Transition from right turn to left turn in a Lee Parks Total Control clinic



Lane Position

"My friends all tell me that on a 2 lane road you want to ride in the tire groove nearest the centerline. Makes sense to me."

It doesn't make sense to me. See that large truck in the oncoming lane? I want to increase the space between us a bit.

Most people hug the inside of their lane in a turn. So in a turn to my right, the oncoming traffic is hugging their left, which is the center line. You can easily see this around here because the center stripe is faded in turns due to all the people who can't manage to stay on their side of the road. Again I might want to move to my right to get a better margin between me and the oncoming traffic.

Now I'm on a straight stretch of this two-lane twisty road and in the distance I see three cars approaching. What do you think? Any chance the second and third cars might be eager to pass the first one? If one does, where would I be most visible to them? I'm thinking to the right.

So maybe the best place to be on two-lane roads is to the right.

But maybe not. Maybe the two-lane road is in downtown Westborough, with lots of parked cars on the right, people opening doors, pedestrians stepping out, and cars pulling in and out. Sure would like to have some more space between me and those hazards. So maybe I'll move to my left. Much better here.

Looking ahead, I see a car on the opposite side of the road trying to pull out of his parking spot. But an oncoming driver is in a hurry so isn't going to stop to let him out; he just moves over toward me to get around. I better move over to the middle, to give him some room and also to maintain my distance from the parked cars on my side. But the oncoming person is moving further toward me than I would like, so I'll sacrifice space on my right to clear him on my left. Now that I'm past him, I move back over to the left side of my lane.

Dang, now it's starting to rain. And the pavement here is in poor condition, so the tire grooves are lower than the middle, so they're filling up with water. I think I like the middle best now. Of course, as I approach this signal, I'm thinking about the big grease patch that is often found where cars stop and idle. Might want to get back into a wheel track. Which one? Wow, that was a heck of a splash from the next car's left wheel; must be an impressive pothole there. I think I'll ease right rather than left.

Now I've caught up to the big truck. As we approach this light, I'm concerned that I can't see oncoming traffic; actually, I'm concerned that oncoming traffic can't see me in the middle of the lane behind the truck. And I'm concerned that one of em will wait for the truck to pass and then try to make a quick left, across my path. To better be seen by those guys in the left turn lane, I move to my left as far as I can. I also drop back a bit.

I'm feeling much better now that I'm out of town again. Moving briskly now, lightly traveled road, passing shower over for now, here comes a curve to my right. I set up to the outside of the curve, that is, to the left of my lane, so I can see as far as possible through the curve to make my decision on entry speed. I slow to my chosen speed, ease off the brakes, and lean the bike over as I get on the throttle. I stay to the outside until I can see through the curve and then approach the inside, feeding throttle and gaining speed all the way through. I exit to the outside, thereby opening the turn up as much as possible. Smooth. Valentino Rossi would be proud.

Next curve is to my left and I do the same outside-inside-outside path, but this time the outside is near the right edge of the road and the inside is near the center line on the left.

On this straight stretch now, with no oncoming traffic, it appears that I can ride anywhere on my side of the center. I choose the left wheel track, because that gives me distance from any hazards that might appear out of the trees at either side, like the deer or coyote. But as I approach the crest of a hill, where I can't see over the top, I move to the center of my lane on the chance that approaching traffic might be hugging the center line, or even over it. I don't move all the way to the right though, because there could be a bicyclist or some other hazard near the edge.

Next curve, to my right, I can see oncoming traffic. I don't enter as far to the outside as I otherwise would. And the side of the road is rather sandy from all the rain we've had lately so I don't move as far to the inside at the apex as I'd like. In fact, I pretty much stay in the middle all the way through.

As the road gets twistier and the turns come in quicker succession, another factor comes into play. If I exit to the outside of turn 1, I'm already in turn 2, but starting on the inside. I don't like this, as I want to get the best possible view into the turn at the beginning, the better to decide how fast to take the turn and identify possible hazards that would make me modify my line through it. So now my ideal line (subject to changes due to oncoming traffic and pavement hazards) is starting outside, moving inside, and then staying there, which becomes the outside of the next turn to the other direction.

So, is there a best lane position?

Yes, there is. And it's constantly moving. Move with it.

"You don't mention being visible in the mirrors of the vehicle you're following"

I don't think it's significant. What's the driver of the truck or car ahead of you going to do with the knowledge that there's a motorcyclist behind him? Nothing; it's up to us to avoid the vehicle in front of us, should he slow or stop suddenly.

Don't get me wrong. I want to be seen by everyone, including the people in front of me going the same way. But they aren't high on my list of concerns. I'll stay out of their blind spots, and even better, I'll stay away from the sides of their vehicles when I can, because not everyone even checks mirrors when they change lanes or swerve. But my big concern is being seen by oncoming traffic, not the vehicle directly in front of me.

"All this goes out the window when you're riding in a group, I assume?"

I guess. But with all the good reasons why I might want to move around in my lane, I need some better reasons to lose that ability, and I just don't see any. When I ride with others, I treat them as other vehicles. It hurts just as much to hit a companion as a stranger, so I don't get any closer to companions than I would to strangers. I never ride in staggered formation, or any other formation, and I wonder about people who do. Don't the people in the left track want to move away from that bozo who's crowding the center line? And don't the people in the right track want to dodge that chunk of disintegrated truck tire? Aren't they mighty close to one another when they do?

And what about courtesy to other traffic? When they're making their way in a quarter-mile-long formation down the highway at 5mph below the speed limit, do they think that nobody should pass them?

Still, group riding has a lot of attractions for a lot of riders. If you're one of them, there is a lot of advice on how to do it as safely as possible, including my own advice.

What about lane sharing?

In many parts of the world, motorcyclists are allowed to ride between lanes of traffic. It's often called filtering in Europe, and lane splitting in California, which is the only state in the US where this practice is legal. It's viewed as just another part of the traffic mix where it's legal, but where it's illegal, it's viewed with horror. Is it really dangerous? Take a look at this paper from Oregon's Department of Transportation for some actual data. A fact noted in the paper but not really emphasized is that in the Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study in Europe, which investigated 921 crashes, 4 involved motorcyclists who were filtering at the time. 26 involved motorcyclists stopped in traffic; evidently they were hit by other traffic moving at the time. This suggests that staying with stop-and-go traffic is about 6 times as likely to result in a crash as filtering is.