Better riding: You must be able to see where you're going! | Near miss!

Shubhabrata Marmar Updated: July 17, 2018, 07:29 PM IST

Back when Ferocitas, my KTM 390 Duke was new, I knew many people, including journalists who had new bikes as well. And then, one of them, a youngster, had a crash. I met him sometime later and asked him what happened. And he said, in essence, that he'd pulled out into the top lane to pass a slow or stationary truck. And run smack into the back of a truck parked in the top lane. Scary, yeah? Now see this near miss video that has been doing the rounds since yesterday. I don't know the riders, but that shook me up. And then I realised that we can learn from this video. And the journalist and this rider both made the same mistake. It's an easy one to make, to be sure, and an easy one to avoid as well.


The central, most vital tip we give to our students at the TWO School by Indimotard that OVERDRIVE powers and I teach at, is about the eyes. And we say that the bike goes where you look. That's a warning - in the case, for example, of running over the one 4-inch stone on an empty 20-foot wide road. That's also advice - riders who look where they want to go tend to be smoother, faster and safer than riders who don't make it an unerring habit.

This rider and pillion are extremely lucky to have escaped any harm in this extremely scary video posted online

Blocked vision!

But few riders also learn to realise that when they're around big objects - like buses and trucks, large street signs and billboards and small trucks carrying large objects - your vision doesn't actually work. You physically cannot see through or around almost any of these. And that's the error the journalist and the rider in this video makes.

The video

See this screenshot from the video. He begins his overtake on the left side of the truck. He's going about 80kmph and the needle is more or less steady. Two things stand out to me here when I look at the video frame-by-frame.

First, I see a two-wheeler ahead of the truck and the fact that the truck is pulling into the top lane to pass it. And then it has an indicator flashing (0:10) and it's pulling back into the slow lane behind this. In fact, you see the flash of the headlamp of the oncoming truck on the video for a fraction of a second, but honestly, even I don't I would have spotted it. But a truck slowing to tuck in behind the two-wheeler is not a sign you ignore.

The rider begins in overtake from the extreme left of the slow lane while his vision is blocked by the truck. Can you see the error he is making?

To me, in situational awareness terms, should set all the bells ringing. Trucks never ever slow down unless they must. This is a function of the fact that chances are they're overloaded and they preserve their hard-won momentum as much as they can. I would have immediately backed off the throttle here because my closing speed to the truck is going up as I hold speed and the truck slows. Not a good situation to have the throttle open.

At 0:12, two seconds later, the truck is continuing to pull into the slow lane and the rider and motorcycle have begun an overtake on a steady throttle. Note two things. First, because the truck is diagonal at this time, its rear-end blocks the rider's vision of the oncoming lane almost completely. Second, because the rider didn't close the throttle two seconds ago, he's now just three bike lengths from the truck. This is a problem. If the truck had hit its brakes hard, in the time to react alone the motorcycle and rider would have collided with this truck.

The speedo needle says the throttle is held steady or actively open as the rider starts to pull into the middle of the overtake manouvre. Note that his vision is still blocked by the truck

Roughly a second later, this motorcycle pulls into the top lane and now is speedometer is falling and then the oncoming truck comes into view. Holy mother of god. Luckily, the rider manages to tuck the motorcycle into the gap between the two trucks and escapes harm. And ends up revealing shortly thereafter that he is carrying a pillion who isn't wearing a helmet. Sigh.

And now, with the overtake in progress, the oncoming truck reveals itself. The options for the rider at this point are extremely limited

As I said earlier, the first mistake was not paying attention to the situation. But a more basic mistake is having the throttle open when the vision is blocked and assuming that the road is clear. A compromised overtake that began from a position that allows no forward vision is a problem. In the ideal situation, you should be able to see the full length of the overtake before you commit to it. This means being able to be sure that the road ahead is fully clear before adding speed and passing traffic. The space needed, of course, is a function of the speeds involved as well as the acceleration available to you.

Unblocked vision

But there is also something else you should notice. At 0:13, when the rider spots the truck, you can immediately see that he doesn't freeze at the controls or get target fixated. The bike is immediately turning left towards the gap. That's a hugely important decision that comes at the right time. And saves the rider and his pillion.

The rider fixes his eyes on the gap and the motorcycle immediately follows his sight and that's how the rider and pillion escape injury or worse in this video.

The kicker?

But the kicker comes when you see the video again. At 0:05, the Mahindra Xylo taxi slows suddenly and starts to pull out of the top lane having just passed a two-wheeler in the slow lane. Our rider follows the Xylo's path into the top lane but as bikers tend to do, pulls farther left to pass the Xylo on the left of the fast lane. Effectively, this puts the Xylo between the bike and the oncoming truck for the entire duration of this overtake. And if you look carefully, at 0:05 itself, you can see that the oncoming truck is there.

This is the first sign of trouble. The Xylo indicates, brakes on an apparently empty road and starts to pull out of the top lane. You can see the flash of headlamps for half a second on the camera as the car does this. But the rider doesn't spot this


If you can't see, you cannot go. This is essential. An opening throttle must be preceded by a sightline that confirms it is safe to accelerate. This also means that you must be conscious of when your vision is blocked. It's about awareness.

Be aware! The rider in the video ignore two entirely isolated signs that the oncoming lane has some sort of trouble brewing before executing a badly planned overtaking manouvre that would have resulted in fatalities or at least severe injuries.

Look where you want to go. The rider spots the gap between the trucks, instead of the oncoming truck or the other one has a point of fixation. The event happens quickly but the move into the gap is immediate and without any apparent hesitation. At 0:14, the truck passes by the bike at speed mere millimetres away. But a miss is as good as a mile.

Unpredictable traffic. It's easy to get lulled into the sense of comfort with traffic because you deal with so often. But your guard must always be up!

Riding gear. It's not optional.

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