Post to Twitter

No, today’s column is not about cheap biker tricks to get the ladies to hang on tighter as you ride. It’s reading those other curves I’m talking about here.

Reading the curve. Now that’s a phrase I’ve heard many times but never really paid much attention to. Probably because it didn’t hold any meaning for me. Funny how we tend not to notice the things that we don’t know much about.

That recently changed for me, both academically and experientially.

A friend and former colleague, Gord, e-mailed me an article from a June 2010 issue of Bike Magazine, a British publication. In an article titled Learning to Read, senior editor Simon Hargreaves discusses the fine skill of navigating curves by learning to read the vanishing point.

It opened my eyes. And if you don’t quite know it either, know that “reading the curve” all hinges on understanding the vanishing point. The vanishing point is the point where the road ceases to be, the point where it vanishes into the horizon.

Here’s how to read the changes in the vanishing point.

  • If the stretch of road between you and the vanishing point increases, the radius of the curve is expanding and you can comfortably maintain your speed and travel through. If you’ve slowed down prior to entering the curve, you can now safely turn up the throttle and get back up to speed.
  • If the stretch of road between you and the vanishing point decreases, the radius of the curve is getting tighter. Slow down! Lay off the throttle, shave off speed using your back brake, and gear down. Brake gently (I said gently!) with your front brake if you must.
  • If the stretch of road between you and the vanishing point stays the same, the radius of the curve is constant. You can comfortably and safely maintain your current speed.

A few weeks after coming to an academic understanding, that same colleague and I headed out to to re-ride Vancouver Island’s new Pacific Marine Circle Route. We left Sooke, headed up to Port Renfrew, across to Lake Cowichan, down to Duncan, over the Malahat, onto Humpback Road and back to Sooke.

Anyone interested in a fine day ride on Vancouver Island will love the loop. That loop will give anyone more curves than they know what to do with! Guaranteed.

But be forewarned: It’s a circuit for the more experienced rider. I’ve been riding for a good quarter of a century (ouch!), and I still had to ride a few of the stretches in first gear. On the road to Port Renfrew, you will encounter sharp (90 degree) turns and single-lane wooden bridges. On the often-bouncy road to Cowichan, you will encounter hairpins (closer to 45 degree) turns, whose difficulty is compounded by large blowing dust bowls of uncertain depth, right in the path of travel. You’ll share the road with lumbering trucks and Winnebagos, as well as the had-to-be-there-yesterday drivers.

If it’s sunny and dry, contend with dust pits and stark shadows that hide the bumps and dust; if it’s wet, contend with slick roads and mud patches.

Should you choose to ride this loop, may I make a few suggestions? (I’m going to anyway.)

  • Bring a buddy. Be picky. Choose one who respects safety, one who won’t race you through the curves. If you’re like me and mostly refer to your bike by colour (mine’s yellow), pick one with mechanical abilities. If you really want to sharpen your skills and get critical feedback on your riding, consider hiring a professional to be your guide.
  • Ride your own ride, no matter what. If your buddy travels more aggressively than you, that’s their business. You look after yours. There’s no shame in coming home in one piece. Ever.
  • Don’t rely on your cellphone. Access is extremely limited (if at all available) in the stretches leading to and away from Port Renfrew.
  • Watch your lane position in a curve. If any body parts or motorcycle parts are hanging over the lane-marking lines (centre or curb side, real or imagined), you are over too far. Move to the middle!
  • Note and heed all speed “suggestions” (speed limits on yellow signs). Trust me when I say they are there for good reason.

Curves. They are both the biker’s delight and unfortunately, at times, their detriment. Learning to academically read curves can help you to more fully experience and enjoy your ride, wherever you happen to be.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Britt is also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.


Post to Twitter

3 Responses to “Mastering those beautiful curves”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:25 pmH(R)W

    Hello Britt…

    I have been following your TC motorcycle articles since you started writing them.

    Thanks so much for doing so. I find them to be very informative, and make me think about my riding skills when I am on the road.

    I used to ride back in the late 70’s/early 80’s. It was a 79 Honda CB 400A. Yep, and automatic!!!

    It was a fun bike, and I had a gas on it.

    I sold it thinking that I was going to upgrade to a larger bike, but, well, that didn’t happen.

    I started riding again about 3 seasons ago.

    I guess being older, one is much more cautious about being out on the road.

    One of the things that I have a bit of an issue with is riding at highway speeds – 80km plus.

    I’m getting better at it, but it’s been a long time coming.

    Maybe you might consider writing a future article about “coming to speed” sometime?

    Anyway, my wife and I were approached by this person who is the “president” of a local bike club chapter, so we decided to join.

    Well, you know, this guy used to be an RCMP officer.

    He would chastise me to no end because I refused to ride faster than the posted speed limits, and when we came to sharp corners, such as that on the West Coast Road out to Jordan River, if that sign said slow to 50, I slowed to 50.

    That got him so annoyed.

    He told me that those yellow signs are posted as a “suggestion”, and if you can do the corner faster, you should do so.

    Well, since I have grown quite fond of my body, and life, if that sign says slow to whatever, whatever is what I am going to do.

    During this so-called club ride, we stopped in Sooke at the McDonalds for a coffee.

    Well, we were informed that the others in the group wanted to “crank the throttle” on the Sookahalla and do it at 100+ kms.

    They cut us loose from their “club ride” and left us there, while they took off.

    Hmmmm…. club ride, eh?

    Anyway, here is a retired RCMP officer, who is supposed to have been observing the rules of the road, including posted speed limits, and here he is promoting breaking them, and chastising those who elect to observe safety and the road.

    Needless to say, that was the last time we rode with them.

    It just isn’t worth it.

    I like to enjoy my ride on my bike, and the scenery around us.

    So, again, I very much enjoy your articles. This recent one was written like as if you were there with us.

    I would very much like to see an article on noobies and learning to ride at highway speeds, affording tips on how to get there, and how to get beyond the nervousness of doing so.

    Thanks very much!

    Retreads Motorcycle Club International Inc.
    Victoria BC Canada

  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:27 pmRG


    [Identifier deleted] I was looking for your article in Friday’s driving section of the Times Colonist just to get your contact information, and it was quite a coincidence to see that it was actually about the Great Circle route and the highway to Port Renfrew.

    I thought you might be able to pass on a warning to your readers who are considering the route. In the past two days, there were two motorcycle accidents between Port Renfrew and Jordan River.There was another one about 6 weeks ago, and one more last fall, all at the same part of the highway ( within approximately 100 feet of each other), and under almost exactly the same road conditions. In every case, the accident involved an older more experienced rider on a larger touring type bike, rather than the small faster sport bikes. One of the victims had been riding for more than 40 years with no serious accidents since his teens. The accidents are relatively low impact incidents, and in no cases did excessive speed appear to be a factor. The injuries were generally not life threatening, although in every case the riders and/or passengers required ambulance transport to hospital for treatment. In three cases that I can verify the road conditions, they were very good, with sunny weather and bare and dry roads. There doesn’t appear to be a problem with gravel on the road.

    The accidents are all occuring just past the Sombrio River Bridge southbound from Port Renfrew to Jordan River and Victoria. There is a right hand gradually decreasing radius curve when you come off the bridge, leading into a slight left hand bend as the road steepens down into the sharp left hand turn that’s followed by the right hand switch back that leads down to the one lane bridge. There seems to be a loss of control under braking just as the bikes start down the steepest part of the hill approximately 200 feet before the left hand corner. My suspicion is that there may be a funny set of bumps that break the back tire loose just as the riders start to break, but I have no way of knowing for sure. (I also suspect that the more aggressive riders may be braking later and inadvertently missing the bad section. )

    I have a call in to the RCMP in Sooke, and I’ll be contacting the road maintenance people at Mainroad to see about getting a special motorcycle hazard sign for the road section, such as we had while the road was being repaved. In the meantime, I thought it might be worthwhile for you to put a note in your next column warning riders of what appears to be a specific high risk section on an otherwise safe and enjoyable ride.



  3. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:51 pmAD

    Response received by email


    Hello, Britt:

    I enjoyed your helpful article on how to read the vanishing point, and wondered how I might find the original one that you mentioned reading.



Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply