What's The Point?

Anybody who has done any advanced Roadcraft training in the UK would have heard about the vanishing point, it is a technique that is commonly used to judge entrance speed for cornering.
First I will explain it for those not familiar with it. Then I will make some points on it's limitations, especially in Thailand.

Lets first look at a premise of Roadcraft - "We should always ride at a speed where we can stop in the road we can see to be clear". So by those rules, when the road is straight and clear of potential hazards we can go as fast as we like with respect for the conditions (of course that technically also means within the speed limit!)

As we approach a corner the vanishing point - the point that the two sides of the road merge into the corner, starts coming towards us. So we slow down, reducing speed to match the reduction in the distance we can see to be clear.

As we reach the corner, the vanishing point starts to move away from us. As we go into the bend we can now start to apply throttle to match our speed to the distance we can see to be clear around the corner.
Then as we approach the exit, the vanishing point starts to move away from us, so in turn we can apply more power to pull the bike out of the corner.

So what are the limitations of the approach?
First off we have a variety of bends. Double apex bends for starters, also spiral bends (start of gentle then get steeper towards the apex). If the sharper apex of the bend is hidden at the start of the bend, then setting our lean angle to max on the way in means we can end up in trouble with nowhere to go half way through when it tightens.

Then there is the issue with junctions or hazards that are hidden by the bend. We can use approaching position and possible views through the bend, along with other clues i.e. tree line, walls or buildings, street lights and signs, to give us the means to predict where the road is going in advance. We can also use gaps through gates or between buildings to also get an idea of the route. If we only focus on the vanishing point then potentially we can miss a lot of other clues as to what is just out of sight.

Another issue is that of suspension loading. If we are braking right into the bend, then the shocks are loaded as we enter the turn. That means the suspension is rebounding as we are leaning in. Now I know race bikes have firmer suspension than road bikes and on a race track when every split second counts, some are used to entering the corner with the shocks under load. But the thing of note on public roads is racetracks don't tend to have pot-holes, drain covers, paint and other hazards on the road surface. It is worth considering doing the braking earlier so that the suspension has had time to stabilise and settle before we lean into the bend.

Of course another issue with it's application in Thailand is the potential to find another vehicle coming towards us on our side of the road. Roadcraft does mention halving our speed when using the vanishing point on single track roads. But it could be argued that even that is not enough. How do you react if you go into a corner and find a coach coming toward you on your side of the road and nowhere to go?

So when approaching a blind bend where we cannot see the exit, it could be considered wise to not commit to the turn fully, staying wide and not going for full tilt until we can see the exit, then we can turn towards it and power through the bend towards the exit, applying more power to bring the bike upright on exit. This can also be applied to a series of bends, positioning ourselves to get the best view, without putting ourselves in danger from oncoming vehicles of course, but applying caution until we see our exit, then bring the bike out and upright, if only for a split second, before starting the process again for the next bend. This can give flow through a series of bends.

So in conclusion, the vanishing point can be used to judge the starting point of a bend and also how tight the entrance curve can be. When we can see through the apex of the turn as far as our exit, we can also use it to set our throttles into the bend. But on blind bends it can also be counter productive and it's limitations should always be considered.
Sep 4, 2007
Thanks for the clear and useful explanation. Got myself a copy of Roadcraft before I left the UK. A very good book which gives a good insight to correct thinking about riding and its risks. As I remember Roadcraft does state that one should travel at a speed such that one can stop, In Control, within the distance one can see, of course as you have already said, one may not have all that distance, if someone is coming fast the other way and does something silly. One thing Roadcraft did teach me to do, was make a mental note that each time I did something a little bit risky, even though nothing bad happened, I must discuss that with myself, and persuade myself not to do it again. Sounds not much fun, and after all we go out biking to have safe fun, but it does make one feel better about oneself on the road. I will look forward to any more contributions you have time to make.
Thank you for the compliment, glad you liked the post. Please don't think I am suggesting you are wrong in the following comment, you are right that Roadcraft is a good teaching aid. One thing however in your comment actually leads beautifully into our new thinking over the "system of motorcycle control" approach championed by Roadcraft.

The "old school" compliance thinking suggests accidents happen because someone is at fault. It is built on looking for blame. You or someone else was doing something dangerous that lead to the accident happening. But we know that this, although appearing to be obvious, is actually far from the case. In fact things go right and things go wrong for exactly the same reasons.

You make this observation with the comment "make a mental note that each time I did something a little bit risky," how many "mental notes" do you make? I know in the opinions of some I would make many. What is risk? Getting on a motorcycle, especially in statistically the most dangerous place in the world to ride one, is a risk. But one that we wish to make for the pleasure it gives us.

How about instead of thinking about recording doing something risky. How about changing that a little and instead looking for surprises? Surprises are the root cause of accidents. What we can do it makes the connections with things that are not as expected. If we can avoid the surprises then we also avoid the accidents that they lead to.

Does that sound over simplified? Well in a way, that's the point. If you would like to read the research behind this thinking then take a look at: No Surprise / No Accident - The Theory
Sep 4, 2007
Have followed your link and its good to keep some of the brain cells still ticking over, so enjoyed the article. My biggest conclusion from it is that one needs to build up that database of non suprising events. I suppose some of that can be done by reading and watching educational videos, but the bulk must be by actually riding. The more enjoyable safe km one gets under the belt, or into the cortex, or wherever it goes to reside, the bigger database of events one has to compare with current movements.
I do remember when first biking in Thailand, after more than 35 years UK and European experience, there were quite a lot of suprising, even amazing things happening in front of me. That was 14 years ago, and I guess in that time I have built up a big database of 'things not suprising in Thailand', and my riding has gradually become adjusted to it. Still adjusting of course because one never stops building up that database and hence learning.
Are you part of some active road safety organisation, or just very clued up on changing thinking on road safety?

Just browsed a bit, and seen that we chatted here back in 2015, so no need to answer my question above. I have been busy elsewhere and not been here on site for a couple of years. Seems I have some more reading to do
Sep 4, 2007
More catching up on your older posts. Knew about the SMIDSY and always thought following distance and road positioning were the main factors avoiding it. More visible clothing and bike must also be a good thing. But never heard about the SIAM. I can see how it can work, but does anyone actually do this. I think people would think you were messing about. I will give it a go though and see how it feels. For those who have not seen the SMIDSY video (Sorry mate I did not see you), the SIAM is the SMiDSY Identification and Avoidance Manoeuvre. Having identified a possible SMIDSY situation ahead, It then involves weaving left and right to make one more visible to the vehicle which is thinking about pulling out into your path. The weaving breaks up and varies your outline, which may be camouflaged by the small outline of the motorcycle and the background. Some of my mates fit extra running lights under the indicators, they can be pulsed as well
.You can see the video in Carols posts about Bhuddism and Safey
Hi John.

Duncan, the guy in the SMIDSY video, is the one who challenged me first about my roadcraft thinking. He is one of the guys behind the NoSurprise/NoAccident approach aimed at UK riders. But is also the chairman of the motorcycle gymkhana association, which may explain the SIAM manoeuvre a little better. ;)

But even if you find it a bit severe, the theory is sound and can be applied without the pronounced swerving displayed in the video. This is something that you may well be doing already, that's the thing with the new approach, far more about improving thinking than it is about wrong and right.

The issue is one of camouflage and making ourselves visible. Crossing the line of sight of the emerging vehicle. Now that can be moving to the right - for a vehicle emerging from the left. Or moving left, for a vehicle emerging from the right. Given enough time, we may be able to repeat this manoeuvre to aid being seen. But also wishing to be as far as is possible away from the vehicle when we reach it in order to install a safety gap.

In the Vision section on the No Surprise Resources page there is a lot of research on the topic. So much to digest on the subject. We try and keep it simple. But you are welcome to follow us through the research.

I personally think flashing lights are more dangerous, they are mainly used as warning lights and can often lead to confusion, even suggesting we are flashing someone out. Lights themselves come with their own issues. Even though lights can improve visibility, it is harder to judge the approach speed of a moving light due to its size and nature. This means someone may still go thinking they have time to get out in front of you. Also with a low sun behind us, a lights themselves make very good camouflage.

Your comment on Surprises is however perfect, the fact that you can remember counting more than you do now is exactly why we encourage people to do so in the first place. The fact you have been riding for fourteen years and are still alive is evidence that you are doing something right. If anything, not to suggest you are doing anything wrong, but for me, the realisation that the majority of accidents involve just normal everyday people doing normal everyday things. While years without accident does not protect someone from future surprises, has opened my eyes to my own vulnerabilities. But also new thinking gives us far better tools to address them and keep ourselves safe. :)
Sep 4, 2007
Thanks Carol for the well explained response. Have to agree with your thinking. I do not have any flashing lights etc or other bling on my bikes. I fit a rack for luggage and that's about it.
I well remember the polite use of the lights in the UK, to let people out or say thank you for overtaking permission etc. I think Roadcraft used to discourage that as the meaning may not be clear to people. Over here my experience suggests that any flashing of main lights is always a warning, usually some Fortuna or Benz driver heading straight at you when he is overtaking, trying to push you into the bike lane to get out of his way. No SMIDSY here, he can see you well enough, but you are just a motorbike. And that's what flahing main beams seem to mean here....Get out of my way....not even a please at the end and certainly no thank you afterwards, and of course the safest thing to do is to get out of the way, trying to keep unruffled by the experience. Having said that on a more positive note, I have noticed an improvement in some Thai drivers appreciation that your bike might be more capable than a 50cc scooter. eg when following slower traffic in the overtaking lane of a dual carriageway, I do more often get a car indicating and pulling over when it sees my motorbike light behind him. Did not happen 10 years ago, but more so now.
I think the main reason for not using flashing head lights in the UK is that technically they are used by emergency vehicles to warn they are coming through. So in an odd sort of way the Thai's are trying to use the same methods. Only UK Response standard drivers have a whole different standard of driving to that found in Thailand and are held responsible if they have an accident, While other road users, although normally at far lower standards, the majority of road users have passed through a system that trains them to a far higher standard than is currently found in Thailand. With crucially, in the case of a motorcycle licence, 4 to 5 days of real world training to achieve test standards.

I do understand your point about people looking but going for it and expecting us to get out of the way. I had a number of experiences that demonstrated this. Part of my learning curve.
Here is one such moment. I am including this clip in a video I am working on regarding prediction. But here it is in a bigger journey saga (you may have to fast forward to 17:50 to see the pertinent moment).


But although I saw many such moments happening and have heard of many more. The approach I use in Thailand is similar to that in England. In Thailand they are far more likely to do something like overtake towards us. But to assume that we will not find an oncoming vehicle in a corner on a UK road, while less likely, is far from a certain.
While the SIAM method may be helpful if seeing us is a problem, I totally agree that it is of no use if they are going to go anyway.

But until only a few years ago, it was, and still is for some, common to include the line "just ride like everyone is out to kill you" in a pre road ride briefing. We are trying to move beyond that now. Better understanding of why they do what they do. As is discussed in the SMIDSY video. I agree the situation in Thailand is different and getting our heads round why the Thai's drive as they do. I would suggest that it is mainly down to the nature and lack of proper road user education in how to act in the real world, while the current focus is on rules that many do not understand, let alone follow.

But although getting in their heads helps us understand why they do what they do, it will not top them doing it.

I have Thai friends living near the main Tourist hub for Khao Sok National park. One I have spent a couple of afternoons getting to know, he comes to visit where we are staying often as a close friend of the owner. I have watch as he spends the afternoon drinking. He then gets on his scooter to ride the 5 k home. Nobody blinks an eye. Police knock off at 6. Nobody policing the main roads, let alone the dirt tracks he regularly uses to get home. Often he has woken up in a ditch.
Should I worry about that? Can we change that? Is it actually a problem? that all depends on your point of view.
Are they a danger to us? Yes, damn right. But there are thousands of others with their own stories to tell. With beliefs in Karma and reincarnation, death is only seen as a learning curve. This I have heard direct and had confirmed by others.
One friend, an English Ex pat, who has a lovely Thai wife and family, has respect from his in-laws and tolerance for him due in part to his time spent as a Buddhist Monk and also his work with the Royal Thai Police. He has actually confronted his in-laws as to why there ten year old boy was allowed to be riding the family scooter and side-car to the shops with his younger siblings in the side car and no protective gear. This receives an aggressive response as it is seen as challenging a core belief.

But what I have witnessed, which you have far more experience than I in seeing it as change over time, what I see is the majority of drivers just trying to get on with their lives. Politeness, courtesy, non confrontation and the paramount concern for not causing loss of face, are fundamental parts of the culture. With the right nurture, which is exactly what you are doing, then we can improve things for our own safety. It's amazing what making eye contact, being polite and considerate, predicting the actions of others and last but not least - a happy smile, can do to improve our experience on the roads :sun:
Sep 4, 2007
Thanks for taking the time to make your comprehensive and interesting replies.
Hopefully things will continue to improve with driving standards here, will take time I am sure. One thing that was certainly the case 15 years ago when I first drove here, was that the lack of aggressive driving and road rage type attitudes was very evident cf UK driving. I think there are more younger drivers around now and I do start to see some more aggressive attitudes on the road. I long ago gave up trying to 'educate' drivers here by my response to their strange manoeuvres. Can be very dangerous to remonstrate with changes of direction or rude signals or words. Can stir up some unpleasant responses. A calm head is needed based on an understanding that it is probably ignorance rather than aggression that is causing these manoeuvres. However as you said most drivers here are trying do their best, and a positive thing here is some moves, such as edging out into continuous heavy traffic can be done here, where back home will probably cause some very nasty reactions.
Thank you again John, it's always a pleasure to share new thinking with interested people.

My own learning curve is very much of interest here. If we were to scroll back and check out my posts from three years ago when I first set out on this path properly. Then the posts I was making then were singing the praises of the UK Police Advanced Roadcraft as the world leader in defensive rider training approaches.

Wow how my world has changed!

That is not to suggest that Roadcraft is not still a world leader in it's compliance based thinking. Which also will be updated with time as new thinking is adopted by more and more people. But changing a way of thinking that has been the mainstay of safety for nearly a hundred years is a slow process. It is happening as the evidence speaks for itself.

As you have already read, I make the link between the new thinking and Buddhism. But are you familiar with the new approach?
I do not want to bog you down with the science. But the whole concept of "resilience engineering", "Safety II", "safety differently" or "Human organisational performance" is aimed at moving on from the "Zero Harm" approach that has predominantly used compliance to try and keep people safe.

The reasons for the new thinking gaining popularity is exactly because the old compliance based thinking fails to keep people safe. It does work to a point, but across the world, all aspects of our safety, not just on the roads, the evidence has demonstrated that however compliant you make the system, accidents still continue to happen.

If you want to read more about the theory behind the new thinking, then there are a load of links on the No Surprise Resources page under the Safety II – Systems thinking for safety heading.

There is also a interesting paper explaining Hyper compliance - too much of a good thing?

Or if you prefer videos, then these three are worth a glance:-

I offer another clip offering how I best describe the effect this new thinking has had on me:-

That may seem like a little over dramatic. But I am well aware of road rage. I have fought through the red mist many times. In the old days, we used to take to the roads with groups of up to six novices (now the UK law says a max of two), because of the yellow and orange Instructor/Under Instruction tabards we used to wear, we were often affectionately called "mothers with their ducklings". Nobody would dare approach a mother protecting her young. Wow to the cage driver endangering someone in my care!
My own experiences in Thailand were an eye opener to me. Ten years ago on my first trip, I was too, surprised by the lack of rule following, but also the lack of accidents despite it. Research has been done into this and how people cope in such environments. But the analysis that made the most sense to me, was to compare the situation to negotiating a busy supermarket. No rules or rights of way, yet for most of the time people interact and get on with their own lives despite the lack of rules.
Due to the lack of proper formal real world training, people will revert to what they know best and apply proven ways to keep themselves alive and take the easiest path. Their greater amount of experience has been gained as pedestrians. It should not be a surprise that they apply the same pedestrian learned survival skills to how they use the roads.

So I was faced with the two sides of this thinking coming together at once. Trying to address the situation in Thailand with compliance based thinking is bound to fail. Unfortunately the WHO, United Nations and most of the establishment behind international Road Safety are still stuck in the compliance rut, something that is being challenged more and more around the world. If you want to see that unfolding, you are welcome to add me on Linked-in