For maximum safety on the street, take control of your spatial relationships with traffic

one-percent faster illustration
One-Percent FasterIllustration by Ryan Inzana

Street rides are like a chess game, wherein different threats can come from any quarter, at anytime. Let’s say you’re a king, perched up high and mighty on your new ADV. Powerful as you are, there’s still risk—risk in the form of the suddenly swerving lane-change guy heading for a freeway exit; like a bishop, he can angle across the entire chess board in one shot. The rook is a dimwitted blunderbuss tailgating and crowding everything out of its path, you included. And the exalted knight? An erratic psychopath ready to turn left in front of you.

An integral part of playing chess is seeing these moves being set up ahead of time and then keeping out of reach. This means evolving your game plan on the fly and thus staying on the move rather than sitting there like a pawn, waiting to be captured.

Four decades of street riding has taught me the best defense is a careful, modest offense. And the reason is as simple as predator and prey. Always and forever, I want to control the spatial relationship of my bike and myself to the traffic around me, rather than staying locked into one place and letting any random driver control that space for me. If riding really is like chess, safety involves being able to move around the board at will. Here are four solid two-wheeled chessboard moves.

1) Go Slightly Faster. We're not talking crazy or illegal here, but riding slightly faster than traffic allows for you to continually adjust your rela­tionship to other vehicles. A good substitute is occupying a stable, open pocket of space away from other drivers.

2) Scan for Threats. Look for telltale signs of dangerous drivers: tailgating, frequent braking, or lane changing can signal impatience; talking on the phone shows inattentiveness; and drifting within a lane can indicate distracted driving, sleepiness, or a DUI in process.

3) Know Thy Foe. Chess requires knowing all of the opponent's pieces and how they might be used to trap or take you out. Adapting the same assessment skills to street riding helps you identify the constantly changing string of rivals. Continually scan the road to understand what cars are where and the threat they represent.

4) Know When to Retreat. Just because you can thread the needle doesn't mean you should. In chess, winners retreat and regroup rather than wage a losing battle. The racing adage, "To finish first, you must first finish," equally applies. When it's sketchy, back off.