Reading the Roadsafety

by Bill Bassett

Slow…Look…Lean…Roll. Skilled motorcyclists use this procedure to negotiate any turn or curve on any road in the world.

SLOW down using proper braking technique; LOOK through the corner to establish your path of travel; LEAN the motorcycle to begin the turn, and then ROLL on the throttle to travel through the turn. Each step is important, but there is one part of this cornering formula that, when fully developed, will allow you to corner smoother, faster, better. The more we learn to “LOOK,” the better able we are to read the road.

It’s easy to read and heed road signs, but reading the road is much more than that. “Reading the road” means to look as far ahead as possible to establish things like road surface conditions, direction of the curves, whether the road inclines or declines and location of possible threats or obstacles to your path of travel.

For example, as I negotiate one corner, I’m already looking forward to the next one. Along the way, I am watching the lay of the land and trying to determine which way the road is curving. Does the road climb or dive ahead? Can I see over the hill in front of me? Will I need to accelerate or decelerate?

Another clue that can help you read the road is the location of telephone poles in relation to the road you are on. When the road twists and turns so much that it is hard to predict in which direction you’ll soon be turning, watching the telephone poles will often give you a good idea of what to expect. Fence and tree lines are also indicators to your forthcoming path of travel.

The presence of farmers or farm equipment on country roads should alert you to possible danger ahead. Farm equipment often leaves mud or dirt tracks on the road, and this should cause you to slow down or change your lane position.

Also, watch for other changes in the road surface condition such as potholes, leaves, rocks and road kill. Be consciously aware of the type of road shoulder. A paved or grassy shoulder usually means a much cleaner road surface than those sporting dirt or gravel.

Dust clouds ahead can signify dirt roads crossing or intersecting your path. This can create a problem as vehicles exit, leaving gravel in their wake. There is nothing like meeting a gravel-strewn corner to increase a motorcyclist’s pucker factor.

In short, watch for anything that helps you decide in advance what action to take next. Develop this skill by looking as far ahead as possible. By gathering more clues, you are better able to make good decisions. Once you get the hang of reading the road, you will notice that you are cornering smoother, faster, better!



Bill Bassett is a 23 year riding veteran and a licensed Motorcycle Safety Foundation/MMSP instructor. Send your safety questions or comments to:

Motorcycle Safety


P.O. Box 4725

St. Paul, MN55104


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