Friday, 24 December 2010

Timing - The Secret of Comedy

It's often said that good timing is the secret of great comedy. A similar principle applies while riding, careful timing helps the road work for you rather than against you.

On the road, Time = Distance = Space. Also, these factors are directly affected by, and influence, 'Speed'. Also, timing is an important part of 'positioning'.

'Space' is one of the keys to surviving on the road. Imagine if there were always huge spaces around you - you'd have removed any risk of conflict!


Adjusting your timing can improve your safety and give you greater safety margins from the same position on the lane width.

Adjusting your speed as you identify hazards will affect your thinking and braking distances. A small reduction in speed will give you more reaction time, and reduce your braking distance.

You can use careful timing to help you manage situations, by separating hazards which you would otherwise encounter together.


In the zone

The distance you can see ahead will affect how you plan your ride. Roughly, there are three 'zones':
  • If anything happens 4 seconds ahead or closer is an immediate emergency - it needs instant reactions rather than planning
  • 5 - 12 seconds gives you time to plan, prioritise, then act
  • Over 12 seconds gives you plenty of time to consider all options and plan the optimum course of action

These time zones are only a guide - the actual time will vary according to your own reactions - they show the way in which planning ahead is limited by the time available, and that time depends on the speed you're using up the distance you can see ahead. They also show the potential benefits from looking significantly further ahead when it’s possible.

Your reactions can vary too, partly with your physical state - for example whether you're alert or tired - and whether you're mentally prepared to take action.

Remember, these timings are for your 'space' - there will be situations when that time and space can be 'invaded' or 'reduced' by other road users.

Two examples:
  • On a narrow, winding, country lane, with limited forward visibility, 4 seconds ahead may be sufficient for your reactions and skill, but leaves no margin for any oncoming vehicles 

  • In an urban situation you may be able to see some way ahead, but the situation closer to you can change quickly. A car waiting in a side road could emerge close to you - your planning must allow for that likelihood


Backwards' and Forwards

When dealing with hazards, there are two ways of using timing when planning: 'backwards' and 'forwards'.

'Backwards' involves deciding the amount of space you need to complete a manoeuvre. You decide time (and so distance) 'back' from the hazard to work out how much space you will need, and decide where to start the actions you'll need to complete.

For example, if you're approaching a corner you'll need time and space to change position in the lane, brake to an appropriate speed, select a gear for that speed, then start to open the throttle - all before you enter the corner. These actions need space - and that distance will vary with your initial speed and the speed you choose to go around the corner.

'Forwards' is planning for the circumstances you can't immediately control. You time your riding to arrive at a situation at the optimum time for you - when risk is the lowest you can manage.

Typically this might be as you approach a side turning, with one car waiting to turn out and another waiting to turn across in to the junction. Adjusting your speed could allow time for one of the cars to move, so you'll then only have to pass one car.

Either 'forwards' or 'backwards', it's managing the situation ahead of you.

But just to complicate matters, you might have to plan for a situation involving both aspects; for example:

You're riding along a busy dual-carriageway, and there's a junction where you'll need to cross to the right-hand lane to then enter a short right turn lane - but to do that you will have to plan twice':

'Backwards' to give enough time and space for signalling, moving across, and slowing;

'Forwards' for the other traffic which is closing from behind you, predicting where it will be while you're moving and slowing.

Timing also works with 'positioning' on a 'local' and immediate level too - how you place yourself relative to other road users can improve the separation you have, giving greater safety margins.

This space can be in front of you, behind, and to the sides. The amount of space you keep from other vehicles will vary with your speed, and the degree of risk that you judge the other road user to be.


More examples of using 'timing':
  • On a dual carriageway or motorway, as you close on a slower vehicle ahead you may have to wait for another vehicle to pass before there's room for you in the right hand lane. Plan your move to the right hand lane so that the vehicle in the right hand lane is just passing the one ahead in the left lane - so you maintain the maximum clearance ahead.
  • Approaching a roundabout, adjust your speed so that you can flow in to a suitable gap as you arrive at the 'give way' line. 
  • Ahead you see a pedestrian approach a zebra crossing, slowing earlier could allow you to arrive at the crossing just as it's clear to continue.
  • If you intend to turn at junction just after a bridge or crest, signal before the crest so that following drivers can react earlier, and don't lose sight of you - only to drive over the crest to find you slowing down . . .
  • Make rear observations when there isn't a hazard immediately in front; 
  • Give signals early enough to inform, but not to confuse.

'Timing' can enhance your safety - by maximising clearances from other vehicles, or make riding easier - by reducing the amount of work you have to do.

However, when planning for other road users' actions remember that you're not doing their driving for them - you must allow for unplanned actions.





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