Riding Tip: Motorcycle Positioning at an Intersection

This article originally appeared in a newsletter published by TEAM Arizona and is republished with their permission.

Coming to a stop at an intersection isn’t just about using your brakes. More prepared riders are concerned about positioning. Why? There are three main reasons: to avoid road hazards, visibility, and to ensure the traffic lights have the best chance of detecting us.

Road Hazards

Unlike a car which can only choose one lane position, we as motorcyclists have three lane positions from which to choose. The positions are the left third, middle third, and right third of the lane. When stopping at a lighted intersection, we probably want to avoid the middle of the lane due to oil, coolant, transmission fluid, debris, gravel, and other hazards that may collect in the middle of the lane. Thus, we’re typically left with either the left third or right third of the lane for the decision making process.


We know that motorists turning left in front of us represent a large percentage of motorcycle-to-motorist crashes, thus visibility is paramount. For this reason, we may want to consider the left third of the lane as it might make us more visible to oncoming cars. You may have noticed, though, that when in the far left position in a left turn lane, we often have motorists who clip that lane position as they turn left. We may want to give consideration to the right third of the lane at that time as it provides several benefits: sets us up on an outside-inside-outside path for the left turn, gets us out of the position of the lane-clipping motorist, and permits us to use the car to the right of us as an added barrier of protection.

Traffic Light Detection

There are many thoughts about traffic light detection, and most of them are just flat wrong. There are several types of triggers, so this discussion could easily become convoluted. We’ll stick to the primary one used here in Arizona: inductive loops.

Inductive loops detect metal and appear as thin rectangle strips cut into the ground at an intersection. One of the best explanations we’ve discovered on where to position your motorcycle to trigger the light actually comes to us from a bicycling web site. For their explanation, please click here. It should be noted that magnets don’t really help as inductive loops detect metal not electromagnetic field. So if your bike is having trouble being detected, a large hunk of metal at the bottom might help. Of course, a right hand turn followed by a u-turn works just fine, too!

Of course, no matter where you position yourself, some triggers just never seem to work. You may want to give your local government a call if this is true. Authorities are reviewing new technologies to help better manage traffic; optical sensors, laser sensors, and video-camera bases solutions are popping up. Who knows, they just might take into consideration the two-wheeled community better than their predecessors. We’ll just have to wait and see.

For the entire TEAM Arizona newsletter content, CLICK HERE.

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