The most dangerous thing

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Passing another vehicles puts a rider at risk everytime.

Passing a car is when a motorcyclist puts himself at risk. The reasons are simple.

·         He approaches a vehicle from behind. The other driver may be unaware of his existence.

·         He is usually going a lot faster than the other vehicle. The rider’s reactions are therefore ‘tuned up’ to match his faster speed. The driver’s reactions are ‘tuned down’ because he is travelling more slowly. This situation is comparable to a drunken man and a gymnast. There can be no natural flowing harmony of movement should something go wrong.

·         The passing action limits the biker to less than 50% of the available road width. Again, little room for error. It is also possible that a car can move into the available oncoming-lane from a side road. Though not legal this action does not present a danger to the driver as in South Africa he will look to his right and seeing no vehicles will turn left (where the motorcyclist is coming from). To the passing rider using the oncoming lane this is a very real danger and now limits him to a small slice of road surface running on either side of the white line

·         The car being in front restricts the rider’s view of the immediate road surface ahead. By passing, the rider is going to be accelerating onto a road surface he has not seen properly (See scenario below)

·         If the driver is going more slowly than normal, the rider is likely to make a split second decision and flash past. Perhaps however the driver is going that slowly because he is looking for a road to turn into – 50% of the time the turning action will be directly into the path of the quickly passing motorcyclist.

This all came to mind last week when I put myself at risk. The road although straight had a steep downhill on my side and a steep uphill on the other. Thick, low hanging trees therefore obscured what was for me the uphill side. In front of me was a slow moving pickup truck filled with sand and belching smoke. I approached the pick up from a distance back and decided even before I got to him to flash past even although I could not properly see the oncoming lane for any real distance. I accelerated and had almost committed when I caught sight of an oncoming car coming down the hill on the other side. Touching my brakes I instantly realized that the steep downhill and smooth surface was not going to give me the type of stopping traction I needed. I released the brakes and powered for the shrinking gap between the front of the pickup and the oncoming car. There was a problem however. The exact gap had a road surface thickly covered with loose building stones dropped by a passing truck. The small stones lay about 4 cm thick and were directing in front of my front wheel and in the middle of the quickly narrowing gap. I was committed and the on coming car limited my choices to nothing.

At this point I was very glad that as a rider I am no stranger to loose sand and stones as I do some trail riding throughout the year. Keeping the bike dead upright and heading for the middle of the gap (and the stones) I gently accelerated. I kept my eyes focussed on my escape route and eased my weight forward onto the front wheel. The tyres bit into the stones. I heard them crunch in protest and I kept gently accelerating. The bike barely noticed the stones and then I was through.

The message here is not what a good rider I am. I messed up badly by making rash and poorly considered choices. In the end I was faced with only one option that itself offered no room for error. Panic, indecision or a further bad choice would have seen me on the road surface in front of either one of two moving vehicles.

This all served to remind me. No matter how many vehicles we pass, each and every passing action puts us at risk. Combine this with a few bad decisions and you have a deadly mix.



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