What's the difference between a racing line and a street line? A street line always leaves a rider a way out. I see a couple of things happening with regularity that aren't really good technique for the street.
One is the proliferation of sport bike riders. Most of these folks will never turn a wheel in anger on a race track. There's probably a little Walter Mitty in all of us. I can see how a rider on a powerful and agile sports bike wants to feel like they somehow match the mystique of the machine. In a blurring of realities track techniques are filtered into everyday riding. That's one scenario but not really the one I'm addressing here.
Another thing that happens is how human nature influences our riding without our being aware of it. If you think about it, a lot of the techniques required to survive on a bike are unnatural acts. In other words, our natural human reactions, if acted upon, can actually work to our detriment. Sometimes we're reacting to an emergency. Other times these things creep into our normal riding.
Take cornering, for instance. The vast majority of rider fatalities in Oregon are motorcycle riders failing to negotiate corners. These aren't multi-vehicle collisions, either. If another vehicle is involved, it's because the rider crossed the centerline and caused the impact. A lot of our efforts as trainers is in teaching riders the proper way to corner on a bike. As a result, I see hundreds of riders a year, from beginners to those who ride for a living. One of the natural reactions I see over and over is what we call "sweeping" or "painting" a corner.
What happens is that the rider follows the road instead of the proper bike line. They turn right to go left and vice versa. I wrote earlier about minimizing transitions, conserving traction, and so on. On top of all that, "Painting" a corner puts us in a bad spot because it takes away options when Plan A gets thwarted. In the world we ride in, there's often a need for Plan B. Once in a while I've even had to go to Plan C. Those times are memorialized in my "Pucker Moments Hall of Fame"!
Here's a drawing that will help illustrate what I'm talking about.
Ok, no grief about the road. Obviously the Highway Department went with low bid! I'm forced to ride there anyway. This only depicts our lane. We can have hazards coming from the right side of the lane. There's also traffic coming at us from the opposite direction.
At the bottom of the picture is a wide sweeper. We're coming up through here and headed for the turn at the top. The dashed line depicts where our line should be. The first turn's configuration and sight distance call for a late apex. Now we're headed for the next corner. Notice the difference between the dashed line and the solid line. The solid line depicts what I typically see from the majority of the riders that come through our courses. In this drawing it's the classic "turn right to go left" line.
What I'd encourage you to do is follow the solid line up into the corner. As the rider starts the turn look how close the bike gets to the right hand side of the road. Here's a photo I took on a recent ride. Look how close Sophie is to the edge of the road.
If a hazard appears there's not a lot of room to move. If Plan A goes awry the chances of successfully implementing Plan B are reduced. I came across a recent example in a conversation with someone who'd been riding in Southern California recently. It was just before the big fires. This rider was on an ST1300. There was a lot of wind. Gusts were reaching 35 to 40 mph. The guy was getting ready for a corner and did the classis painting thing. It put him pretty close to the right side of the road. There was a narrow gravel shoulder. On the other side of the shoulder the gravel sloped downhill . As the rider was getting ready to lean the bike a big gust hit the bike and moved it over. Right into the gravel. Because he didn't want to do anything drastic on the gravel, the rider tried gentle handlebar inputs. What happened is that he ended up riding down into the ditch that was several feet deep. Fortunately the bike stayed up on two but it could have been worse.
If his line hadn't been so far over the bike would probably have stayed on the blacktop.
Looking ahead into the corner you can see that there's actually a lot of gravel strewn onto the road. It's not easily seen coming up to the corner. If the bike happens to move in the gravel a proper line is going to allow room for error.
I know the dashed line in the drawing looks pretty close to the other lane at the top corner. Just remember that we need to make sure all of us stays in our lane when we're leaning! We don't want little things like our heads and upper bodies hanging over the yellow lines, do we?
To avoid following the road and messing up a proper motorcycle line think of it this way. As you come out of a corner get your eyes up. Identify the proper entry to the next corner and ride right for it. Leave room for a Plan B, just in case!
Miles and smiles,