WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Tips for Splitting Lanes

By James - 1/14/2005

90% of people in traffic are paying little attention. And that is the way I like it. For a lane splitter, the best thing a car can do is do nothing at all. Sure, I appreciate those other 9% of drivers that actually are paying attention and move aside for me, but occasionally you freak me out with your overzealous attempt to get out of my way. For those who actually steer into the median, so that I may have a half of a lane to pass, please don’t.

Splitting Lanes 101

A short video pointing out the dangers of splitting lanes.
And what about the last 1%? The third type of drivers in traffic are drivers who are paying attention, but don’t want you to pass them. They could have been cut off earlier, been chewed out at the office, or just need to get home and anybody who is not “waiting in line” like the rest of the drivers should be stopped. Most of these drivers are not homicidal and won’t open their doors, or turn into as you pass. They see you coming and slowly move over to block your path. If you get one of these drivers next to a big rig or two next to each other, you might have to wait a bit. The best thing to do is sit it out until there is space to pass and carry on. Hand gestures could turn a combustible situation into road rage and in those situations motorcyclists are at a disadvantage.

Here are some areas to be aware of when splitting lanes:

Take it from a scout: Be Prepared
They teach you in the Motorcycle Safety Course not to cover the brake when riding. That may be good advice for the open road but when you are threading the needle between goliath vehicles you need every bit of reaction time you can get. Covering the brake with your index and middle finger while gripping the throttle with the other three may save you a half second when you need to stop.

Watch out for areas where the cagers get “cagey". This includes where freeways merge, on/off ramps, where traffic starts to slow down or pick up. Slow down in these areas, because it is inevitable that a car will cut you off.

Traffic Density
Traffic Density is how close together the cars are packed. Generally as speed increases, traffic density decreases, but not always. The reason this is important to riders who split lanes is the effect it has on the drivers of the cars. As traffic density increases, the more alert a driver has to be to change lanes. And an alert driver is more likely to see you.

Use the cars for safety
You are most likely to get “squeezed” when one car is in the blind spot of another. Try to wait until the two cars are abreast of each other, or wait until you can pass normally. Drivers are more aware of the cars around them and less likely to turn into you.

Most passenger cars, with the exception of low sports cars and jacked-up trucks, have mirrors that are at the same level as your mirrors and handlebars. Since they stick out further than any other part of the car they are usually the part that gets hit in a collision. Take note of mirrors as you approach, first for placement, and then look at the driver’s eyes. You can get a lot of information by looking at the driver through the mirror and can get valuable clues to what their intentions are.

Lane Speed Differential
The best scenario for splitting lanes is when the lanes you are splitting are going the same speed. If one lane is moving faster than another there will be a lot of drivers in the slower lane trying to get into the faster lane; usually right when you get to them. When the lanes are going the same speed there are two ways for the traffic to line up. Either the cars are driving abreast of each other or they are staggered. While it may be easier to pass while the cars are staggered, it is more dangerous, since the drivers may not know you are there and could change lanes. When they are abreast, the drivers will not change lanes into the car next to them.

Cars with a lot of space in front of them are bad news. Best case is that they are not paying attention to the road and that is bad news for you. Worst case is they are waiting for a gap to change lanes and that is inevitably right when you are next to them. It is not over once you pass them. Watch out for cars changing into the open space in front of the slow car.

Any articulated vehicle is cause to slow down when splitting lanes. When traveling in a straight line the rear end of a trailer has the tendency to bounce around from side to side, usually right when you are passing it. On corners it is can be trickier. Since the rear wheels will take a tighter track than the front ones in a turn, many big rig drivers compensate by shifting to the outside of their lane. This means that when on the outside of a truck, you will find what was plenty of room to pass can quickly turn into a tight predicament when nearing the cab. If you are passing on the inside of a turn, you will find that the space will increase once you pass the rear wheels of the trailer, but beware, if you have to stop and the truck is still moving, get away from the trailer because those rear wheels may come back and hit you.

Thin is in but fat is that
While skinny bikes are good for splitting lanes, a big cruiser with loud pipes helps to alert drivers ahead of you. Don’t rely on loud pipes though, many high price cars have excellent noise insulation.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


1 Comment

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  1. Can you provide some more information on how long you’ve been riding and lane splitting, how often you commute on your bike, distance, amount of freeway mileage? I assume you are in CA. Do you often feel threatened? Are there close calls often? We’re trying to get a feel on whether this is something that will benefit riders in Colorado. Thanks!

    Comment by Tony Wilkie — 1/20/2005 @ 1:56 pm

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