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How Close?

There's a lot to be learned by watching other riders and thinking about your own riding style. What have you seen other riders do? What have you observed a motorcyclist do in traffic that made you think they were riding safely? What have you watched another rider do on the road that made you question their riding style? Have you noticed how much space drivers and riders allow between themselves and other vehicles?

In today's fast paced world, everyone seems to be in a hurry and it appears like the prevailing opinion is that the closer you are to the vehicle ahead, the sooner you'll get to where you're going. If you're both traveling at the same speed, will you really get to your destination noticeably sooner if you're a quarter second behind them or a few seconds? Yet cars, and even motorcycles, can often be seen trailing the vehicle ahead as though they are hitched together. Perhaps this is caused by the belief that everyone is headed in the same direction at the same speed and nothing will change.

"Everyone is headed in the same direction at the same speed so will anything change?"

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends a minimum following distance of two seconds under ideal conditions, expanding it when traction or traffic dictates. That distance is determined by counting "One motorcycle one, one motorcycle two" after the vehicle ahead has passed a fixed object. If you finish the count before you get to the same object, you are following by at least two seconds. Let's look at that distance a little more closely.

At thirty miles an hour, you are moving 44 feet per second maintaining an 88 foot cushion ahead of you. If the vehicle in front of you suddenly begins to brake, research indicates that it will take you at least one full second to see their brake lights, recognize the situation and for you to reach for your brakes. You have gone 44 feet at speed while they are already slowing so the distance between you and the driver ahead is less than 44 feet. An experienced rider with finely practiced skills using both brakes fully without locking either wheel can stop a motorcycle traveling at 30 mph in 33 feet. That's cutting it close.

At sixty miles per hour, your speed is obviously doubled, but the stopping distance quadruples. If you are following two seconds behind the car ahead (176 feet) when they jam on their brakes, it still takes at least a second before you begin slowing. Still at sixty, you have continued 88 feet while their speed is decreasing. The typical stopping distance from 60 mph for a well trained rider is 134 feet. This scenario does not sound good.

Most driver education programs recommend a four second following distance as a minimum. While a two second spacing may seem impossible to maintain in heavy traffic, it can make a huge difference if something unexpected happens during your ride. If you really think about it, will it actually take you that much longer get to where you're going? And you may even enjoy your ride a little more. Isn't that why you're on the road on your bike in the first place; to have fun? Only you can decide how close you'll ride to those ahead.

Ride Smart! Ride Safe!