Where your motorcycle is on the road affects what you can do in a situation

As you scan, you also continuously prepare or plan. Planning gets you ready to act. You form a picture of what is happening (scan), then you predict what will happen and get ready to act accordingly (plan). Rider plans are not complicated diagrams covered with arrows. The Ready Reaction Response, covered earlier, is the main rider plan. Your plan is to stop if you have to, and you position your body to do this. Likewise your road position is part of planning, as where your motorcycle is on the road affects what you can do in a situation.


If the world is always stepping on your toes, then maybe you are not planning properly

Predicting and planning go together. If you can predict situations, then “forewarned is forearmed”, as predicted problem situations can be avoided or dealt with. If you predict you can plan, if you plan you can handle situations that might otherwise overwhelm you. Predicting and planning don't do anything, but are critical to riding. Indeed, most riding is just Scanning and Planning. It is like a beautiful dance between you and the world, each adjusting to the other without clashing. If the world is always stepping on your toes, then maybe you are not planning properly. Planning requires a "What If?" approach.

What If?

If you analyze too much you get “paralysis by analysis”

The "What If?" approach considers possible rider situations. What if he pulls out? What if she doesn’t turn? What if he doesn’t stop? This is essential to planning, but it has a danger: Iif you analyze too much, you get “paralysis by analysis”. You see many bad possibilities and become scared, or have too many choices and become confused. To avoid this, road smart analysis has just one goal: to create a “Plan B”. Examples are given in the next section. Be careful, as we consider options, not to fall into the trap of over-analyzing.

Road position

Where do you position yourself on the road? Unlike cars, motorcycles only fill half a lane. Do you sit to the left, right or middle of the lane? If there are several lanes, which one do you choose? There are many reasons to adopt a road position, including to:

  1. Create space: Move to maximize the distance between you and other vehicles
  2. Improve vision: Move to where you get a better view.
  3. Control space: Move to stop someone else coming in.
  4. Improve visibility: Move to where you will be better seen.
  5. Signal an intention: Move to signal to others what you will do

The last two are covered in the next section..

Create Space

Keep to the side when following, so if they stop suddenly, you can swerve around them

As you ride, position yourself to create space around you. The more space you have, the more options you have, and the more options you have, the safer you are. If you are riding behind a car, don’t follow it in the middle of the lane. That minimizes your space and reduces your options. If the car stops suddenly, where will you go? Sitting to the left or right gives more space and more options. Also the middle of a lane is where cars leave oil slicks. Keep to the side when following, so if they stop suddenly, you can swerve around them. Whether you keep left or right depends on you. If you cant create space, as in busy city traffic, slow down accordingly.

Following distance

Close following, or tail-gating, causes more accidents than speeding

Keeping a following distance is an example of creating space. Close following, or tailgating, causes more accidents than speeding. Yet close following has little benefit. Consider a single lane stream of cars on a highway. Some are following bumper to bumper. Others are not. The stream of cars travels at a fixed rate, say 60mph. Those following closely arrive only seconds or at best minutes faster than those who keep a safe distance. The whole line has a certain speed, and everyone in it has to go at that speed. In this situation, the “hurry-up” approach does little but increase your risk of hitting the car ahead if they stop suddenly.

One reason some follow closely is to be “ready to overtake”. However, on a motorcycle this is rarely valid. You have the acceleration to keep back and still overtake if an opportunity arises. In general, close following on a motorcycle is dumb. When I see riders sitting on a car’s bumper, I cringe. I know that in an emergency they have nowhere to go but into the car.


When cars, especially large trucks, get right up close behind me on a motorcycle, I really don't like it. They are in a hurry, and trying to "push" past you. You just know that in a sudden stop they, being an idiot, will run right over you. I dont want to be a "bump" on the road. There are several things you can do:

  1. Accelerate away to lose them. Accelerating away can work, but they may give chase. Sometimes this is as fast as you want to go. In bad rainy weather, with a big truck right on your tail, it may not be safe to go faster. Since a motorcycle often moves through highway traffic faster than any car, this is always an option.
  2. Change lanes or pull over to let them pass. If you are in a fast lane, the tailgater may be telling you "move over". Indicate clearly, and without hurry move into a slower lane. Be careful and make no sudden movements. They are following closely to get past you, so are likely to suddenly change lanes too, so you could turn into their path around you.
  3. Slow down to increase your following distance. If the above two dont apply, I usually slow down when close followed. I take my normal following distance, and double it. In my mind, they have no following distance, so I must have enough for both of us. By slowing down I create space ahead of me. Then if there is a sudden stop, my plan is to put on my brakes immediately, but slow down twice as slow (as I have twice the distance), so the tailgater doesnt crash into me from behind. I have actually had to do this on several occasions.
  4. Brake then accelerate. Sometimes you can try to indicate to the tailgater that you dont like them so close by alternately putting on your brakes, which pushes them back, then accelerating away, to create a back space. However mostly this is a waste of time.

Finally, if is really bad, pull to the side and go slower and slower until they have to overtake. Once they overtake you, it is wrong to follow them with your lights on high-beam. I can give you three reasons why it doesnt pay to mess with tailgaters:

  1. They are an accident on its way to happen
  2. They can be cops.
  3. Someone you offended back there may have just caught you up

In every case, if possible, let them go past.

Control space - Fill the lane

You don’t want cars overtaking and cutting in front of you

For a motorcycle, it is very dangerous when cars overtake you. If a speeding car overtakes and cuts in front of you, the back of the car can hit you. Car drivers often don't realize where the back of their car is. Just a touch from a ca rcan tip a motorcycle, and spill you off. The car may go on without even noticing. So you don’t want cars overtaking and cutting in front of you. Don't let them do this. Speed up to keep up with the flow of the traffic. Position yourself in the middle of the lane, so if they want to overtake, they must go into another lane. If you “fill the lane”, they cant use it as well. Sometimes I fill the lane by moving from side to side a bit.

Driving slow is dangerous

If you drive slowly down the road, keeping your motorcycle as far to the side as you can, this is really unsafe. Firstly, your slow speed frustrates other drivers. Secondly, you invite cars to sweep past you in the same lane. They will pass by closely, often with only inches to spare. This is dangerous, and your timidity is causing it. When you ride a motorcycle, you cant creep and hide. You have to put it all out there. This is not aggressive riding, but assertive riding. Indicate by your actions you expect the same rights on the road as any car. In particular, you have the right to a lane.


The proponents of safety have over the years made speed into the big bogey of the road. Slow down and live is the motto. Meanwhile collecting speeding tickets has become a major revenue source for counties. Speed = accidents is a convenient over-simplification. Many highways now have minimum as well as maximum speeds, because too slow drivers are as much a menace as too fast drivers. New Jersey drivers go very fast, but have one of the lowest accident rates in the US. European Autobahns allow unlimited speeds, but are not sites of carnage. Safety is not just riding slowly, as riding slowly can get you killed. Speed magnifies accidents, but what causes them is mainly hurrying, inattention, being unskilled, not adapting to conditions, and not "reading" situations correctly. For young people, it is certainly true that speed kills. This is because they are going to have accidents anyway. But if speed was all that mattered, airplanes would be more dangerous than cars, as they travel faster and have more terrible crashes. Yet, statistics show that airplanes are far safer than cars, or foot for that matter. Perhaps in the future, instead of one speed limit, each person will have their own personal speed limit, which will go up or down with their accident rate. I know some people who should never go over 40mph. Generally I travel about a few mph faster than surrounding cars. One reason is I prefer to overtake than be overtaken. When I overtake a car, I make sure I don’t hit it, for my safety. When a car overtakes me, it takes much less care. Plus it is dangerous to have drivers close-following you, so going a little faster avoids tailgaters.

Improve vision

Always get in a position to see, because on a motorcycle seeing is surviving

Riding behind a tall truck can block your vision. If you only see the back of the truck, you can only see one vehicle ahead. This is not enough. It means you are just about riding blind. You must be able to see several vehicles ahead, or you cant react in time if one of them decides to stop suddenly. They won't? Sure they will, sooner or later. Fortunately, on a motorcycle, you can move left or right to get a view ahead. This has the added advantage that the truck driver can see you in their mirror. Always get in a position to see, because on a motorcycle seeing is surviving.