Monday, October 17, 2011

How To - Lazy Steering

Today, going to work, I watched the various people drive by me, usually going the other way, sometimes those either in front or just behind me.

And, as usual, I watched them go over the yellow line, drift into the other lane (sometimes that was my lane, if they were driving towards me), and do all sorts of stuff that, in a different context, could have gotten them pulled over for distracted or DUI.

Yet somehow this behavior is common and, if the number of people doing it is any indication, accepted.

What is it?

I call it "Lazy Steering".

For whatever reason drivers don't like to turn their steering wheel more than about 90 degrees. It's probably closer to about 75 or 80 degrees, but my point is the part about not wanting to turn the wheel much.

A lot of cars will make it around a curve or a turn without violating this "lazy" rule, but only if you turn in early.

Real early.

I watch drivers cut over the yellow line 10 or 15 or even 20 feet before the end of said line, cutting into the other lane, driving through the intersection, then bisecting the next yellow line 10 or 15 or 20 feet beyond its start point.

If there were cars in the oncoming lanes, they'd have plowed through maybe the driver's side seat, maybe the center console, and possibly even the passenger seat.

Instead, because there's no car, it's okay to cut through the other side's lane.

It's easy for these drivers to fall into this habit - I'll watch one driver consistently cut through the other side of the road to make turns, curves, and such.

It's also easy to simply remain a good driver, without this habit. On a different day I'll follow a driver who just as consistently does NOT cut through the other side of the road to make the exact same turns, curves, and such.

And I'll think, "Wow, this driver actually pays attention. The driver knows how to drive. This driver deserves my respect."

I even asked a coworker if she'd been driving at such and such time in the morning on such and such road.

"Why is that? I think I was at home."
"Oh. I thought I was behind you and I was thinking 'Wow, I think this is L. She drives sooo well. I totally underestimated her. She's perfect, a model driver, knows all the cornering lines, pays attention, flawless driver. Incredible.'"


"I think that was me," grinning.

So there are the good drivers out there, but they rarely make it on our radar. It's the ones that forget to turn their lights on when it's grey or raining, the ones that don't signal, the ones that Lazy Steer that catch our attention.

So what's the big deal?

The problem pops up when something different happens on the other side of the road from the Lazy Steerer, like there's a car or truck on the other side of the road.

I'll watch the Lazy Steerers jerk their vehicle back into their own lane (the proper one), then dance delicately with the shoulder as they deal with this brazen interloper, this intruder in their morning commute.

Okay, to them it's delicately dancing with the shoulder. To me they're 3 feet away from the edge of the road, a foot from the white line even, and they have plenty of space.

But the Lazy Steerers don't know this because, get this, they never really learned where the right side of their car sits. They cut so many corners that they no longer know.

Lazy Steerers reinforce poor cornering habits until it becomes second nature to them. Making a left turn? Start it as soon as you can see the road. Don't worry about the yellow line you're crossing. Don't worry that you'll hit the next yellow line almost perpendicularly. Just turn the wheel, a little less than a quarter turn, and wait for the car to rotate a bit.

So what's that got to do with cycling?


There's only one thing you get for free on a bicycle - cornering.

It's the only thing I know of where I should be able to equal many of the good pros, even the ProTour pros. I may not be able to outsprint anyone at the end of a 200 km race, I certainly can't out-climb any of them for more than 10 seconds, but give me a hard switchback and I'll blow through it with the best of them.

Cornering takes no fitness.

All it takes is practice.

And if you corner with any sense of awareness, you'll know that the absolute unforgiveable sin in cornering is the early apex.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, like if you're trying to control the front of the race. But if you're just riding on a training ride, if you're descending down any hill with sharp turns, if you're approaching any hard turn, then the early apex is almost always the worst choice in the world.

But in virtually all normal cornering situations, the early apex is the worst thing you can do in a corner.

And guess what?

The early apex is the same thing as what you get when you Lazy Steer.

Now we've come full circle.

Are you a Lazy Steerer?

If you answer yes, then think about the next questions:

Do you feel kind of uncomfortable in crits? On screaming descents?

Do you find yourself on the wrong side of the yellow line sometimes, inadvertently, staring at a vehicle grille in the face?

Guess what?

Your driving habits are affecting your cycling habits.

Your poor cornering skills in the car are transferring to your cycling skills.

There's a good part of this whole thing though - you can start working on your cornering right now, whatever day this is, whatever season, whenever you're going to do your next race, you can work on your cornering starting the next time you have to drive your car anywhere.

All you have to do is to stop with the Lazy Steering.

Learn to turn the wheel more than 90 degrees when you make a left turn. It's not hard, really.

Don't go over any yellow lines when you go through curves or turns (except if you need to give room to a cyclist or something like that, of course). Wait until your front tires pass the end of the yellow line before even initiating a turn. Steer such that you clear all yellow line paint in the road you're turning into, then straighten out such that you're centered in the lane, not touching yellow or white.

Pretty easy right?

It should be. You should have a couple feet on either side of your vehicle, no matter how big it is, unless you drive an 18 wheeler. Because most roads in the US are designed for at least some 18 wheeler traffic.

If you're not driving an 18 wheeler you don't have an excuse.

Likewise, think about this even for curves in the road. When you enter such a curve, like an exit or entrance ramp, start a bit wide. Wait before you turn in. Then turn in so you apex (are closest you'll get to the inside edge) about 2/3 of the way through the turn.

It's not hard.

Now reward yourself.

Accelerate once you apex, whether you're making a left turn or driving through a curve.

Feel the exhilaration of being able to accelerate at whatever rate you want without worrying about the car sliding into the guardrail or jersey barrier or the bushes next to the road.

See, a Late Apex gives you the best line for acceleration out of the turn. It's your reward for turning the wheel just a touch more than 75 or 80 degrees.

Check it out, you'll see.

Right near the front of the group, with two turns to go.

Blasting fearlessly and fluently through to the final straight, no early apex, no hesitation, cornering instincts properly honed by a whole winter of cornering drills, drills you did every single time you drove your car.

It doesn't get much better than that.


wielsucker said...

Dude, It's the fast line. Guttter to Apex to Gutter.

Aki said...

Outside-inside-outside is a fast line if you want to corner at the highest average speed (avg speed for just the corner).

If you take into account acceleration on the next straight (typically for those with engines/motors, gravity working for you, or leading onto a straight if you're in a bike race with a hairpin turn), a late apex works better.

In other words if you want to have the fastest lap time, not just the fastest speed in the corner, a late apex works great.

There are exceptions, of course.

A late apex doesn't allow you to protect your position. This means it's a favorite for those trying to pass though, since the overall speed of a late apex racer will be faster than the defender forced to take an early apex up front.

Aki said...

I put an extra "though" up there ^