Are you leaving enough gap in front?

Passing lanes gap look

Many riders are taught to leave a two or three-second gap between their bike and the vehicle they are a following as a safety buffer. But is it really enough? Is there such a thing as leaving too much space?

How to judge gap

We are taught to use a visible roadside reference to determine our following distance.

It works like this: As the vehicle in front passes a landmark (such as a light post, sign or tree), we start counting “1000, 2000, 3000” by which time our bike will pass the same roadside landmark.

That’s a three-second gap. If it’s raining, add another couple of seconds.

It’s much easier than trying to estimate distance and it’s easier, because the distance naturally increases the faster you are riding.

Gap variables

However, is a two-second or three-second gap enough?

The problem is there are several variables.

First is the vehicle in front. If it’s a late-model car, it will stop quite quickly.

Cars usually have better stopping power than motorcycles because of their increased tyre contact patch with the road. Click here for more on this subject. So maybe add a second or two.

Continental brake assist automated
Lane-change assist

Older cars, trucks, vans and laden utes cars will not be able to stop as quickly, so two seconds might be fine. However, be aware of any unsecured loads that could fall off a truck or ute.

Second is your motorcycle. How are its brakes?

There is a substantial difference between motorcycle stopping abilities, depending on many variables such as weight, tyres, suspension, brake discs, callipers, ABS, linked brakes and even the brake lines (hydraulic or cable).

(ABS may not make some riders stop any shorter, but it will allow the rider to steer out of harm’s way.)

And then there’s the skill of the rider. Have you been taught the correct way to use the brakes? Click here for MotoDNA emergency braking tips and go out and practise!

(Go to 30-second mark of the video)

Assessing space

To assess your bike’s braking abilities, find a quiet piece of road or carpark to practise your emergency stopping.

Take a friend and get them to measure how far it takes you to stop from various speeds.

Once you have the distance for each speed, compare it with how far you travel at that speed.

For example, at 100km/h you travel 28m a second, so your two-second gap leaves 56m to safely stop and three seconds leaves 84m.

Here is a list showing distance travelled at various speeds with stopping distances for 2- and 3-second gaps:

  • 40km/h  = 11m/second = 22m (2second gap) = 33m (3 seconds)
  • 50km/h  = 13.8m/s = 27.6m (2s) = 41.4m (3s)
  • 60km/h  = 16.6m/s = 33.2m (2s) = 49.8m (3s)
  • 70km/h  = 19.4m/s = 38.8m (2s) = 58.2m (3s)
  • 80km/h  = 22.2m/s = 44.4m (2s) = 66.6m (3s)
  • 90km/h  = 25.0m/s  = 50.0m (2s) = 75m (3s)
  • 100km/h = 27.7m/s = 58.4m (2s) = 83.1m (3s)
  • 110km/h = 30.5m/s = 61.0m (2s) = 91.5m (3s)
  • 120km/h = 33.3m/s = 66.6m (2s) = 99.9m (3s)
  • 130km/h = 36.1m/s = 72.4m (2s) = 108.3m (3s)

If your measured stopping distance at those speeds is more, then you may need to consider lengthening your gap.

Fingers wresting on the brake lever and around the throttle gap

Don’t overdo gap

However, don’t be too alarmed and add several seconds, because there are two more variables to consider.

The first is the fact that if you leave a big gap between you and the vehicle in front, another vehicle is likely to slot in which means you have to pull back even further.

If they jump in suddenly and then stomp on the brakes, it’s only creating more danger.

Also, the vehicle in front will not stop immediately when they apply their brakes. They also have stopping distances that vary with speed.

Then there’s the whole other problem of tailgaters and road ragers hitting us from behind! So don’t just concentrate on the road aead, but also check your mirrors.road rage tailgate tailgating rear-ender motorcycles BMW S 1000 RR lane filtering lane splitting gap

6 Comments

  1. one of the reasons i no longer participate in poker runs ,Especially on my outfit
    is the number of idiots who think i am leaving a respectable space between myself and the rider in front so they can slot in there. I leave that tyre to tyre stuff to the fools in lycra.

  2. I like leaving a good gap but find it hard to do in busy traffic for the reason mentioned above about cars cutting it. Some drivers will keep cutting in from left to right lanes then back again just to get one car ahead and these are the times when riding when I really keep my focus at 100%. Same goes when the traffic is heavy and slow moving and a driver will tailgate you thinking that this will somehow get all the cars ahead of to move faster.

  3. I’ve always manoeuvred in traffic to maintain a larger buffer zone around me, especially trucks, moving around makes you more noticeable.
    When stopping in traffic unable to filter, position yourself lined up with the gap between the cars not directly behind one.
    Never slam the brakes on at an orange light unless you know there is nothing following close behind.
    Don’t follow vehicles closely, some tend to slam brakes on at orange lights regardless.
    Filtering is the lifesaver that provides us with not only a free flow through traffic but escape routes in dodgy situations.
    Always keep your eyes open for a possible escape route every second your riding.
    If your motorcycle/scooter horn is one of those quiet, cheap, horns installed to just to pass ADR replace it with a loud one!

    1. Don’t position yourself in the middle of the gap between cars if traffic is stopped. If you can’t filter, that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t – unless you block them from trying. I can’t tell you how many times someone on a Harley (ridiculously wide handlebars)/Cruiser (ridiculously wide handlebars)/Adventure bike ( huge wide panniers)/Learner Rider (too scared to try) has blocked me from lane filtering. Just get out of the way. Pull in behind a car if you aren’t filtering, and whilst I’m at it, DON’T STOP in between cars at the front of the lights, pull over in front and let other bikes through.
      Orange Lights aren’t for speeding through before the light goes red, they are for slowing and stopping before a light goes red, and also to let cars waiting at an intersection to turn.
      Trucks are more likely to see you and move over for you than cars are in city traffic.

  4. The only benefit of ABS on a motorcycle is in helping prevent lock up of the front wheel. It doesn’t allow a rider to steer away from danger like you can in a car! Firstly the only time you steer a bike is when you’re parking it or at very low speed not when you’re trying to avoid something at speed. Hammering the brakes while trying to avoid something is a garranteed way of having an accident. The correct procedure is observe the problem decide on a solution take action. Often the solution is to not brake immediately but alter course then brake or brake hard while upright and going straight then release the brakes and alter course. Never brake during an emergency course change even if you have the gripiest tyres and the best abs unless you have more than one front wheel.
    Linked brakes are a stupid half assed means of attempting to save the lives of incompetent riders who only apply the rear brake in an emergency.
    The loss of the ability to lock the rear wheel and or only use the rear brake has actually made riding more dangerous for those who learnt how to ride when abs and linked brakes didn’t exist
    As for following distances, you give your self twice as much space as you think you need always especially if the vehicle in front or behind is tailgating.
    Above 80 kph if your light pad is touching the back of the vehicle ahead you’re too close even in a cage. If you can make out the drivers eyes in their rear view you’re definitely too close.

    1. Linked brakes remove some of the guesswork involved with choosing between the front and rear brakes. A majority of riders can’t produce stopping distances as short as those created by linked braking systems, this feature isn’t always popular among some performance oriented enthusiasts.
      ABS in some current applications is not successful for cornering or evasive action under brakes, there are however motorcycles like BMW, KTM that have cornering ABS activated & computes lean angles,speed, traction,terrain transfer while leaning at ridiculous angles & keeping us upright.
      Some say this is not ”learning’ to ride ‘correctly’ but I say after 46 years ‘learning to ride’ motorcycles that safety backups that enhance our safety for as long as possible are brilliant.

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