queue.

You don’t need to filter to the front, if you do the impetus is on you to be first away from the lights and that means you are most likely to be collected by anyone running them. Green does not mean go, it means you may proceed if it is clear to do so. How do you know it’s clear? You look before you commit, and by look I mean consciously look, not just a quick glance expecting to see nothing. Peripheral vision is great for picking up movement but street furniture can easily obscure even a large vehicle for a millisecond.

If you can’t see through the junction then act accordingly. In ideal conditions, dry road, bike and tyres in in good condition and rider operating efficiently you can halt a motorcycle in 2 seconds from 40 kph. The bad news is that will still put you in the middle of the intersection. The very bad news that if you add other variables, downhill, a curve, poor surface, dodgy machinery or rider condition it will take longer – add a second for each variable.  If you realise you can’t see because the view won’t or can’t open up you can react  as your 5 second zone gets impinged. Simply reacting – setting up the brakes lightly to load the front tyre and illuminating the tail light wash off 5 kph and prepare you and the bike for braking – as well as letting the people behind you know that something is possibly up. You have shortened your braking distance because you have cut out your reaction time, the bike is ready to brake and if you have to you can  stop in your half of the roadway. Again, fatal crashes at junctions occur most where two roads of similar size intersect, there is no point in being paranoid.

Another example, there is a vehicle approaching on an intersecting road and they should give way. Are they slowing, have they looked in your direction, are you in their blind spot, camouflaged or coming out of setting sun? If they are stationary, is there a good reason for them to stay there or will they impatiently move out (slow drivers tend to do this as they assume that being slow is automatically safe and are bad at judging approaching vehicles speed). 3 pieces of evidence are required. Have they at least turned their head in your direction (you can’t know if they have seen you), are their hands moving on the steering wheel, are the vehicles wheels starting to turn?

Slow down or move away (which can involve speeding up to clear a potential hazard – but a response rare unless stationary). Sounds easy doesn’t it? Roadcraft comes with experience but none of us have seen it all. If you take an interest in your riding you will recognise when you make mistakes or could have done better, no-one is perfect all the time. I have had my miserable skin saved by the actions of others on more occasions than I am aware and have also repaid the favour many times over.

Single vehicle crashes tend to happen on curves through running wide. Left handers see riders exiting right through either going in too fast and braking too hard as a result of not reading the radius of the curve and right handers see people either exiting left into the mulga  through a combination of speed and target fixation or cutting a blind corner and being collected by on-coming vehicles. Again, having one’s mind 5 seconds ahead should help prepare you to avoid such eventualities and choose an appropriate path through the corners.

If you find yourself making mistakes, great! If you find yourself making the same mistake repeatedly ask yourself why. Take responsibility and an interest in your riding, you’ll enjoy it more. “There must have been something I could have done to change the outcome” is a valid question. Be mentally active as you ride.

Keep your mind involved, trying to concentrate 100% of the time is not possible over extended periods, learn to focus on the next event that matters with the over-riding caveat that if you can’t stop in the view that you have, then it’s too late. Avoid the primal overload of the flight or fight response, it won’t help you. Learn and practice correct braking techniques, “Set up and Squeeze”  (if you have more than one motorcycle or scooter practice on all of them) Train yourself to look at least 5 seconds around you. If it’s dark, or you have limited visibility, fog, large vehicles or objects blocking your view and you can’t see 5 seconds ahead then you need to be responding appropriately.  On a quiet country road practice your counting and try seeing how long in seconds it takes you to stop from 40, 60, 80 and 100 kph. Twice the speed is 4 times the distance.  Don’t just think because you are stationary you are safe. It’s worth repeating that responding to every truly potential unknown situation is a bit like buying a Lotto ticket, most times nothing eventuates as crashes are individually low frequency events on a personal basis. (We always hear about other people crashing – idiots! – and assume we are better than them). But like Lotto, one payout can be enough to change your life for the better so load the dice in your favour by being proactive, control your 5 second future, be in the moment and give yourself time to respond not react. Keep moving into safe unoccupied space, as MC Hammer said, “You can’t touch this”.


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Retro Moto

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