Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice column.

Dear Maniac,

There's a curve in part of my commute where I can't see the road surface too very far ahead, but I can see where the curve comes out and if it weren't for the low wall on the edge of the raised bit of highway I could see the actual road all the way to the end of the curve.

Do I turn my head to look through to where I know the end of the curve is to get the right lean, etc.? (While keeping an eye on the road surface ahead, of course.) Or do I only look partway through, to where the road surface disappears, which changes the lean?

So far, I'm doing it the first way and it's seemed to work.


Visually Vexed

Dear Vexed,

This is a most excellent question. A tremendously large part of successful riding is our ability to get accurate information quickly. This means we need to be looking in the right places. It's not just enough to look at something, however. We also need to actually turn our head to face our target. Head turns play a huge role in directional control. So we ask ourselves this question. If we need to turn our head to face our target in a corner, what's the actual target?

You mentioned that you wanted to provide a photo to show us what you were talking about. Since this would have put you in a dangerous situation, I'm pleased you took the safer course. For one thing, I care about you. Secondly, I need all the readers I can get and can't afford to lose even one!

I took the liberty of gathering my own photos. While they may not exactly illustrate your particular situation, the pictures will help illustrate the general principles involved.

Here's a typical situation. Do we look at the point where the road and the tree meet? Or do we look past the tree to where we know the curve straightens out?

Here's another picture of a similar situation. If you think about it, we encounter these kinds of things pretty often when we ride. If we're lucky enough to ride somewhere other than freeways, that is!

Here's a variant on this theme. In this case, it's a blind hill. We can tell which way the road goes by looking at the telephone poles and wires. How far do we look? To the end of the blacktop we can see or farther past?

In this case, I put Elvira and myself in a somewhat precarious situation to take this photo. The reason I did so is because I've asked the question of where to look several times. I suppose it's about time I prepared to answer it, too. What use would it be to ask for advice just to have your question repeated back to you several times? You could buy a parrot and get the same result. Although I don't need newspapers scattered about, thank you. I'm a Guru and you don't get to be one of those without having answers. This section of road perfectly illustrates the beginning of the answer. By the way, when I was putting the camera away, an older gentleman in a pickup to match slowed down to see if I needed help. God bless souls like him!

Did I promise to start answering the question? Better get with it, then.

In this corner you can see the place where the blacktop disappears into the trees. That seems like a good place to look. It's really as far as you can actually see through the curve. Let me show you where you should be looking, though.

I'm looking to my target which is past the trees to where the road leads next. In fact, I'm looking as far as I can see, not just as far through the curve as I can see. A subtle but very important difference. Did you spy the car in the top of the photo? If you click on it and make it bigger the car will be more obvious. By looking at the car, I get a clue what happens to the road farther on. There is obviously a sharp turn to the left judging by the fact that the car is perpendicular to my current path of travel. Notice, too, how I can see pretty much the whole road between my bike and the car. The only part that's not visible is right behind the nearby trees.

The simple answer, then , to your question is to look farther ahead to where you know the curve ends. I know you asked specifically about how this relates to your lean angle. I threw in the gathering of information, as well, since it's so critical. So let me sum up the two aspects and you'll see how they tie together.

One goal of looking ahead is to get the biggest picture possible. Head turns affect the lean angle of our bike. As you've discovered, looking too close to the bike makes for a steeper lean angle. Another aspect can be seen from watching newer riders with less developed head turns. Have you ever watched a rider go through a curve but it looks like they're making several turns instead of one? The bike turns, then straightens, turns again, then straightens, etc. Watch the head of the rider. The bike mirrors their head. Look through the turn, look straight ahead. Look through the turn, look ahead. Like rider, like bike.

In a corner where we can't see the exit, our line needs to stay to the outside. Stay wide until we see the exit, then apex. Looking far ahead to where we know the corner ends will help us execute one smooth turn. Staring at the inside of the corner at any point will move us that direction. So you are absolutely correct in where you've decided to look and are experiencing the positive results.

The second goal is to get critical information about the turn as quickly as possible. Looking to where you know the curve ends, even though you can't see it at the moment, is vital in this regard, too.

There's a place I ride where the road winds through the mountains. Which means if I look to where the curve ends, I'm actually looking into the mountainside. That's ok. I look through the mountain as if with X-ray vision. Remember, the goal is to look in the direction of the turn, whether the path is completely revealed or not.

You want to be ready for whatever appears, and unless you're targeted in that direction, you won't know. It gives me the greatest advantage to peer into the side of the mountain, for example, knowing fully that the road is opening in that direction and whatever is presented I will know at the earliest possible moment. It seems odd, but it works.

So, Vexed, I hope that answers your question. As this year of riding opens up before us, may you find the joy you seek on two wheels. By the way, looking far ahead applies to dealing with life's obstacles, too. But that's another matter entirely. I'll leave those anwers to my cousin, The Mystic!

Have a question of your own? You can choose to live vicariously or become an actual participant. Drop your question to The Maniac at and start to live a little!

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Round the bend..yes a good question.
Here in Canada, all motor vehicles by federal law must have their running lights illuminated 24/7. This law does tend to get bypassed though, some older vehicles built before the year 200o don't have the lights illuminated 24/7.
The reason I make the comment is by allowing us the rider to see those lights we can then judge that yes, there is oncoming traffic. In your example of the car in the distance (moving away from the viewer) it is known the road turns left. However the immediate view in front of us is obscured and also about half way along it appears the road does its own jog to the left. I could be misinterpreting the photo Dan however am I correct?

One other note. I tend to view across a curve as I approach it,
particularly on two lane roads. Double lines means don't cross, however such curves as the one on the blind hill are dangerous for other reasons not noted. A vehicle moving from left to right around the curve coming towards you, the rider could very easily cross that double line, regardless of the
speed. And you in/on a vehicle
approaching oncoming traffic will
meet some where on the curve, you speed and the approaching vehicle speed could be a negative factor if you meet by accident.

Also if this is a rural farmed area, often farm vehicles including lorries and the like often have
soil and barnyard residue on that vehicle. On the inside of the curve they can often discharge this foreign material to the outside of the curve either before you arrive or at some point while you and said vehicle pass. It is so easy to not be aware or ready for something
coming at you.

As one who has been employed in agricultural settings from time to time am very aware of this mud and slop on tractor tyres and farm equipment in general. Leaving a freshly plowed field, crossing a main highway, going round a curve and on to the next field means more residue on the road and on
the curve.

And blind areas such as steep hills where you are unable to see the opposing line of traffic.

Consider a farm tractor hauling a
seeding machine which is often wider than the distance from the verge to the centre line. Yes most operators in rural areas travel such that the seeder travels on the shoulder and the road over to and yes sometime beyond the centre.

A dust cloud on the shoulder in dry weather in the distance should alert
you the rider to something either moving or slowly moving on the shoulder ahead. I approach such
hills with care.

And also we can all look in the distance and view hydro (electric) poles on side of the road as they dip and rise following the contours of the landscape and yes too the rise and fall of the road before us.