Rupert Paul (Riding Skills  11 June 2009) interviews Jon Taylor

Jon Taylor has been a racer (he’s a former double Bemsee club champion), bike cop and long-time Nürburgring instructor. He’s now part of Rapid Training and one of the most senior IAM examiners in the UK. I can personally vouch that he is a superb rider, and an ideal man to ask about how to ride on country roads.

I use the Roadcraft system,” says Jon. “Getting your road position, speed and gear right, and trying to see things before they happen. It works for me so well – I even used it when I was racing. I find with students that when things aren’t going right, if they go back and put the Roadcraft system as a template over what they did, things often make more sense.

“So many people try to go fast by going quickly into bends and sorting it out afterwards. If they just concentrated in getting their road position, speed and gear right they’d not only be faster, they’d be safer too.

Jon chose four areas to focus on:

  • reading the situation,
  • knowing your own ability,
  • multiple hazards
  • riding in groups.

“They say you start off with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience,” he observes. “And the trick is to fill your bag with experience before your bag of luck runs out. Training tries to help you do that.”

  1. Read the situation

The biggest cause of problems is when people are losing vision, and they don’t lose speed. They fly into a bend, and it’s, ‘Oh my God I’m going too fast’. So what do you do? “The solution is to use the vanishing point, the place as far ahead as you can see, where the two kerbs meet.

Everybody gets the chance of an information stage going into a bend; it’s what you do with it that counts, and the vanishing point gives you your approach speed. Think of it like playing with a puppy: when you run towards it, it backs away, and when you turn away it chases after you. Now put yourself in the place of that puppy and you have it. You’re using the throttle as a time control: less throttle, more time, and vice versa.”

The other big factor is not using vision effectively. You can see something and not react – or you can see something and it doesn’t even occur to you. Yet a good rider might pick up an aerial, or a reflection in a window, and modify their plan accordingly.

When I was in the police heading for an accident scene I could guess what people were going to say: ‘I was driving along when suddenly…’ That word ‘suddenly’. If we had five seconds’ warning there’s no way we’d have an accident. Yet you can gain that time – maybe not five seconds but perhaps just enough to prevent the accident – through planning, and that comes especially through training.

“A lot of times fatal crashes were just the wrong circumstances – something caught them out. You prepare for one thing, but other things conspire. A car pulls out part way, and the rider has to choose between braking and changing course. So they try to go in another direction that was unplanned, into a lamp post or whatever, not having got rid of their speed.”

  • Know yourself

“Few people know how hard a bike can stop or turn, or how to do it. There’s a Japanese martial art – I think it’s Bushido – where there’s a saying: “to make something instinctive you have to do it 10,000 times, so that when it happens you can do it as an automatic response” An Olympic skier has to train six hours a day, six days a week, all year round, just to stay where they are. So when riders get dialed back in for summer it’s always a sudden jump. This is where road training, track days and off-road training days are so useful.

The type of rider who sorts everything out purely on reactions and machine control can spend a long time riding without accidents. Maybe they can get away with it time after time. But they’re still relying on their dice coming up six. And one day it comes up one instead. The big thing is realistic self-evaluation.

That rider might have a near-miss, become aware they’re not invulnerable, and re-adjust their clock. But some people just refuse to believe they are the problem, and it’s almost impossible to deal with a closed mind. If you try and tell them something they’ll rebel against it.

Maybe if they happen to see someone riding really well, better than they are – and can admit it – maybe they’ll ask themselves, ‘How do they do that?’.

  • Multiple hazards

Many riders don’t prioritize hazards. For example, imagine going into a left hand bend with a blind junction on the right just before it. Many people will position themselves on the visibility line for the bend, right in the mouth of the junction.

Now that bend isn’t going to change too much. But the junction might hide a fast-approaching car, and for the driver, the last bit of their vision to clear is the bit on the far left-hand side hiding the motorcyclist. Many riders won’t take account of the junction until a car appears there. But if the timing is wrong you can be in a very vulnerable position: it becomes a done deal straight away. So you choose a more central position, and a speed that balances the two priorities.

A Harvard professor came up with the phrase ‘inattentional blindness’ to describe the phenomenon of looking but not seeing.

It was on television recently – it showed a short piece of film with about 20 basketball players jumping around. You were asked to concentrate on the ball. Immediately afterwards, you were asked, ‘Did you see the gorilla?’ When the film was re-run there was this chap in a gorilla suit striding in and waving at the camera. However because you weren’t looking for it you didn’t see it. And bikes can be in that role.”

  • Group riding

The biggest problem with riding in groups is different abilities, and the temptation not to be left behind. Suppose a trailing rider falls back. To close the gap they’ve now got to ride faster than the rider who got away from them, maybe on ability. And the only way to make that up is to eat into their safety margin. I use a simple psychological tool called the Hebbian curve to illustrate this.

First, imagine riding 15 kph on a motorway: not much information is coming in, very boring. You’re getting too little stimulation.

Now, imagine trying to stay with a better rider on a greasy road. It doesn’t feel fun, it feels fast. And that’s a danger sign: your vision comes down, your shoulders tense up, nothing works properly. So come down just a few kph, back to where it feels fun, back to the meaty part of the curve.

Many riders won’t admit to themselves that they’re getting beyond their peak. Often in training I’ll see one person struggling, fighting the bike, where a more thoughtful rider would back off into their comfort zone. And it’s all internal pressure. Very often if they stopped trying to catch up and just got into the fun zone they’d be quicker.

Ride well and speed happens naturally

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

4 thoughts on “Safer and faster on country roads”
  1. Dear Paolo, thanks again for this aducational article including Jon Taylor’s experience and advises. RoadCraft really gives me priceless tips and life saving methods on safe riding with maximum pleasure that I can. So, l always try to get myself ready for known unknowns and unknown unknowns during riding.

  2. We are post Lockdown and the Bike Fairy turns up and says –
    ” Dear Osman , I can see you have been a good man and I’am going to give You a free day riding on your bike.
    All other elements are equal and it is all paid for. You only need to decide if want to ride a route you know or a completely unknown route.”
    I would ALWAYS go for the Unknown ride. But that probably says a lot about me.
    Which route Osman ?

  3. It felt good to read from Jon again. His words are so measured to perfection, full of information, experience, yet short and simple to understand. I wish he wrote his own book.
    Thanks for sharing Maestro.

  4. “The type of rider who sorts everything out purely on reactions and machine control can spend a long time riding without accidents.”
    Oh, that is the rider ‘not having enough accidents’, isn’t it?

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