TEAM Arizona Riding Tip: Intersection U-Turn Magic; Urban Rider Approved!

March 6, 2014 Tags: , ,

Kevin_Wood_U_turnIntersections.  On average, three motorcyclists are killed every day in the U.S. as a result of multi-vehicle crashes at intersections.  For this very reason, we want to discuss an activity we may perform rarely, or for some riders, almost daily:  the u-turn.

Improperly-performed u-turns are responsible for upwards of 4,300 accidents each year across the US. This threat is all the more real for motorcycle riders, who are just as susceptible to crashes but drastically less protected during these intersection snafus. This is precisely why learning how to handle a u-turn smoothly and safely is a must for any rider of any experience level.



Adding Risk to the Ride

Left-hand turns and lane changes are two of the most common reasons motorcycle crashes occur on the road. The common u-turn is nothing if not a combination of these two risk factors, which makes it all the more imperative for any rider to learn to handle this open-road challenge properly. All the u-turn tips for motorcycle riders in the world can’t help you, though, if you don’t practice your technique. Mastering the common u-turn can be a challenge to new riders, as it combines the challenges of slow speed maneuvering, scanning ahead, and several critical techniques, but getting a handle on this part of the ride is a must if you want to perform your best – and safest – while on the road.

Adding Risk to the Ride

Performing a U-turn is a fairly common occurrence for motorists.  On a motorcycle, this seemingly innocuous driving tool can present some challenges.  Even for the most skilled, most experienced rider, a u-turn represents exposure to increased risk on the roadway.

The risks may be obvious, but let’s pinpoint them:

  • Rider will be reversing direction, going against the flow of traffic
  • Multiple lanes of traffic converging requiring attention to be split among several key areas
  • Motorcycle will be traveling slowly, requiring balance as the handlebars are turned and the motorcycle is leaned

These three primary challenges mean we have increased risk.  We know that as risk increases, anxiety for a rider may also rise.  More anxiety means a decreased probability of performing a successful u-turn maneuver.  So how do we decrease our risk and lower our anxiety?

Vision is Key


BEFORE performing a u-turn maneuver, we can use our vision in several key ways to reduce our anxiety:

  • Find a visual reference point behind you to focus upon when performing the u-turn.  By locating a reference point BEFORE you initiate the u-turn, you are giving your brain a “point B” to which it will help you travel.  The brain aids you by calculating the necessary motor skill needed when going from one point, “point A”, to another point, “point B”.  When targeting a reference point in advance, the brain helps us in automatically making throttle adjustments, lean angle adjustments, and handlebar turn corrections DURING the u-turn.
  • Visually clear the intersection of risks by checking all four directions around you.  Provide yourself with the most time and space (safety margin) possible.  Are you clear 4 seconds ahead?  How does 12 seconds look?
  • Identify roadway conditions like slope and camber that may present balance issues, plus any hazards like gravel, debris, oil, and more.

BEFORE performing the u-turn, we can also make sure we:

  • Position ourselves so that we give ourselves the most room to perform the turn (start from the outside)
  • Give ourselves room for take off to go straight so that we can establish momentum and a good entry speed for the u-turn

This is the time to reassure ourselves and to make sure we’re checking all the safety boxes on our list. Do we have space to make this turn? Do we have plenty of time before the next wave of traffic? What does our turn radius need to be like? When you’re on your bike, your vision is your best friend simply because it allows you to assess threats both near and far, allowing you to plan and stay safe during even the trickiest maneuver.

How Do You U-Turn to Get to Carnegie Hall?

The technique you use to turn on a bike depends entirely on the situation you’re dealing with at the moment. Generally, though, there are high-speed turns and low-speed turns, each of which requires something different from us as riders. When learning how to make a u-turn on a motorcycle, you’ll be dealing with low-speed turns. This means you’ll need to learn to counterweight your bike during the turns in order to prevent yourself from toppling over or duck-walking your way through the maneuver.

Practice your slow speed technique BEFORE you get onto the road, so that you know how to use your vision before you go on the road.  Make sure you’re comfortable turning the handlebars and leaning the motorcycle at low speed.  Duck walking your motorcycle through a u-turn demonstrates a lack of skill or confidence in low speed maneuvering and is a major clue that parking lot practice is necessary.  Don’t know what to practice?  Check out this article from TEAM Arizona:  Slow Speed Turning Technique

Whether you’re attending one of our expertly-taught courses or simply finding a setup to practice the maneuver yourself, learning to tackle the common u-turn is a must for building your riding skills. The more skills you build, the safer you’ll be while riding, and at the end of the day, safety should always be your top priority on a bike

Better yet, come out one of our Confident RiderCourses or see us at our Low Speed Maneuvering skills practice nights.  We’d love to see your smiling face!

For the Entire TEAM Arizona Newsletter Content, CLICK HERE


Bill Seltzer has been a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach since 2003 and a Total Control Advanced Riding Instructor since 2011.  He currently serves as the Marketing Director for TEAM Arizona and is a member of the Arizona Strategic Highway Safety Planning committee.  Have questions or comments about the article?  Email him:


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