Driving tests

Road Code enhanced: Complete guide to motorbike lane position

Choosing the correct lane position means you picking the best compromise between leaving a safety buffer and picking the part of the road with the most grip. There will be a difference in your lane position between wet and dry weather, riding in a strong cross wind, following a heavy vehicle, approaching a wide vehicle, approaching an intersection, riding past parked cars and so on.

Dry weather riding

The usual dry weather lane position when you are not following another vehicle is in the centre or centre-left of the lane. This creates a buffer between you and oncoming vehicles. Don’t ride in the far left of the lane because there is often debris there; roads have a crown (i.e. the centre of the road is higher than the edges to assist with drainage), and therefore detritus gets washed to the sides and it can include sharp pieces of metal, loose gravel and other things that can puncture your tyres.

You also won’t be riding too close to the centre line unless you are about to overtake, a vehicle ahead of you can’t see you in its mirrors (in which case you can always drop back further), or you are moving temporarily towards the centre line to give yourself a buffer from a vehicle entering from a side road or driveway on the left. Riding too close to the centre line reduces the buffer between you and vehicles coming towards you.

Wet weather riding

When it first starts to rain after a long period of dry weather the road will be very slippery because a layer of grime, dust, rubber and oil builds up on the surface. When the water hits this it creates a slick layer with much less grip. Vehicles will eventually assist in washing this away, but patches can remain longer where vehicle tyres don’t run.

This is unfortunate because often the best place to ride in the rain is dead-centre of the lane. This is because, even though the road has a crown, other vehicles create long depressions in the road that accumulate long shallow puddles in their tyre tracks. It’s best not to ride through these puddles as it increases your risk of aquaplaning.

Therefore in the rain slow down and choose the centre or centre-left unless that means you are riding through a continuous puddle. If you are approaching an intersection on the left, the reduced visibility caused by rain and spray means it’s more important that you adopt a position that makes you more visible to other motorists existing the intersection.

Approaching a corner

Corners should be approached with your Limit Point of Vision (LPOV) in mind. This is the furthest distance you can see around the corner, and on a laned road you must be able to stop in that distance. On an unlaned road you must be able to stop in half that distance (your stopping distance plus the other vehicle’s stopping distance must be taken into account if you meet another vehicle coming around the corner).

The LPOV moves as you change your position and as you drive around the corner. If the corner opens out, the LPOV will become further away; if the corner tightens, or vegetation on the verge starts obscuring your view, the LPOV will become closer to you. You can adjust your speed and road position to give you the best visibility.

Cornering lane position

The best line to take is the one where you can see furthest around the corner without compromising your buffer zone. If you are approaching a right-hand bend, position yourself near the left-hand side of the road. Brake in a straight line before you start turning – it’s safest not to be turning and braking at the same time.

A small amount of throttle through the corner gives the bike the best balance. If you are travelling at more than around 25kph then you will probably need some countersteering/positive input to start your turn.

The position on the left for a right-hand bend gives you the furthest view through the corner. Stay fairly wide, but avoid anything that might be slippery near the edge. Don’t cut to the apex because you will be leaning over and therefore your body will be in the opposing lane. Also, unless the road is open and you can see right the way through the corner, the view from the apex is not as good as the view slightly wider.

Once you spot the exit, adjust your line so that you end up roughly in the middle of the lane as you exit, just to give yourself some leeway in case you hit something slippery.

When cornering left, position your bike near the centre line unless you have other vehicles coming towards you, in which case move slightly left. At the apex of the corner you will be roughly in the middle of the lane.

In-corner hazards

As you approach the corner, watch for hazards that could be slippery such as road markings, gravel that has been dragged onto the road (this can happen on the inside of left-hand bends if cars or trucks cut the corner), and manhole covers.

Most crashes on corners are because the rider entered too fast, most frequently causing either a lowside accident, or for the rider to run wide and into the path of other traffic.

Watch for right-hand corners where the centre (crown) of the road is high as this will increase your chances of catching your peg on the road. If your peg hits the road then it will reduce the grip of your wheels and can cause a lowsider accident.

Approaching an intersection

As you approach an intersection the position of other vehicles will determine how you position your bike. In the image to the left, you can see that the orange car obscures your visibility to the red car. Moving left in the lane means you can be seen sooner, and you can see that car sooner, too.

Approaching left-hand intersections

Vehicles can enter the intersection from the left so as you approach the intersection, move right in your lane to give yourself more visibility of the intersection and to make you more visible to vehicles waiting to turn out.

If you are turning left, maintain your position near the centre of the lane – this will allow you to see further around into the intersection for dangers such as pedestrians crossing.

Approaching right-hand intersections

If you are following a vehicle it may have to stop and wait in the lane. On a motorbike you will most likely have enough room to pass on the left, but be careful of running through gravel or other loose material nearer the edge of the road.

If drivers are waiting to pull out, look for any signs of movement to assess their intentions. Move slightly left in your lane unless that puts you in the shadow of trees.

If you are turning right then you will position yourself closer to the centre line. Watch for drivers closing from the rear to check that they won’t run into you.

Following other vehicles

Motorbikes take longer to stop than cars so avoid tailgating because you might find that you don’t have enough stopping power to match the vehicle in front.

Large vehicles

This rider and pillion passenger is travelling so close that there's no way to see what's happening in front of the truck

This rider and pillion passenger is travelling so close that there’s no way to see what’s happening in front of the truck

If you can’t see the wing mirrors of a heavy vehicle in front of you, the chances are that the driver can’t see you. This applies to any vehicle that has limited or no visibility through a rear-view window. You will need to follow further back for a heavy vehicle and ride so that you can be seen in the driver’s side mirror.

Be aware of large vehicles turning into narrow driveways or side roads as they may have to swing out wider to enter.

Small passenger vehicles

When following a car, align yourself between the centre of the car and its right-rear wheels as this will give you the most chance of being seen in the rear view mirror. You may have to adjust your position in response to other hazards on the road.

You will be able to see through the rear view mirror and out the windscreen of an SUV, but this isn’t an excuse for following too closely. Remember the two-second rule in dry weather.

Approaching other vehicles

Motorbikes should be cautious when approaching large vehicles coming in the other direction at speed as the buffeting effect of the slipstream. It can at first push you away, and then suck you in towards the other lane. Adopt a position of safety slightly further left. This is particularly important if you are driving in wet weather when spray can become a problem on your visor.

Overtaking

Confidently claiming your road position is important when overtaking. The person in front of you must be able to see that you are looking to overtake, and any drivers behind you must be aware of your intentions so that they don’t try to overtake you, which could cause a dangerous situation.

You can warn the driver in front that you are overtaking by giving a quick flash of the highbeam headlight before you start the manoeuvre.

Ensure that if you are following a truck that you can see if it is following something else as this will increase your overtaking distance requirements.

Read our advanced guide to overtaking here. Always be looking for other driver’s intentions.

When you are being overtaken, maintain your position unless it’s unsafe to do so.

Passing parked vehicles

Parked vehicles provide added danger for motorbike riders. Motorbike riders are less visible than other vehicles. To make yourself more visible move to the right of the lane – this will keep you further out of the way of opening car doors – but be aware of vehicles coming towards you.

Constantly scan the line of cars looking for drivers’ intentions – is anyone looking to pull out, and are there any pedestrians walking between the cars?

For more information about road position check out this article.

Questions in the theory test

Here are four questions that you will encounter about road position in the motorbike theory test:

When passing parked vehicles, in what position in the lane should you be?

When driving at night on a road with lanes, you must be able to stop in half the length of clear road you can see in front of you. True or false?

If you’re following a vehicle where is the best place on the road to position your motorcycle whilst riding?

Before going through a right hand curve, what is it best to do?

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Motorbike, Road Code
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