Choosing the best lane position is often a compromise between the best visibility through a corner, the best visibility of your bike by other traffic, a line that avoids slippery areas such as manhole covers and deep water, and a line that gives you a buffer from other vehicles. Lane position will vary between wet and dry weather, when following different types of vehicles, when approaching different types of vehicles, when riding in a strong cross wind, when riding past parked cars on the left, and if riding in a particular line would mean you are in the shadow of trees which could make you less visible.
Riding in dry weather
If you are not following another vehicle and not riding past parked cars, the usual dry weather lane position for a straight road is in the centre or centre-left of the lane in order to create a buffer between you and any oncoming vehicles. Don’t ride too far to the left because there are often sharper objects on the road shoulders that can puncture your tyres. This is because roads have a high crown – the centre of the road is higher than the edge – and this means water drains off the road, taking debris with it to the edge.
Riding close to the centre line is not advised unless you want to overtake, or you can’t be seen in the mirrors of the vehicle ahead of you (this can happen with some large vehicles and agricultural machinery), or you are creating a buffer and increasing visibility between you and a vehicle entering from a side road or driveway on the left. Riding close to the centre line reduces the buffer between you and vehicles coming towards you.
Riding in wet weather
The main hazard with wet weather riding is that if it has been dry for a while a layer of grime builds up on the road. When it first rains, this can be really slippery. Other vehicles and persistent rain eventually washes this away, but if you ride where other vehicles’ tyres don’t pass over, then those patches of road will stay more slippery for longer.
Ideally, the best place to ride would be the centre of the lane, like in the dry, but this can be slippery. Often, roads have shallow depressions that run in the tyre tracks of heavy vehicles where they have compressed the road’s substrate, and this creates long puddles. Riding through these increases your risk of aquaplaning and worsens your fuel economy as your tyres have much more drag on them pushing through the water.
Therefore in the rain it’s best to slow down and ride centre-left, but avoiding the continuous puddles.
The same strategies apply, though, when approaching junctions on the left where you will want to give yourself more visibility, especially because rain and spray reduce visibility, and if it’s overcast it will be relatively darker – move slightly right in your lane.
When approaching a corner your primary desire should be to see as far through it as possible to make yourself aware of any dangers ahead, but without eliminating your buffers to other vehicles using the corners. Make sure that you’ve got your entry speed right as you don’t want to come in too hot and have a lowside accident. You should never be on the limit when going through a corner otherwise you don’t leave yourself any options.
Always look for any advance warning of hazards, such as road signs and hazard warning lines. Use this information to plan ahead and to help you avoid the need for late, harsh braking. Your motorcycle should be upright and moving in a straight line when you brake.
The distance you can see through the curve is called the limit point of vision (LPOV). On a road with lanes you must be able to stop in the distance that you can see ahead of you. On a road without lanes, you must be able to stop in half the distance you see ahead of you (this is because another vehicle coming towards you could also need stopping distance).
As you drive through the bend the LPOV moves. If the bend opens then it gets further away; if the bend tightens, or a hedge begins, or there’s a crest, then the LPOV can rapidly become much closer to you.
Lane position when cornering
Assuming there’s no other traffic coming towards you, you’ll position yourself near the left-hand side of the road for a right-hand bend. Again, as we mentioned above, be careful not to run through any loose gravel or slippery patches that might be on the far left of the lane. Brake in a straight line – you need to get all your braking and gear shifts done before you tip the bike in so that you are not doing anything to unbalance the bike.
A small amount of throttle through the corner will give the bike some balance and allow you to maintain your speed. If the corner tightens then you may need to come off the throttle and, as the corner opens, you can apply throttle (but not enough to make your wheels spin otherwise you’re risking a highside accident.) If you are travelling above 10-15mph then you will almost certainly need some positive input (countersteering) to start your manoeuvre.
You are already out on the left side of the road. When you start turning you’re going to flow to the middle of the lane. You don’t want to be hitting the apex because that means your body will be hanging over into the opposing lane. Staying too wide means you’re more likely to hit a slippery surface, even though that will help you maintain a slightly better view around the corner. Once you spot your exit and the LPOV disappears into the distance you can straighten up and drift out slightly wider as you exit the bend, keeping your riding smooth.
Bearing in mind roads often have a crown (the centre is higher than the edges), there’s a possibility on a right-hand bend that you could hit your peg on the road’s surface if you lean in too far and that will cause a lowside accident as it will lift your rear wheel off the ground which will then slide out from under you.
Good roads will have cambered bends without a crown, and these provide for safer cornering.
For a left-hand bend, the situation is reversed, with one exception. You will be in the right-hand side of the lane as you approach the curve, but if other vehicles are coming towards you then you will need to give up some road position to maintain a sensible buffer. This means that you won’t be able to see as far around the corner – the LPOV will be closer – and you’ll need to scrub off a bit more speed. Take car on the apex of the corner because other vehicles can drag stones onto it, and there could be slippery road markings there.
On some roads there may be junctions immediately after the corner. These will be signposted. Adjust your speed and road position accordingly.
Lane position when turning from a one-way street
If you are in a one-way street and turning right then position yourself in the right hand lane. Don’t ride too close to the right-hand side otherwise you reduce your visibility of the junction, and other drivers’ visibility of you.
The position of other vehicles in a junction determines where you need to be to maintain the best visibility. A van or lorry ahead of you in the right-hand lane of a dual carriageway will obscure oncoming motorists’ view of you, as per this diagram. Moving to your left means you can see the red car sooner and the driver can see you sooner, too.
For some vehicles you might be able to see through their windows if there are other vehicles waiting to turn. Remember that your motorbike is small and difficult to see – don’t assume other road users can see you in these circumstances.
If you are riding past queuing traffic and there is a ‘keep clear’ area, this most likely indicates a junction where other vehicles could be turning or emerging.
Lane position when turning at a junction
Use a similar lane position concept as when cornering: stay a little wide to give yourself a better view into the junction. Look for other driver’s intentions by observing their head movements. If you are turning right into a junction then slow down earlier if there are other vehicles behind you so that you reduce the risk of them running into the back of you. You will stop fairly close to the centre line, but not too close otherwise you remove your buffer.
Following other vehicles
Even though motorbikes are much lighter than cars, they can take longer to stop because there’s much less tyre in contact with the road. Therefore it’s important to consider your following distance – can the vehicle in front of you outbrake you, and can you see far enough ahead that you can anticipate danger as soon as the vehicle in front?
When you are following, leave a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front in dry weather and a four-second gap in wet weather.
Large vehicles (e.g. lorries)
A good rule of thumb is that if you can see the wing mirrors or rear view mirror of a vehicle ahead of you, the driver (if the wing mirrors are set correctly) should be able to see you. If you can’t, drop back and change your riding position until you can.
Be careful of large vehicles turning as they often have to swing out wide to get into tight junctions or driveways.
Small vehicles (e.g. passenger cars)
A centre or centre-right position in the lane will mean that you are the most visible to a vehicle you are following in its rear-view mirror. Use the view through the vehicle’s rear window to help you see ahead of it; this works well on SUVs, but it’s not an excuse for tailgating.
Passing parked vehicles
Move more to the right to keep yourself out of the way of drivers opening their car doors. Keeping further right also makes it easier for them to see you as you will be in their blind spot. Keep a look out for drivers that look like they might pull out – a flashing indicator and a driver craning their neck around is a good sign that the vehicle could move. Be careful also of pedestrians in between vehicles, especially large ones.
A nervous rider is an unsafe rider. It’s important that you are confident, but sensible, in your attitude on the road, and overtaking is one of the times where it’s extremely important that you send clear signals to other motorists what your intentions are. The driver you are about to overtake needs to understand he’s about to be passed, and the driver behind you needs to understand that you are passing so that he doesn’t try to overtake you while you try to overtake the vehicle in front.
Road position is important – you will be in the right-hand side of the lane unless you have to give up position to maintain a buffer. Indicate early that you are pulling out. If there are vehicles coming towards you and you are waiting for a gap, as the last approaching vehicle is almost upon you, start indicating and that gives a clear message to the driver behind you.
When overtaking, give yourself enough space from the vehicle you’re passing in case they drift in the lane a little, and avoid the far right of the opposite lane.
If you are overtaking on the left, make sure that the vehicle you’re overtaking is signalling right and coming to a stop, not a large vehicle pulling to the right in order to make a left-hand turn. If overtaking on the left on a slow-moving dual carriageway, or in a one-way street, watch for other drivers’ movements as you will be in their blind spot as you approach the rear quarter of their vehicle.
When filtering through traffic, keep your speed slow as your space will be minimal. Occasionally, passengers have been known to exit while vehicles are waiting at junctions.
This video shows you how quickly things can happen when filtering:
The Highway Code says:
Manoeuvring. You should be aware of what is behind and to the sides before manoeuvring. Look behind you; use mirrors if they are fitted. When in traffic queues look out for pedestrians crossing between vehicles and vehicles emerging from junctions or changing lanes. Position yourself so that drivers in front can see you in their mirrors. Additionally, when filtering in slow-moving traffic, take care and keep your speed low.
Remember: Observation – Signal – Manoeuvre.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.