Most of us have heard the term Roadcraft bandied about but what is it exactly? The strict definition refers to two manuals produced for the UK Police: Roadcraft: The Police Driver's Handbook and Motorcycle Roadcraft: The Police Rider's Handbook. They became available to the public in the 1950s and now form the backbone of IAM rider training around the world. 

Front cover of the Motorcycle Roadcraft handbook from 1973

I can see this policeman's flares flapping in the wind - front cover of the Motorcyle Roadcraft handbook from 1973.

More broadly, Roadcraft describes the skills, techniques and mental processes that can improve rider and driver safety. The core is a five-phase approach to riding, comprising Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Acceleration (IPSGA). This systematic approach reduces the demands on the machine and on the rider. And that should mean nothing ever overwhelms either, reducing the risk of a crash. 

Teaching Roadcraft is part of Ride Forever coaching, so we put the word out to their top instructors for their fix on this important set of skills. In particular, we wanted to find out the most common deficiencies they see. What aspects of Roadcraft are typical riders unaware of, or failing to apply? We also wanted to know how they go about fixing those issues, including their favourite teachings to boost Roadcraft skills.

Chris Smith of Passmasters has coached hundreds of riders through Ride Forever courses, especially at Gold level. Yet he still sees many experienced riders who don't plan ahead well enough and whose positioning is wrong. “A good rider is constantly scanning up ahead and closer by”, says Chris. “Reading the road for hazards and what’s coming up next, as far ahead as you can, is absolutely fundamental. Gathering information from as far ahead as possible lets you plan ahead, so you don't get caught out or have to react to something unexpected.” 

Illustration taken from the latest Roadcraft handbook.

What's the rider in the bottom of this Handbook illustration doing wrong? That's right, he's riding too close.

It’s an issue echoed by Ross Gratton, of Two Bald Bikers out of Wellington. “Sadly, the most deficient is the information phase, riders just aren't looking far enough ahead and things tend to jump out at them,” says Ross. We've found that if we apply a little critical deduction (keep asking the 'but why?' question until we get to the essential issue) it invariably comes back to ‘I didn't see it.’ 

Lynne Templeton of Roadsafe also commonly sees a lack of focus and preparation. “What many of these riders need is to adopt a ‘systematic approach to riding’ which, after all, is at the heart of Roadcraft. That might sound boring to some and not much fun, but it actually means you ride with increased confidence and enjoyment,” says Lynne. “And isn't that what motorcycling is all about?” 

Lynne says the value of a systematic approach is that you use the information you gain from early clues of possible hazards to engage your mind. “This alerts you to think 'what if', having time to think through which options will best suit the developing situation ahead, then having time to put that plan into action. Knowing, of course, that you've previously practised that manoeuvre (whether it is braking, counter-steering or simply changing your riding position on the road) and you can apply it with confidence!”

Good advice

Positioning errors were mentioned by several of the instructors. Chris points out that it has more than one purpose. “You should position yourself both to see and be seen - some riders forget that. They put themselves in a place that might be fine for their vision but poor for their visibility. Sometimes, it’s a compromise.” An example? “Ask a lot of riders about finding the best place in the lane for other road users to see you and most will think about the car in front. But it can be more important to position for the guy in the Volvo waiting in the side road ahead, who now can't see you because you're in the right wheel track to let the car in front see you. It’s about gathering all the information, and processing it in terms of priorities, not becoming fixated on one hazard or one bit of information.” 

Illustration from the Motorcycle Roadcraft Handbook.

Another Handbook illustration showing the dangers of overtaking near junctions.

Karel Pavich of Pro Rider emphasises that changing position, as well as entering intersections, roundabouts, etc., has its own demands in terms of observation and information. “One of the most useful things we teach is ‘MILO’: Mirror, Indicator, Look (head check), then Over (the move, turn, merge or exit - whatever the manoeuvre is). It’s really all about information, both taking it in and giving it out - in this instance, by way of indication.” 

Deficiencies in information and positioning are the major focus for Dan Ornsby in the South Island, too: “Awareness and observational skills are something we push at all levels of Ride Forever. With good scanning (identifying hazards early), anticipation and planning we don't need to become another statistic. On this topic, mirror use is underrated. Keeping a close eye on what is happening behind is just as important as out front and to the side. When slowing down at any time, for any reason, then the first port of call should be mirrors.” 

Duncan Seed of 2 Drive Safe offers another useful acronym: ‘TUG’–Taking, Using and Giving information, making sure not to neglect the Giving. “For example, with vehicles who may be following me too closely I use my brakes before I change down so they see my brake light and don't hit me from behind.” 

Get the good oil. Ride Forever’s expert instructors are masters of spotting what is holding someone's riding back. And they have a ton of knowledge on how to fix it, well beyond what you read here. For a $50 admin fee, which is often reclaimable on your insurance, why not give them a try and see if they can add an extra dimension to your road craft and riding technique? Find out about the coaching available in your area:
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