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Thread: Reading the road and using your vision

  1. #1

    Reading the road and using your vision

    Reading the road and using your vision


    How much does a sign cost? For arguments sake lets say a hazard-warning triangle. I have no idea! £1,000? When you think that some boffin has to assess the road and where the sign has got to be placed, somebody has to make it, two blokes will come out to erect it, cone off their working area, maybe even stick up some traffic lights while their working ….. I reckon £1,000 is a pretty conservative figure. Sharp deviation signs? Often they come in a pair, so that’s four holes to dig out and cement in …You get my point. Councils won’t put up signs Willy nilly and on a whimsy.

    If you drive down an unrestricted A road, that’s perceived by the planners to be safe and free of hazards, the only thing you’ll see is centre lines. (Little line big gap!) Take a B road and you rarely get those.

    So if we’re a half reasonable motorcyclist, should we be able to ride an A road that only has centre lines at the speed limit? Yes probably! It’s reasonable to assume that we can whistle down it at 60mph.

    What’s the first thing the planners will do, when they sniff a bit of a hazard? They’ll change the centre lines, (if the road has them) to hazard warning lines. (That’s big lines, little gap!!). Look at the picture below. Ok they’re faint and worn, but they’re there, and they cost, say, a thousand pounds!

    If that’s as bad as it gets, then they’ll leave it at that, but if they decide you need more information …. Yep, probably a warning triangle. After that? Maybe a SLOW in the road, More? If the hazard is a about a bad corner - some sharp deviation signs on the bend itself.

    Below is the view that other road users get, pulling out of the off side junction that you see above.

    Look at the junction above, and the view out of it. If you do steam into this at full chat, and have a car pull out from the right, is it a fair comment when he says ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you coming?’

    Now suppose, and its just an idea…. That for every change those road planners had made, we knocked our 60mph speed off by, say, 10mph. That would mean, on the photo example we’re looking at here, the introduction of hazard lines - down to 50mph. Warning triangle - down to 40mph. Slow in the road - down to 30mph.

    Easy!! What a simple and logical idea. So should we do exactly this as we ride along?

    I don’t! I don’t have some prescriptive formulae in my brain that says ‘I see so many different pieces of information so that equates to reducing my speed by this much..’ For me it’s not as rigid as that, so I wouldn’t necessarily reduce my speed from 60mph to 30mph to negotiate the junction above.

    But should we recognise the information as we ride, should we react to it, and more relevantly, and the very point of the idea above – should we pick up on the sliding scale of information as the hazard becomes more dangerous, and subsequently reduce our speed accordingly? Yes!! Unquestionably yes. If you’re honest with yourself, I bet there have been roads you have ridden down where, say, a side road, or a tight double bend has really caught you out, but the information was there for the taking.

    Look at the below photograph, and make a quick decision. Overtake on or not? Ok, You know there’s a catch, and the sign is a pretty big clue, so you’re all going to say No!

    I did overtake on this bit of road! It was many years ago, and I was on my first Police Standard bike course. To be fair to me though, the sign then was nothing like it is now, it was a beaten up triangle stuffed in the hedge on the nearside, and I was out looking for a view past a van I’d been following for the last mile and a half and itching to get past. Now ignore the sign completely, and ask your self the original question. Would you do it? Come on, what are you waiting for …!!

    Aha! Look at this second picture with the silver van in it. Look how different the lye of the road appears now, but the photographs are minutes and yards apart. Doesn’t it just demonstrate how scenarios can change in the blink of an eye, and how we need to constantly evaluate what we see?

    What happened about the overtake during the bike course? I was on the offside of the road, throttle pinned and passing my van pretty rapidly into ……. This!

    Going into a left hand bend at about 80mph on the wrong side of the road? Not clever. What a huge mistake to make! It could have been a fatal mistake. Literally.

    When you ride, you should see and register every road sign! Missing just one sign could cost you your life.

    Limit Points.

    I’m pretty confident we’re all familiar with these so lets not thrash them to death. You know the idea – the point in your vision ahead, where the nearside and the offside verges merge, is your limit point. And it is exactly that, it’s the point at which your view of the road disappears. (Some people refer to them as vanishing points).

    A great example above. The point in your vision where these two hedges seemingly unravel themselves, dictates your corner entry speed.

    Some people struggle with this. Its not as simple as ‘you can accelerate all the time its moving away ..’. The knack and the subtlety to using them well, is matching your speed, to the rate at which the corner unravels itself. Obviously, if you’re approaching something like this at 60 mph from some way away you’ll be travelling way too fast. But like driving towards a brick wall, there will be a point when you have to make a judgement about reducing your speed. When you’ve made that judgement, if you’re still travelling too fast for the corner, you will be eating it up faster than the limit point is unravelling. If the limit point is racing away from you, then what are you waiting for! That’s the bit that is the finer detail and needs a bit of practice – acknowledging the limit point, getting up to it, and then marrying your speed to it. To do well, easier said than done!

    Our favourite bedtime reading book tells us that we should always be able to stop on our side of the road in the distance we can see to be clear. Well your limit point, is exactly that. The end of your vision. The picture below is a limit point too. And to boot, there’s a sign I cant quite see, and a ‘SLOW’ written on the road.

    Limit points are not just about ‘how quickly can I safely take this corner!’ It’s also about being able to stop in the distance you can see.

    What did the sign say? Junction on the left. It’s situated right on top of a blind crest. And your mate from our very first crossroads is here again and trying to pull out !!

    A word of warning though. Things aren’t always as clear as they seem. Bear in mind false readings; where the hedgerow moves away from the edge of the road, or maybe a double apex that looks good then sells you a dummy and suddenly tightens up on you. Using limit points is a great way to read a road that you’ve never been down before. They’re also very good at getting you into the habit of keeping your vision up.


    As useful as Limit points are, they can have a detrimental effect on our overall vision.

    Blokes, (in particular the blokes..) how many times have you stared into the fridge, shouted out to the missus ‘where’s the cheese?’ only to have her walk up and pluck it out from straight under your nose? (Happens to me all the time!)

    Men in particular can default back to Neolithic hunter gatherer, and what better twenty-first century environment than a motorbike ride to fire up all those mammoth slaying genes. Boy, are we prone to tunnel vision when we’re hunting!

    Sometimes, its all too easy to bury our vision into the tarmac, glue our eyes onto the black ribbon through the countryside, and quite simply forget to look up and scan the terrain.

    We know the score here. Telegraph poles, hedgerows, the roof of an oncoming car in the distance, houses (mostly live by a road – not many have driveways that are a hundred yards long..), they all give us clues as to where our road is going, what hazards are coming up and what potential problems we might incur. These clues in turn give us the information we need to allow us to fine tune our acceleration sense, our ability to plan, and that in turn will hopefully give us a smooth and unflustered flowing ride. It all comes back to vision.

    The photo above was taken four or five hundred yards from the scene of a fatal bike accident. Just around the left hand corner is a business unit. At the time of the accident a large white van was waiting to turn right into the unit, and was prevented from doing so by oncoming traffic. There was one vehicle behind the van. The motorcyclist crashed into the back of that vehicle.

    If you were riding this road, would you see the oncoming red van? Or would you just rest your eyes on to the back of the blue car and daydream?

    Many years ago I remember experimenting with my vision on a driving course. It was my turn in the driving seat, and, I’d been doing all right! Pretty well actually – pacey and smooth. But on the odd occasion, I’d just go into something a little bit too hot, something I maybe could have picked up on just that fraction earlier so that I could have lifted off the throttle sooner, knocked off just four or five miles an hour, and it would have given me just that little bit of extra time and balance in the car. So on this occasion I deliberately drove by scanning and scanning alone. On roads I didn’t know, I stepped back from Neanderthal man and his vanishing points and concentrated on scanning.

    “That’s the worse drive you’ve had all week!!” I was told. “Nice and safe, but off the pace and generally a bit nondescript”. Ha Great! Thanks! But the experiment was a really useful learning experience. It confirmed, for me, that to get the best out of my planning, to get that balance of oh so sweet acceleration sense, coupled with a nice spirited drive, I had to cleverly mix my scanning and my limit points.

    And actually, it’s quite hard! It’s hard to do them both at the same time. Lets go back to the first photo from our vanishing point idea. How many more clues do we need, that the road is probably going to go straight into a tight right hand bend?

    But if we are suckered into reading the road like a ribbon and not lifting our eyes up to scan, then something as elementary as this will catch us out.

    Scanning and focusing in on vanishing points, has to be done by constantly shifting our eyes. We’re talking about making a real conscious effort to actually look up, in an inquisitive way, arguably taking our eyes off the road for a second or two, to look for clues in the landscape and the horizon before returning to the tarmac.

    This bend above is a good example. As you approach it, you see there is a clear usable vanishing point that will help you. Having registered that in your brain, break away for a second or two and search for more clues. Look at the tree line behind the grassy field. See the phone lines catching the sun? We now know that after this right hander, there’s every possibility we’re either going to get a junction on the left or a sharp left hand bend. It’s only taken a second or so to see that, and even if I don’t see it clearly in that split second, even if I don’t actually solve the ‘what happens next’ question, I’ve at least got a pretty good idea of what might be ahead and hopefully I won’t be riding into something completely unexpected. Having gleaned all that in, one second? two? I go back to my pre-registered limit point, and carry on with it.

    What do you see here? In roughly this order, I see Limit point, (hold that thought, I’ll be with you in two ticks my friend….let me just lift my eyes for a second then I’ll be back. …), I see a line of trees across a field. Junction ahead? I see hidden ground so I’m expecting a downhill then uphill, and I see a silver vehicle ahead. Will I meet him in the dip? Maybe we’ll arrive at the same time and if there is a junction there, he might want to turn right across my path. I might just cover my horn with my thumb when I get there …. Ah Mr Limit point, hello again, back with you now, I was only gone for a second or so, where were we ….?

    Well this is where it took us... a well-executed limit point, a pre conceived idea that turned out to be right, and a brain that that never stops searching for answers. (Like what’s in the one bit of road I can’t see, is there a vehicle waiting in the junction, and where did that silver vehicle go …?).

    As we concluded the limit point idea, we touched on the fact that we should be wary that they can sell us the odd dummy. Same rules apply here. Scanning can catch you out too. Hedgerows and telegraph poles can, say, carry on into a field whilst the road veers off at ninety degrees.

    Look at the picture below, pretty clear-cut isn’t it? A gentle right, followed by a gentle left?

    Ummmm, sort of. The picture below shows how our preconceived idea was close, but not completely accurate. That gentle right / left actually turns out to be quite a sharp double bend; Because the poles have swapped from one side of the road to the other they’ve sold us the illusion that it was straighter than it really is, and they’ve suckered us in to what we thought was happening just a tad too quickly.

    Don’t always rely one hundred percent on what you see.

    Wide-angle vision

    Ok, a little experiment for you. Is your computer on a desk? Maybe it’s a laptop and you’re still in bed! Either way, I want you to identify say three things that are near you in the room. A clock on the wall? A phone on the desk? The dog on the floor? Now look at each thing and focus on it. The very second you’ve got it focused, switch to one of the other objects, got it? Switch again. Got it focused? Switch again …. Stop reading momentarily and do it now!!

    Wow, that hurts! That hurts my brain, it makes me a bit dizzy and it seems slow to ‘see’ these things. It must take me a good second to find and then focus on each thing, and after I’ve done it four or five times my eyes begin to ache.

    Now, lets do it again, but instead of looking at it with our eyes, look at it using just your peripheral vision, keeping your eyes still and just staring in front of you. Look at the screen and ‘see’ the phone on the desk. You can see the handle, all the buttons - You can even make out the white on the buttons that are the numbers themselves. You can see the clock on the wall, the dog on the floor. All seen in only your peripheral vision. But more than that, You can flick your attention to all of these things in what seems like hundredths of seconds. Wait a minute, you don’t even need to ‘flick’ from one to the other to the other…. Actually you can ‘see’ all three things at once, and actually the rest of the room as well. And …and …you can do it, and read this at the same time. Try it now! Stop reading, just stare straight ahead and ‘see’ these things dotted around the room in your wide angle vision.

    Remember those dot picture puzzles that used to get printed in the paper? You had to go into a sort of’ non focused on anything’ stare, once your eyes had adjusted to nothing, the dots seemed to melt into scenes of underwater worlds with fish swimming and coral reefs and the like!! Remember?

    This scanning technique is amazingly useful in completely contrasting scenarios.

    Imagine we’re riding through a really busy high street with say, pedestrian crossings, kids on the pavement, car doors opening, cars waiting in side roads, three or four different sets of lights with filter lanes… I very much adopt this ‘wide angle’ sense of vision, in an urban environment. I let my mind take a step back from Neolithic man, and as a result I definitely see more. The car edging out from the side road? I Switch to a focussed Neanderthal stare! Are you looking at me? Do I need my horn?! Are the car wheels still turning? (If you can’t see driver’s eyes on a car coming out of a side road, look at the wheels to see if they turn or not..) Back to scanning. The kid by the Ped-X with a red pedestrian light - Our eyes meet! He’s not going to make a run for it .. Back to this wide angle scanning!

    It’s a great tool and one to put in your backpack of useful tips on using your vision. I also use it in one other scenario.

    We’ll maybe talk about the whole theory of positioning in another thread, but for the moment, wide-angle vision can really help you know where, exactly, you are on the road.

    If we are going to tuck ourselves into the nearside for, in this example, a right-hander, it’s all too easy to drift towards the centre of the road as we look across the bend. Just as you approach the brow of this particular bend, there’s something about the camber and the view, that sucks you over to the right into the crown of the road. Not a good place to be on the brow of a hill, let alone a right-hand bend.

    We all know ‘we go where we look’, but sometimes, we don’t want our eyes to pull us off course. On a variety of bends, I very much use my wide-angle vision to see in two places at once. I’m following the limit point, looking at the road ahead, but like your phone on the desk that you can see as you read this, I ‘see’ where I am in the road as I ride, and I couple that with a few other bike handling ideas to keep my positioning.

    Remember the Telegraph poles that swapped sides and sold us that dummy? And the tractor and the car that we met entering the bend?

    I need to see the hidden section of this road before I peel into position for my left-hander, and I do that by being strict with my nearside position. My ‘go where you look’ eyes are begging me to take an early apex, but that could feed me straight into something that I can’t currently see. I use my wide-angle, vision to hold that nearside line whilst I look ahead.

    Putting it all together

    Do you feel lucky Punk? I remember a conversation many years ago between two riders. “You’re soooo lucky - every time you trickle to the front of the lights they just happen to turn green.. and when you filter, the traffic always works out nicely for you….”. The other rider just shrugged his shoulders.

    Chances are he wasn’t lucky at all. He probably trickled up to the lights timing his approach. The chances are that when he was filtering he probably looked at all the cars in the queue and thought about it. He probably identified the young male in the hot hatch that would move off quicker than the car behind him, creating a nice gap to slot into…. so he timed his approach and worked it for that scenario.

    Good riders aren’t lucky riders, they think about it. Think about your vision. I bet, I BET, you could look further up the road than you do!

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Hertfordshire, UK
    Thought provoking... Would like to think I do most of that... But I bet i don't !

    The photo illustrations of what was being described were great...

    Thanks for taking the time and trouble to construct and post the item

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Nice article... Just going through ROSPA training at the moment so all this stuff reflects nicely on what we've been learning... Most of it seems common sense... But applying common sense while hooning around on a bike is a difficult skill...

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Oxford, England
    Councils won’t put up signs Willy nilly and on a whimsy.
    You obviously have not driven around my part of the world, I think all this planning signs has kept a huge department in work, justifying themselves and their gold plated pensions for about two decades.

    Great article, unfortunately in some areas we do now have information overload, with a million-signs-per-mile you start to ignore them, just too much info and a lot of it pointless.

    I know corners with decent visibility where you can see well enough for a beyond 60mph stop, and the corner could be taken in relative safety at above 80, yet huge chevrons, slow signs and such like have been put up.

    I know others where corners tighten badly half way round, are proper accident black-spots and no signs have been errected.

    If anyone has ridden in the Pyrenees on the Spanish side, they put very accyrate signs up warning of corners with a recommended speed and between 1 and 3 little lines giving further indication of severity of bend - simple and uncluttered, I rode the best part of the N260 (Sort - Adrall) and these were all spot on.

    The trouble in the UK is such a huge variation from one council area to another, not knocking the article, just saying it would be far better if people who knew how to drive properly did the damn road planning.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Rasher View Post

    The trouble in the UK is such a huge variation from one council area to another, not knocking the article, just saying it would be far better if people who knew how to drive properly did the damn road planning.

    I couldn't agree more. Ride across the border from Kent to Sussex and the change in paint work is quite astonishing. Ask the Sussex blokes about double white lines - EVERY WHERE!!

    So the nack is to 'tune in' to your environment, and to be aware that you might be changing councils / parishes as your journey progresses.

  6. #6
    Very useful and informative post. As with the above comments I would like to think that I already do a lot of that but again I bet I don't. Now I have something to think about and next time I am out on my bike will be time for some good self critical analysis to see how much of that I can achieve.

    Thanks for taking the time to post all of that.

  7. #7
    Subscriber Click here to find out how to Subscribe
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Dublin, Ireland
    Thanks Giles,

    lot of work put into that.

    one small overly simplified Observation;
    Here it is wise to ring a little alarm bell in your head when you see lotsa paint and signage ahead.
    A Road Safety Officer put it well to me saying that "they (the local council) only put time effort and money into this after the event."
    The event being a minor fender bender, or a minor injury crash or a killed/seriously injured crash.
    The point being
    the more paint and signs you see, means the more crashes/events here in the past, so the more cautious you should be.
    It starts with perhaps one warning/information sign or a line of paint and goes all the way up to info overload and "traffic calming measures" - traffic sedation more like!
    But the road is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator - i.e; what's the most stupid road user going to be like (driver behaviour) going through here?

    a cynical observer notes that the 'Authorities' spend money on signage / informative paint in direct proportion to the cost of previous crashes in this area.
    That way - after an 'event' they can say.....
    the information was there, the Hazard highlighted

    "We Told You so"

    Good thread
    RoADA DIPstick
    appears bright from a distance / dim up close

  8. #8
    opinionated, me? Click here to find out how to Subscribe
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Kelsall, Cheshire
    Excellent post!
    Will get Denise to read this, you've put into words so much better than I could.
    Just when you've got this rat race licked, here come faster rats!

  9. #9
    Complete Member Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    Feb 2003
    Ashford, Middlesex
    Thanks for taking the time to illustrate this stuff so well.

  10. #10
    Subscriber Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    May 2005
    cardiff. wales
    Thanks for the post - very mature and well illustrated. I would welcome more of same

    Quote Originally Posted by Ogmios View Post
    Thanks Giles,

    t "they (the local council) only put time effort and money into this after the event."
    The event being a minor fender bender, or a minor injury crash or a killed/seriously injured crash.
    The point being
    the more paint and signs you see, means the more crashes/events here in the past, so the more cautious you should be.
    RoADA DIPstick
    I agree - I was taught "White paint is expensive, so they only use it where necessary". It is amazing how much information is available and how useful it can be to make SAFE good progress.

    Another quote: "Don't let your memorial be a chevron!"

  11. #11
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    San Diego, CA, USA
    Thanks Giles,

    Excellent post - clear, well written and excellent photos.

    Thanks for the time and effort (which I know were considerable).


  12. #12
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    Apr 2008
    Good Work!
    Excellent photos and good text to compliment each other.
    Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
    to hide a leaf first find a forest

  13. #13
    Never knowingly understood Click here to find out how to Subscribe
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    South Yorkshire
    That took some time to pull together Giles ... thanks for taking it

    Great photo's, good read and very helpful
    Tours, training or custom made earplugs ... it's all here.

    "If you want the rainbow then you have to put up with a little rain" Dolly Parton

  14. #14
    Subscriber Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    Jun 2002
    Nice bit of work there, with experience and wisdom behind it. Something for me to practice.
    Never trust a Tory Toff

  15. #15

    Thanks for a great post

    Great comprehensive post, nice to see,


    aka Advancedbiker - Youtube

  16. #16
    I,d rather be ski-ing Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    Feb 2010
    France 83310 * Cheshire UK.
    Well it made me think hard and yes there is room for improvement so a big thank-you from me, if more people read this you may well be responsible for saving a life (which i suspect may have been your motive in the first place).

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