by Pat Hahn
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of cagers?
Ask any motorcyclist “What’s the biggest risk motorcyclists face?” Nine out of ten will tell you that it’s other drivers. (Half of them are wrong, but I won’t get into that here.)
Fact is, left-turning drivers are a huge problem because we encounter them constantly. Turning left in traffic requires concentration and attention that many drivers don’t have, and once these drivers make their fatal mistake, they’ve pretty much created a no-win, no escape situation for a motorcyclist. Today I’m going to tell you how to improve your odds in high-risk, left-turning-car situations.
It’s called “shadowing.” Approaching an intersection with cars waiting to cross or waiting to turn, ride in the “shadow” of a larger vehicle—preferably a much larger vehicle. Sure, you may blend in with that car or truck and be harder to see, but other drivers are going to be less likely to pull out in front of a bus than a motorcycle, right? Even if you have to ride in the other driver’s blind spot for a few seconds, you’ll put yourself into a better position to deal with the worst hazard—someone violating your right-of-way and your path of travel by pulling out in front of you. In this case, the risk you avoid is worth the risk you take. Once you’ve cleared the intersection, you then speed up or back off from the vehicle you were shadowing.
When you commute the same route every day, keep mental notes on the intersections in which you can use another vehicle to run interference for you. Or, visualize the route ahead of you and imagine where the trouble areas will be. Keep a large vehicle nearby as you ride, or riding slightly faster than traffic and “dropping in” on large vehicles as you go works, too.
The technique: Ride in the center of your lane, just next to the vehicle you’re shadowing. Your front tire should line up just behind the rear bumper of the vehicle you’re shadowing. While this is not ordinarily a safe place to be, arguably safer than going one-on-one with an oncoming, three-ton SUV. This position allows you to keep a close eye on your greatest potential hazards. It also allows you the ability to brake quickly to clear out of the blind spot you’re sitting in if the shadowed driver decides to change lanes and doesn’t see you. (This is why it’s a bad idea to shadow a vehicle in the area of their front bumper.)
(If hazards are approaching from both sides, a more controversial approach is to tailgate the vehicle you’re shadowing—but I’m not going to recommend that or describe it. It’s too much like a video game, that one. You’re better off to choose a side and stick with it. Or better yet, pick a road that doesn’t screw you this badly.)
Once past the potential left-turning hazard, you then need to immediately back off, or speed up and find another good position. If you’re going to be dealing with the same thing over and over again on the same stretch of road, it may be wise to back off and keep the larger vehicle nearby so you can shadow it again.
This technique works in the city, in the suburbs, and out in the country. While intersections are obvious trouble areas, here are some other hints for where you may want to shadow a vehicle:
Churches on Sunday
Dawn and dusk
Factory parking lots
Fast food joints and convenience stores
Park and rides
Signs announcing county roads or state highway intersections
Pat Hahn is the author of How to Ride a Motorcycle, Ride Hard Ride Smart, and a co-author of Track Day Handbook. He lives in south Minneapolis. You can e-mail Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.debaucheryball.org.