10 Lane Positioning Tips

Left, center, right: which spot is best when on your motorcycle?

By Tricia Szulewski, Assistant Editor

One of the most important street survival skills every rider should strive to perfect is choosing proper lane positioning. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) teaches that there are three positions within each lane: left, center, and right. But which is the best position?

There’s no one correct answer to this question. A multitude of factors and circumstances need to be taken into account before choosing the best lane position. Following are 10 factors to consider when choosing the best lane position for optimal safety.

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1. Road surface conditions

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle grated bridge
Sometimes it’s not possible to avoid poor road surfaces, like this grated surface. Choose a lane position that allows you to minimize the motorcycle’s lean where traction is compromised. In this case, staying to the outside of the curve at the apex allows the rider to make a quick turn-in to keep the bike more upright once reaching the grated surface. This maximizes tire traction on the grated surface, as opposed to taking the corner tighter, which would require a lean and limited tire traction on the grated surface.

10 lane positioning tips pavement
Your eyes should be constantly scanning for hazards while riding, one being the condition of the road your tires are about to travel over. Are there soft, gooey tar snakes running along your chosen position? Has gravel collected in a certain area in the road? Are there grooves that might “lead” your tire like between the new blacktop patches here? The first thing that determines your lane position might be simply finding the best road surface area.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle dirt gravel
When riding on dirt and gravel roads, keep scanning and position yourself to avoid potholes, ruts, and piles where the dirt will be deeper and softer. Proceed slowly and steadily, and try to minimize lean and sudden inputs while avoiding the worst areas.

2. Available cornering clearance
Is the road youre riding on level, or is it crowned, meaning that it’s higher in the middle? Crowned roads are sometimes designed this way so that water can run off the sides more easily. While you could choose to ride on top of the crowned (center) portion of the lane, the center of the road is where all of the fluids leaking from cars end up, leaving a slippery cocktail of oil, transmission fluid, and anti-freeze that builds up on a daily basis until its washed away by rain. During the first few minutes of rain, you should avoid the center portion of the roadway. But be mindful that riding beside the crowned middle will offer you less cornering clearance when you lean the motorcycle in its direction.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle lean
If you are riding at you and your bike’s limits, youve also limited your options for escape. Once your footpeg touches down, that’s usually a sign that you don’t have the ability to lean the motorcycle much more—youve used up the bikes cornering clearance. Using an outside, inside, outside path of travel through a curve requires the least amount of lean. Using advanced riding techniques learned at an advanced riding class can help reduce lean as well.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle cornering clearance
When cornering, make sure that you reserve some cornering clearance at the apex (the middle of the curve), in case you need to lean your bike further into the curve if an oncoming vehicle or animal enters your lane.

3. Visibility
Remember the motto “see and be seen.” The ideal lane position puts you in the best position to be seen by others and at the same time gives you the ability to see as far ahead as possible.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle following distance
When following a car or SUV, you may want to position yourself—even temporarily—in the center of your lane, so you are seen by the driver in his rearview mirror. Dont think that you need to stay in one lane position either. Sometimes changing positions within your lane offer drivers a better chance to notice youre there. This big pickup truck couldnt see me in his rearview mirror, so I moved to the left portion of my lane to provide that driver a better view of me, hopefully from his side drivers mirror.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle passing
Before passing, move to the left side of your lane so that you can see and be seen, both by the driver in front of you and oncoming traffic.

4. Blind spots

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle blind spot
If you’re riding in someone’s blind spot, move to where they can see you. A general rule to help you figure out if you are riding in someones blind spot is if you can’t see their eyes in their mirror, they cant see you.

5. Blind corners

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle blind corner
When approaching a blind corner, adjust your speed and shift over to where you can see the furthest through the curve. For right curves, this mean the left portion of the lane. For left curves, its the right portion. Keep a good half-car width away from the centerline in case an oncoming vehicle has drifted into your lane. Choose the path that gives you the most time and space to react to any given circumstance while utilizing the “see and be seen” theory. Be mindful of whether or not there is a shoulder, and what the condition of it is in case you need to avoid something around the corner.

6. Nighttime Visibility

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle night riding
How far does your headlight reach? Slow down, and be able to stop in the amount of time it takes to reach as far as you can see. If an animal appears, you only have that much time to evade it. You may want to use a “delayed apex” path of travel for cornering. This means that you “turn in” to the corner a little later than you normally would with a quick, sharp lean. Depending how your motorcycle is set up, this can help at night to get your headlight pointed a bit further through the curve.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle fat bob headlights
If you can get behind another vehicle, you can use its headlights to light the way even further, but remember that your headlight is going to blend into its lights, making you less visible to oncoming traffic. Put extra space between you and him and adjust your lane position to separate yourself. These double headlights on the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob could be mistaken for a car in the distance.

7. Intersections
Your senses should be extra-alert at intersections, where most multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents occur. If you scan ahead to see a potential hazard at an intersection, such as a car waiting to pull into your path, a deliberate weave in your lane can get that driver to notice you, especially if you are following a large vehicle making it difficult to be seen.

10 factors to consider best lane position on motorcycle tight right turn
Choosing a good lane position in order to make a turn at an intersection is important, too. For right turns, to avoid running wide into the oncoming lane, begin from a bit left of center in your lane. This position requires the least amount of lean in order to successfully complete the turn. Be sure to signal your intentions to other motorists. If you are in the far left portion of your lane an oblivious driver may think youre turning left and sneak up on your right and pass you—a dangerous situation if you arent aware of its presence.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle intersection
While stopped at a traffic light, position yourself so you aren’t hidden behind cars and trucks. Always keep enough space in front of you and to the sides so you can quickly escape if a car behind you doesn’t stop.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle hidden intersection
Sometimes you may need to stop for a stop sign that puts you out of sight from traffic. Make the stop, then stop again in a more optimal viewing position before starting out through the intersection.

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle open up view
This photo illustrates how much more visible this bike, a BMW R nineT, is in this position, closer to the intersection. The MSF calls this “presentation.”

8. Escape paths

10 factors to consider best lane position on motorcycle escape path
Choose a lane position that allows you the most options to move to—either left, right, or ahead— if something enters your lane from any direction. This requires constantly reevaluating your situation and making adjustments. If a car passes on your left like in the picture here, avoid riding in his blind spot and move a little to the right to allow the most space all around you.

If you are traveling on a single lane road in the far right position, where will you go if a distracted driver barrels over the blind hill in your lane? All you have as an option is the shoulder. Conversely, if you are on that same road in the far left lane, you may be putting yourself at a greater risk when coming to that blind hill. Center is the ideal position in these circumstances.

Try not to box yourself in, so that you only have one way to go. If youre passing a vehicle on the highway for instance, and a construction barrier is on your left while passing the vehicle, where is your out? Its better to adjust your speed and wait for a better opportunity to pass, when there isnt an object like a guard rail, construction barrier, or a steep drop off limiting your opportunities for an “out.”

9. Following distance

10 lane positioning tips motorcycle minimum following distance
When you are following another vehicle make sure that you have enough time and space to either stop or swerve out of the way if that vehicle makes a sudden move. The MSFs general rule of thumb is to keep a 3-second minimum following distance. The minimum distance should be increased behind larger vehicles and other motorcycles to 4 to 5 seconds. This is only enough time to react to a hazard but may not be enough time to stop. Remember, the more space and time you you build in, the more options you have to avoid a potentially disastrous situation.

10. Group riding

10 factors to consider best lane position on motorcycle staggered
If you are riding with a partner or in a group, a staggered formation with a good following distance will offer more time and space to make emergency maneuvers than if your group is riding in a straight line or next to each other.

10 factors to consider best lane position on motorcycle single file
In curves and on narrow roads, you dont have to hold the staggered lane position. Give yourself some extra room behind the rider in front of you, so you can choose your own line. If this style of riding doesnt work for the group youre riding with but is best for your own safety, back off and get away from the group. You can always meet up at the next intersection.

Don’t toss your knowledge and skill of riding out the window when youre riding in a group. Ride your own ride, even with friends, and encourage them to do the same. Choose your own speed and position.

While riding motorcycles is an expression of freedom, make sure to always stay sharp and focused when youre on the road. Be aware of all the hazards and oblivious drivers that are too busy texting, reading, eating, and daydreaming to think about your safety. Proper lane position gives you all the information you need to be in the right place at the right time. Practice your skills and your bikes limitations when you’re in a safe, controlled environment so that when you need to call on them, it comes as second nature.

Related Articles
A One-Day Class for Experienced Riders: MSF Advanced RiderCourse
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18 thoughts on 10 Lane Positioning Tips

  1. Would add a #11 which would be lane positioning at a stop. I always keep an eye on the driver behind me and position myself so that I have an escape route if the driver doesn’t stop.

  2. Just a note of caution on number seven—intersections and the presentation. I have a brother and more than a few friends that were rear-ended because of the stop, pull up, and stop again technique. On all occasions the drivers thought that they were making their turn. Be extra cautious when you have a vehicle behind you.

  3. I found this article very interesting to read, and is something that you should read more than once. Ride safe.

  4. Very good article. Everyone that rides a motorcycle needs to read this.

  5. Thank you for this editorial. As a new rider this information is invaluable. Very well written along with the pictures—shows exactly what I need to know.

  6. Great article and refresher. Take the Advanced Rider’s Course if you have not—it will help you with maneuvers and emergency stops and you will learn how to avoid other pitfalls that can derail you. Stay safe!

  7. I have been reading this publication for a long time and have always found something of interest and educational in the articles as well as the ads.

  8. Thank you for this “refresher” information. This really helped me, because I’m constantly thinking in “what if” mode while riding.

  9. Very well done article. Just today my 16 year old grandson passed the MSF course. I’m sharing this article with him.

  10. Thanks for such an excellent article! The photos combined with the tips were very effective in illustrating your points.

  11. Very good article. Good refresher for even seasoned riders. Thanks.

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