Safety on the move: How to ride like a road test pro
I thought I’d share some of the ways I ride to stay in one piece on the road. Not the mechanics of going through corners – body position and all that stuff, but the zen-like way you think about what you’re doing.
How is it that we road testers do tens of thousands of road miles a year (some of us race, too) but we don’t fall off, crash into things or get speeding tickets?
I’ve been doing this almost 18 years and although we road testers come from different backgrounds and have different riding levels, we all end up riding more or less the same way, as do most professional riders, from the police to riding instructors. And when we go out with our friends, readers and everyday leisure riders the difference between the way we ride is often night and day.
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I’ll admit that I survived the first quarter of my riding life purely on luck, but thanks to now being surrounded by brilliant riders and people, I’ve now figured out it’s all about staying out of trouble and picking your moments.
This is how we survive riding every single day. If you would like more information, a supplementary video can be found at the bottom of this page.
Yep, we ride fast when we need to and most riders would be hard pushed to keep up with the best road testers on the road or track, but the main difference between how I used to ride and how I do now is there’s no novelty factor anymore.
I still love bikes with a passion, but that pent-up excitement, where you just can’t wait to get out there is gone and that saves you from a whole world of trouble when you can’t see for adrenalin. You see it all the time during the first few sessions of a track day – it’s red-flag-central in the morning and a ghost town at the end when everyone’s knackered.
We just don’t rush into situations on the road. That overtake can always wait if we’re unsure and we’re constantly looking for something to catch us out: sniffing-out diesel, a poorly maintained road that will have gravel scattered across it, or freshly laid mud leading to the big wheels of a tractor.
You have to treat every single person like they’re out to get you. Expect that oncoming lorry to swerve into your path, or that car to pull out on you. Assume there will always be someone coming around a corner on the wrong side of the road and position yourself accordingly. Trust no one but yourself. Don’t leave anything to chance.
Take neat point and squirt lines – off-throttle cornering for crisper turning, deep entries and minimal lean. It always makes me laugh when people talk about chicken strips - if you’re leaning over that far on the road you’re doing it wrong.
Float from corner to corner with momentum and not a hail of brakes and throttle. They make fun of me here in the office for my fuel consumption (I can get 10mpg more than some on the same trip) and called a fibber online about the mileage I can get out of tyres, but it’s all down to being smooth.
I’d say if you’re honest with yourself, all but the most freakish of accidents can be avoided. It’s down to the decisions you make, starting with going out and getting on the bike in the first place to choosing the speed you’re going to attack the next bend.
If a car pulls out and you’ve hit it, yes, it’s their fault, but if you’d anticipated it, you might have avoided not been in that time and place. It’s different on a track, of course, where you’re pushing the limits of tyre grip and trusting those around you. Accidents there will always happen.
It exposes you to too much danger. Don’t be a sitting target. Flow through traffic like sand running through your fingers. Unless you’re riding with the speed of traffic don’t slow right down when they do – get the hell out of there.
I slip past, filter and do whatever I need not to be cut-up, or caught up in someone else’s lack of attention, especially now everyone’s on Facebook. Even when I’m sat still at a junction, I’m watching my mirrors like a hawk, waiting to get rear-ended.
Sometimes when we have to ride with more cautious people who stop more often, I feel exposed, anxious and vulnerable. I hate it. Even though I’m perceived as the faster, 'madder' rider who wheelies and races, it’s actually them who are putting themselves in the firing line.
Road testers don’t want unwanted attention, because we’re out working on the road. It’s our livelihood and what we do is also an advert for biking in general. We stealth through unnoticed and don’t pull right back in front of people after an overtake, which can surprise them, or pepper them with crap or spray.
Riding quietly and behaving ourselves when there’s people around keeps everyone happy.
Look after each other
We ride together during road tests and on launches. The best thing you can do in a group is to ride staggered – you can see each other front and back and never have to spend time wondering where such-and-such has disappeared to. And if the person in front has to slam their brakes on you can just sail up the side and not ram them, if you can’t react in time.
Whenever we need to stop to wait or talk to each other we kill our engines – it’s far less stressful. I even cut it at traffic lights, leaving it in gear. It saves your clutch hand, the gear clonking into first and excess engine heat in the summer. It saves fuel, too...and if you see a dodgy situation unfolding, start the engine and get ready to leave.
It doesn’t matter
Fellow road test Bruce Dunn said that to me a few years ago and it’s stuck. It doesn’t matter if someone is quicker than you on the road. Let them go. There’s always the next time, tomorrow, whenever. It’s usually the fast ones on the road that take more risks, anyway…and when you see them on track, are painfully slow.
Avoid speeding tickets
A sure-fire way of not getting caught speeding is to…stick to the speed limits. But the easiest places to get caught are where it is the easiest and most effective to lay a trap: motorways, dual carriageways and wide-open roads.
There’s less enjoyment in going fast in these places anyway (anyone can go quick in a straight line), so you may as well toe the line. Going fast in 30 and 40mph zones destroys the cloak of invisibility we’ve already talked about, so stick to those, too.
Everywhere else, we pick our moments…
All this might not be how you’d expect a Flash Harry road tester to ride, but we still have fun and turn up the wick when we need to. But when we really want to go fast, we just go on track. In the UK we’re lucky with the biggest concentration of incredible circuits in the world – just book on, turn up and fill your boots on anything from a tourer to a superbike.
I guarantee when you’ve done that you won’t ride around on the road like you’re on a superpole lap, leaving you to enjoy the thrill of your bike in a different way – drinking in the scenery, feeling your mechanical marvel working beneath you and just the glorious freedom of it all.