Positioning – Part One

I have briefly mentioned positioning in previous posts, but have not expanded on the subject. That is because it is a large subject with many facets. Too large, in fact, to be covered in one post. So, I am going to split the subject of positioning into many posts. But first, let me explain what positioning is:

Positioning is the art of using all the space available (usually) within your lane to ensure maximum visibility to other road users, provide maximum view for you, and to provide the safest way to negotiate a hazard.

I say usually within your lane because there are times when it will be prudent to change your lane for extra safety – and not just because you wish to pass another vehicle.

Because of the relatively small width of our scooters, we have a large advantage over larger vehicles such as cars. We can alter our position within our lane without encroaching on other traffic. As will become apparent in later discussion on this subject, this can gain us a massive safety advantage if we use it intelligently.

So, to begin with, let us define a baseline: our – Default Position.

The default position should be assumed when there are no other outside circumstances dictating that you should adjust it. It is the position you should return to after you have negotiated any current hazard, and it is the position you should maintain when nothing is to be gained by altering from it.

This position is (drum roll…) in the centre of your lane. Nothing earth-shattering there then.
There are three main reasons for this default position:

  1. You “command” your lane. We do not want to invite drivers to sneak up beside us, or to use part of our lane for their manoeuvres, or worse still share our lane!
    Confidently claiming our lane in this manner tends to discourage all of this.
  2. We have a default – and equal – buffer between us, and any traffic that may be surrounding us. In the world of scooter survival, every inch can count.
  3. We avoid giving wrong visual clues to other drivers about what we are about to do. I’m sure many of you have taken these kind of visual clues from other road users. The driver in front starts to shift toward the left of his lane, and sits there for a while. The astute rider will already have guessed that that driver is about to change lane – very often without signalling.
    We don’t want to falsely give any of these signals by sitting in the extremes of the lane when we are surrounded by traffic.

So, having established what our default position should be, when may may we wish to vary from it? I will give a few bullet point examples, and expand where necessary:

  1. When doing so would give us a better view of the road, and traffic/hazards ahead.
  2. When doing so would give a driver ahead a better view of us. I call this “presenting” to a potential hazard.
  3. When doing so would give us a greater “buffer zone” between us and a perceived hazard.

Item one, above, is a huge subject, and it is one I will be covering in depth in later posts, but I will give a couple of the simpler examples for now:

1. It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Often, if I’m behind a vehicle that is obstructing my view – particularly a large vehicle, I will shift my position to the left or right in my lane to be able to see alongside that vehicle.
If that vehicle happens to be riding in the left or right of the lane, I will often take the opposite side.

The very best way to improve your view ahead when following a vehicle is to drop back!

 

Important: When adjusting your position following a vehicle, make very sure you do not enter The Triangle of Death! See the image on the left.
Here be dragons. Seriously, you never want to be there.
I see many riders sitting in the triangle of death, and it makes me cringe.

Of course, if you remember the two second rule as discussed in the post about following distance, you will be safe from the triangle of death.
If in doubt, drop back. You will get a much better view.

Still on point 1. In this example, the truck in front is blocking the view as it makes the curve. I have moved to the right so that I can see up the inside of the truck as it makes its turn.
As the road straightens, I will smoothly resume my position, or even move to the left side of the truck if that will give me a better view of the road ahead.

 

 

2. Presenting. If I perceive a hazard ahead, I will often shift my position in my lane to give the driver of the vehicle presenting the hazard the best possible chance of seeing me. There are many variations of when this would be useful. There is one depicted below.

I am following the truck, and I’m starting to feel a little vulnerable because the driver waiting to enter from the right could easily miss me behind the truck.
 So, in the diagram below, I have moved to the right of the my lane to give the driver the best chance of seeing me. I may also consider sounding my horn if I’m not confident that he has.

As I near the car, how far right I need to be to “present” to the car will become less and less. As that happens, I will move smoothly over to my left to create a buffer zone before I reach the junction – all the time making sure I am “presenting” to the car.
I would pass the car while riding in the left part of my lane.

Point 3 has been partially covered above, but there are many examples where it is prudent to give up your default position to give yourself a little extra room just in case.
In this example, I can see that the car on my right is closing in behind the truck. There is a good chance that he will come out into my lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of this, I have now given up my default position, and have shifted toward the left of my lane. This is to give myself a buffer zone should the driver pull into my lane.

Of course, I would not do this if shifting to my left would put me into conflict with traffic coming from the other direction.
I would need to maintain that buffer zone as well.

 

I hope you have found this post useful. In upcoming posts about positioning, you will see how the correct positioning while taking curves will make a huge difference in how much you can see, how early you see it and how early others can see you!

Until next time, Scoot Safely!


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8 thoughts on “Positioning – Part One

  1. Great Blog! Have just brought a Scooter and was confused as to where I should be on the road in the ‘default’ position so thanks for clarifying. I will stick to the middle of the lane and will NOT be bullied again by car drivers, as was the case today!

  2. I actually disagree with you on the default lane position. The center of the lane tends to be the dirtiest, covered in built-up road grime and oil, meaning there is the least amount of traction to be had. This is especially true in damp conditions, which I face often, being a Seattle dweller. The left- and right-thirds of the lane are better cleaned by car traffic.

    I default to the left third of the lane. Not only does this put me on clean road, it also maximizes my visibility to vehicles in front of me (at appropriate following distance, I am now very visible in both their side and rear view mirrors) and I am directly in front of the driver of a vehicle behind me, in the middle of their view.

    1. Hi Andrew. Thanks for your response. I anticipated this response about the oil build up in the middle of the lane.
      While the accumulation of oil in the middle of the lane is a factor to consider, it is mostly only present at places where cars linger – such as at traffic lights. Also, this only becomes a real hazard when there has been fresh rain. Unless it is an extremely heavy deposit, it really doesn’t differ that much in the dry than clean road.

      In fact, sitting at traffic lights, I too tend to sit to the left of the lane for two reasons: Firstly to avoid the oil build-up (although you have to then be careful about putting your foot down into it), and also to ensure I have a good escape route should I perceive that a car is coming up behind too quickly.

      The default lane position is for when you are travelling along the road, not stopped.

      1. I suppose there is a matter of perspective here. I live in a dense urban environment – the middle of Seattle – so “where cars linger” is effectively every foot of road I ride.

        The deposits are a bigger concern in fresh wet weather (also something I face often), but even in dry conditions I’d rather negotiate an emergency stop on bare pavement than dry, caked-on grime.

        On more open suburban or rural roads I am more likely to be in the middle of the lane.

        We are certainly in agreement about the fluidity of lane position, though.

  3. I mostly agree with this post, though on a four-lane or greater road my default lane position isn’t always centered:
    – Four lanes (two lanes each direction) – default position is in the inside tire groove for that direction of travel: outside lane, left tire groove; inside lane, right tire groove. This in my mind has the benefit of allowing any passing cars to see me more easily, and allow me to more quickly recognize hazards in the neighboring lane that might induce traffic to merge into my lane.
    – Six lanes (three lanes each direction) – outside lane, left tire groove; center lane, center of the lane; inside lane, right tire groove.

    The situation you picture with the truck in the turn is incorrect. Falling back to see better is much safer, so that you can navigate the turn in the proper lane position. Starting the curve on the inside of the turn is effectively apexing at the beginning of the turn and will restrict your maneuverability.

    1. Hi Darren. Thanks for your response. Any time you are gaining extra vision or visibility by shifting your position in the lane, you are giving up vision and visibility from the other side of the lane. Sometimes, this is prudent, as hazards present themselves, but, if you remember in the post I said that this is the default position in the absence of sound reasons to do otherwise.
      There could be very sound reasons to be in the parts of the lane you are talking about, but, in the absence of any present reason, I will assume the centre position to allow me equal and adequate view of both sides of the road. This also allows me to “command” the lane, and puts me squarely in the driver’s rear-view mirror.

      The situation with the truck in the turn is not incorrect. It is an advanced technique to be used in addition to the eminently sound advice you spoke about regarding falling back.
      “Apexing the curve” is a term mostly used in motorcycle racing circles. Although the ideal line is similar to the “racing” line, it is not the same, and is something I will talk about in upcoming posts about positioning.

  4. Great blog! Love your writing style and commonsense approach to safe riding practices and tactics. We just plugged your blog on our FB page and website. Please keep up the good work!

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