Read Any Good Roads Lately?

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!


4 Responses to “Read Any Good Roads Lately?”

  1. eddie Says:

    A dozen or more years ago, a friend and I were discussing riding on curvy roads and he mentioned a theory he’d read in either Cycle or Rider magazine. The logic was simple enough: Ride as though there were a refrigerator in the road just out of sight and go only quickly enough that you could avoid it with ease. Having seen some pretty weird stuff in the road, it’s not a bad idea, really.

  2. Sheffield Says:

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  3. stayinsafe Says:

    I like the refrigerator approach! You never know what you’ll find over the next hill or around the next bend. I’ve certainly seen some odd things. One time when scouting roads for our Ohio training route, I was on a particularly remote section when I crested a hill only to find a large dog sleeping on the warm pavement — directly in the center of my lane! Fortunately, I was riding at a pace that allowed me to slow quickly enough to avoid hitting the dog. Other than his ears going up and his eyes rising to meet mine, the hound never moved. By the way, this is another great reason to allow a minimum following distance of two seconds when riding with others. I may have missed the dog, but I could have been nailed by a bike from behind as I slowed if I had been riding in a tight group. ET

  4. gershon Says:

    Let me first say that I’m a speed limit rider, including advisory speeds. In Colorado, I’ve found that to be the safest option. Your pictures throughout this blog demonstrate many of the reasons why.

    However, through practice, I’ve learned to connect my right hand to the throttle. As visibility closes, I reduce throttle a little. As it increases, I increase throttle a little. After a lot of practice, it’s automatic. That way, my progress is a quick as I consider safe and I don’t seem to hold up anyone.

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