A rough rule of thumb is that you should have over two bike lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you
It is natural, no doubt. When you are standing in a queue, you tend to stand closer to the chap ahead of you when you are in a rush, or getting impatient. But the problem is that you also tend to do this on a motorcycle. And while the chap ahead of you in a queue can turn around and ask politely or otherwise to back off, on a motorcycle, the consequences can be a lot more severe.
We last discussed the issue of space when riding in November 2009, but I think it bears a closer examination. And we are only going to focus on traffic, the situation where how much space you have can affect you deeply and where you will not only spend the most time, it is where you are the most vulnerable.
What happens when you are rushing is simple. Our brain thinks in its simplistic way that every foot it covers consists of progress and so you start inching closer to the vehicle ahead of you without realising it. This is why sometimes you find yourself with just an inch or two of space from a bus or truck when you stop at a traffic light.
Which is ridiculous because if a bus rolls back and makes contact, its mass will make mincemeat of your motorcycle even if you escape with just a fright.
When you are moving, running close causes similar problems. Most cars can out brake your motorcycle which means if they stand on the brakes in response say, to a kid running across the road, running close will not let you stop in time. Wham. Ouch.
But running close is not just unsafe, it is also inefficient. Vehicles block your vision which means your plans to overtake are severely compromised. To spot this riding error just think about whether you knew what was in the opposing lane when you pull out from behind the vehicle to scan the oncoming lane before passing. If you did not know, you were following too close.
Vehicles running close ahead also shut off your sense of space which means your survival reactions kick in, forcing you towards instinctive riding decisions - which you should know motorcycles tend not to like.
Which, then, makes your riding less smooth, more jerky, less sure and hence, slower overall.
But the eye-opening thing about riding further away from traffic is something you do not realise until you reach. You feel fresher, less stressed, less busy when you get off the bike. And almost always, you will find you have reached a bit quicker than you planned - without trying!