May 27, 2007

Two Lane Changes... second attempt

Sometime when you're riding in traffic, you will feel the urge to change two lanes at one time. You will want to go, say, from the top lane to the slowest lane, or the other way round. Now, in my book of things you just have to do sometimes, this is one of the most hazardous. It requires a lot more attention than you think and there's a lot of things than can go wrong. And if they do, it will (I think) be quite a pile up. So here's my thoughts.

But. Before I go into this, I want to touch on something else. Every time I have approached the issue of aggression as one of a motorcyclist's assets, I've had people jump up in horror about it. Well, first let us talk about aggression then. Anything, as you have heard/read, in excess is not good for you. And that applies to defensive riding (and driving) as well.

Let me explain. I will use two analogies. Here's the first. Ever played Civilisation, the Sid Meier game? I have. And I've never won by playing fair (which is besides the point). I've never won because I don't know how to attack - the game makes it a little complicated. I've become very good at defending my civilisation as a consequence, but I still cannot attack. Which sucks. As an aside, I now win because I know the flaws in the game... lopsided strategy does not work. Pure defence? All you get us centuries of attacks from rival civilisations. Here's the second analogy, ever see a boxing coach/game sequence? The trick, from whatever I can tell, is to keep your gloves high (defence) and jab/hook/whatever whenever the other guy takes his gloves down (aggression). No bout was ever won on pure aggression, or pure defence. Mike Tyson's ear-chewing episode does not count.

What I am getting at is that aggression is as important as defence for good riding in traffic. However, I go agree that aggression is a lot harder to employ well and requires a hell of a lot of judgement and balance than say, in Civilisation or Boxing.

A motorcycle is a tiny little vehicle compared to even the smallest of cars out there, so aggression has to deployed very carefully. My favourite way of explaining that is to first take a position that allows easy, immediate defence, and then show aggression, always ready to take cover. I know it sounds like combat and all, but stay with me here.

The final nuance in this dance, is that a lot of the aggression I am talking about is visual - call it posturing, histrionics, whatever. There's isn't actually any substance in it. I wouldn't actually do this, but to give you a rather graphic example. Think of the motorcyclist as a tiny, armour-clad figure holding a big,realistic,but ultimately fake gun. The trucker he is up against has a titanium baseball bat the normal size, and the trucker himself is six foot three. The trucker's a bit worried about the gun... the motorcyclist looks brave, but is sh***ing bricks. Get it? As my favourite motorcycle skills book says, occupy your space like you were a truck. But give like a bicycle.

Now, to the two lane change.

The reason why the two lane change is so dangerous is that it involves three, sometimes four separate elements that are travelling at speed, and only one of them is in your full control. You can influence usually one of the other two by a small margin, but you can never count on it. First, the speeding element farthest from you is the one in the second lane from you. The chap who is the place you're going to. I am not going to discuss him in detail, because I assume you will know enough not to make the move while he's in your spot. Or, you will split the move into two single lane changes.

Now, when you're passing through the middle lane on your way to the top lane, you're in maximum danger, because it requires you to track two cars, one ahead of you and one behind you at the same time. In the ideal world, you would pass through with exactly the same space behind and ahead of you. But that requires way more attention, so I personally do not recommend it.

What you do is, first switch your indicator on, so every around you knows your intention. Second, you cover your brakes and downshift so you're in the meat of the powerband.

The easy one is when the chap in the car behind you simply sees that indicator and backs off a little and lets you pass. That's great, but never happens, right?

So how do you make space?

That's where the aggression comes in. I usually square my shoulders a little, hunch forward purposefully, and then I will make two or three very purposefully head turned checks for space. If you're in the middle of your current lane, moving a little to the right, so that you're aligned with the tail lamp of the car you're following at the moment also helps. You're now close enough to the chap to appear aggressive and serious about taking his lane. You also have three quarters of your lane available on your left should you need it.

Most of the time, staying in this position for about half a second will cause the car to back off (This is also very useful with autorickshaws and taxis. Before you change a lane ahead of them, just run parallel for about half a second, it gives them time to know you're there and to realise what you are about to do. Your peripheral vision will tell you that they're backing off, or not). If it is a truck, you need to ensure that he saw you. Wave your hand, if needed. Once the car backs off, you're clear to take up space. However, if you find that the chap is not backing off, it's time to return to your space and think of another way around the problem (I will usually hang back, let this chap go past and then try again).

As you pass through the middle lane, remember two things, the higher the speed, the shallower that angle you want to pass through with. You should never block both tail lamps of the car ahead, the chap behind should be able to see your tail lamp and at least one of the car ahead of you at all times. Instead of passing with equal space behind and ahead of you, go a little bit closer to the car ahead - your brakes are stronger than your engine.

In all of this, I am assuming that you know how to work the details - checking your mirrors, waving a small thank you to the chap behind you when he gives you space...

Does that read better, then Anon?


The BATFAN said...

This really makes me wonder.

The guys that pull through those neat passes out of non existent space flowing through traffic like water in pipes. Are they really that good or are they just taking an undue advantage of the time space complexity that you explained in an earlier post rearset. After all that minute time space they seep into is only on the vital judgment of more than one adjacent vehicles. Even though it looks very good on film and even on the road to see I bet a guy in his senses wont assume that everybody is leaving space for him. It surely takes more than guts to drive like that. So my question rearset is are those guys skilled enough to know that they can pull through no matter what or are they plain fools taking chances on people's minds. I bet you would have seen the category of aggro motorcyclists I am talking about. They go at at least 20 KM/Hr faster than the surrounding traffic leaning their bikes in both directions at the slightest instance of space. The worst part of it is that racing with such guys in traffic means that you have to drive worse than them to beat them. Even the thought of that brings shudders down my spine.

Sankoobaba said...

got the gist of the post in one read, but required reading it again to understand clearly, thankfully I have been employing similar strategies when it comes to cutting lanes, and of course I agree with that *aggression* bit...using this strategy once got me a thumbs up from a car driver.. *smiles*!!

Sankoobaba said...

aggression with caution and calculation is the key!!!

rearset said...

I tend to judge based on how many times the brake lamps come on hard. The more the chap has to resort to serious changes of speed, the less he is anticipating and judging the situations. The safest ones hardly ever use more than a flicker of the brake lamps. The best ones also look very, very smooth. They look like they aren't doing anything special at all. In fact, if you noticed them like you say you did, they probably were squids, not gods.

And if you're racing or considering racing with them in traffic, you're already in deep s**t

rearset said...