TOTW: Optimise your lane position when stopping

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

A common theme in rider training is that your motorcycle is most manoeuvrable, and safest, when it is moving. It’s a fact of riding life, however, that you and your bike will occasionally be required to stop. A motorcycle is a relatively small vehicle and when you bring it to a stop (e.g. at a stop sign) you have some choices about precisely where you stop it in the laneway.

Many riders give this little or no thought. They simply bring their bike to a stop wherever it happens to be. Worse, they may be consciously making bad decisions about the best place to stop their bike. In either case, they are missing opportunities to position their bike for maximum safety while stopped, and for maximum safety and convenience when moving off.

This is especially true when stopping before a right turn at a stop sign or red light.

Solution

When bringing your bike to a stop you should consciously choose your stopping position after considering road conditions, the environment around you, and what you will be doing next. The best stopping position will vary with circumstances.

Probably the most important factor is what you will be doing next, after you move off from the stop. Your options are:

Turning left or proceeding straight. You should stop your bike where it commands your lane position to discourage traffic behind you from trying to squeeze past, especially if they think you are turning.

Turning right. Again, you should stop your bike where it commands your lane position. Furthermore, since right turns are sharper, and, therefore, inherently more difficult, you should stop your bike in a position from which it will be as easy as possible to execute the turn. (More on this below. )

Parking. If you stop your bike to park and leave it, you should consider its safety and visibility while parked, and how easily you will be able to move off when you return. These were the topics of the other tips-of-the-week.

Stopping before turning right

As a detailed example, let’s analyse a case with which many riders have difficulty: turning right from a stop. Because we drive on the right, right turns are always of smaller radius (“sharper”) than left turns at the same intersection. Many riders have trouble controlling their bikes and maintaining their lane position while executing this basic manoeuvre.

Do you find right turns from a stop difficult? Aside from practising slow-speed balance, you might benefit from improving your lane position when stopping.

We often see riders stop their bike close to the right curb when planning to turn right. Under normal road conditions, this is the worst possible choice for several reasons.

  • Every bike has a minimum turn radius in which you can maintain balance and control. Stopping by the right curb prevents you from starting your turn until you have cleared the curb, and extends the turn radius close to, or even beyond, the inside edge of the lane you will be entering. In other words, you are making it as difficult as possible to stay in your lane while turning.
  • Hugging the right curb reduces your visibility to following traffic by visually placing you close to roadside objects.
  • Stopping at the right curb sends a mixed message to the driver behind you. “Is that bike turning or stopping there? His signal is on but that could mean he’s pulling over too.”
  • Hugging the right curb, by failing to command lane position, invites following drivers to squeeze into the space to your left.

The first improvement, then, is to stop away from the right curb. Choose a position around the centre or left third of the lane. You want to be as far left as possible without inviting following drivers to try to squeeze past you on the right.

In addition to commanding your lane position, this allows more room for your turning radius to remain safely in your lane by allowing you to start your turn sooner.

Finally, when conditions permit, another improvement is possible: Stop away from the right curb, as above, and with your bike already pointing somewhat to the right. This has several advantages.

By “pre-starting” your turn,

  • it allows you to use a larger turn radius, making your turn easier while increasing the clearance you have to stay within your lane.
  • It increases the apparent width of your bike as seen by traffic approaching from behind, increasing the chance that they will see you, making it more obvious what you plan to do next, and reducing the chance they will try to squeeze past you .
  • It also exposes more of your rear, and therefore your brake light, to traffic approaching from the left. This will be the “following traffic” as soon as you make your turn, so increasing your visibility to them is also a benefit.

Adjust for conditions

These are guidelines only. Many other factors may dictate a better stopping position. The point is to consciously select a position rather than just letting it happen. Here are a few examples of circumstances that may prompt you to select a difference stopping position:

Surface conditions. If you see a slippery spot, you will want to ensure that neither your tires nor your supporting foot are on it when stopped.

Dips. If you see that the road surface is uneven, you will want to stop where you can still reach the ground. If there is a slight dip in the road surface, make sure this doesn’t place the ground out of reach of your supporting foot.

Visibility. Drivers approaching you from behind are seeing you against the background of whatever is in front of you. Make sure you are not invisible against a background that is cluttered or coloured similarly to the rear view of your bike.

Summary

This isn’t as complicated as this article has made it all sound. Just think, as you are coming to a stop, about where you would like to be to make your next move as easy and safe as possible. Don’t rely on chance.


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