Archive for February, 2009

Read Any Good Roads Lately?

February 23, 2009

It’s always interesting to see how many riders maintain a steady travel speed on rural roadways. The throttle is set to at or near the posted speed limit and away they go, stubbornly holding the speedometer needle to a fixed position only giving in at the last possible moment when something threatening calls their bluff. Perhaps we can get away with that kind of riding for the most part, but think about the possibilities. Not surprisingly, many riders tell me that they have numerous “oh s**t!” moments as they ride when blind curves get blinder or when a turning car or a stopped mail truck appears immediately over the crest of a hill. With no time or space to work with, riders are periodically left with no reaction time let alone enough opportunity to actually slow or maneuver out of harm’s way. So, does that mean we should just give up our need for speed and just ride sedately below the posted speed limit? Should we give up the thrill of cornering in the name of safety? No way. But what else can we do? Perhaps the best place to start is with a bit of speed reading. Every road can be read and each has much to tell the rider if he’ll just pay attention. By reading and comprehending visual distance, we can easily set an appropriate travel speed based on how far we can see. Look at the pictures below — all taken on the same stretch of road — and notice how the site distance diminishes as the rider approaches the hillcrest.

At 45mph, approximately 6-7 second visual lead

At 45mph, approximately 6-7 second visual lead

At 45mph, visual lead reduced to 4 seconds

At 45mph, visual lead reduced to 4 seconds

At constant 45mph, visual lead now only 2 seconds

At constant 45mph, visual lead now only 2 seconds

Is there something just over the rise? It becomes clear that maintaining a constant speed is not a viable or safe option. The astute rider will adjust his or her speed downward, almost as if the throttle was directly connected to sight distance. Ask yourself if you can stop your motorcycle within the distance you can view. The same holds true for curves.

How far can you see? The exit just begins to reveal itself.

How far can you see? The exit begins to reveal itself; add throttle.

The visual lead runs away; roll on!

The visual lead runs away; drive out with the throttle (but be sure to read what's coming up next!).

By reading the curve’s characteristics as one approaches — and being unable to skip ahead to see how the story ends — the rider can set an appropriate entry speed based strictly on what he is able to see. Then, as the scene begins to unfold and the rider can see further ahead, the throttle can be exploited and the fun of cornering can begin. Just remember to read the next chapter as you exit, adjusting speed as appropriate for the next turn, hill or intersection. As Pete often says, “ride only as fast as you can see.”

Ride on … “read” on … right on!