|Lane Splitting 101|
Lane splitting, like baseball, is a game of inches. In baseball, judging small distances accurately wins games. In motorcycling, it gets you home early and in one piece.
For five years, I have been commuting from Berkeley to San Francisco and back every day, 15 miles along the I-80 corridor and across the Bay Bridge. Often, I lane-split the whole distance, saving about an hour a day in travel time. The tips in this article result from that experience.
If you can ride on freeways fairly comfortably but haven't lane-split yet, practice judging the distance between two stationary objects wider than your motorcycle, then find the midpoint of that distance. That mid-point is where you'll want to be in any lane-split or passing move.
While lane-splitting, you are measuring distances, acting and reacting to your observations. The situation is fluid and changes take place in tenths of seconds or less. When traffic stops, the situation goes static. You become the only dynamic player.
Moving through stopped or slowly moving traffic is actually a combination of lane- splitting and lane-changing. The gap is where you find it; how you use it and avoid contact is the challenge.
Make sure your bike is in tune, has good brakes and good rubber.
Without cars around you, practice riding on lane buttons. Take a firm grip on your handlebars. Riding on the buttons will shake your bike, but it won't tip you over. Get used to the feeling; you'll be riding on the buttons occasionally while you're between cars.
To pass one car in slowly-moving traffic on the freeway, place yourself behind a car that has plenty of space in front of it. (Cars should be running parallel to your chosen car.) Line up to the right or left side (whichever affords the most space) of your chosen car. Make sure you're in a low enough gear to provide adequate roll-on power. Check your mirrors, then look up your route. If it's clear, give it the gas. Pass the car and pull into the forward space. You have just lane-split. When you're comfortable with the one-car pass, up the ante to two cars, then three and so on.
Lane-splitting is essentially a hand-eye coordination activity. The operative term here is "eye." If you don't see what's happening around you, you'll never make the right move.
Keep your eyes moving: check the situation way up ahead. Read the intention of the vehicles near you; check your mirrors. Don't stare. At 30 mph, you are traveling at 44 feet per second. At that speed, you travel 4.4 feet in a tenth of a second.
Cover the front brake lever with two fingers. If you have to stop, you'll be able to save a bit of reaction time, which translates into distance. Stopping even one inch away from an obstruction is good.
Relax your arms by bending them slightly at the elbows. Remember to breathe. If you become tired, stop lane-splitting for awhile.
Check your mirrors before starting any lane-splitting move. A fellow lane-splitter, closing quickly from behind as you enter the gap, could spoil your whole day. l also periodically check my mirrors while lane-splitting. If I see another lane-splitter coming up behind me, I can decide whether to pull over or speed up.
Control direction and speed with smooth micro-inputs, knees to tank, hands countersteering, hand to throttle. You don't have room for big maneuvers.
When the gap narrows and your move isn't going to work, slow down, drop back into a lane, or stop between lanes if you have to.
Make sure your mirrors and bar-ends will clear van, truck and car mirrors. It's not a major deal when they connect, usually just a loud clacking noise, but it is embarrassing. Other drivers may not like you just for lane-splitting, but tapping their mirrors out of adjustment makes it worse.
Be patient at merges. Other drivers often change lanes here, trying to gain some advantage. That's their illusion. Wait until they settle down. You are the only one who can really take advantage of the traffic situation.
Be wary of solo drivers who use car pool lanes to get ahead of the traffic jam in the non- car pool lanes. At the last minute, they will try to enter the jam; if you are about to make a pass at that point, the results will not be amusing.
When other vehicles, whether signaling or not, start a lane-change maneuver, don't accelerate in an attempt to get past them. Give them the right of way.
Be aware of empty spaces to the side of the car that you intend to lane-split past. Try to go by before the driver is aware of you. Failing that, if the car tries to move over while you're on the side of his car, match the car's move if you have the space. Your other option is again to be patient for a bit. The relationships will change, the car's place will be taken by another vehicle, and you can lane-split the two safely.
Passing another motorcycle which appears to be staying in a lane presents an interesting problem: It's as hard to tell if the rider knows you're there as it is to judge a car driver's awareness of your presence. The motorcyclist has your flickability, however. If you fell certain that the rider is holding steady in a lane, zap past. If you're uneasy about the motorcyclist's intentions, lane-change away and go about your business.
Most drivers place their vehicle near the left side of their lane. They are sighting on the lane divider nearest to them. In most instances, your position should be on the right side of the lane. This will give you the most maneuvering room.
In order to pass between sets of lane buttons without riding over them, sight on the last button of the front set and quickly make your move. Usually, you'll pass smoothly through, or at worst ride over the last button. Whatever you do, don't get hung up on not riding over the buttons. Not hitting or being hit by other vehicles is what's happening.
The great race car driver Juan Fangio once said, "I drive just fast enough to win." You probably shouldn't ride between vehicles at more than 10 to 15 mph faster than they are traveling. If they're stopped, they are traveling 0 mph.
Even though lane-splitting is legal in some states, whether you'll get pulled over by the police is dependent on whether or not they feel what you are doing is safe. The catch, of course, is that each patrolman has a different criteria for what constitutes "safe." Ride in a manner which you feel is safe for you. If you get ticketed, plead not guilty and take it to a jury. The ticket is a judgment call. Obviously, you are in the right or you wouldn't have been lane-splitting. Was it safe? Hell, yes! The fact that you're standing in court with all your limbs intact is proof of that. At any rate, keep an eye out for the cops just in case.
Being aware of the lethal danger you're in and simultaneously ignoring it is a requirement of lane-splitting. This ability is composed of experience, guts and self confidence.
Lane-splitting is as much fun and as challenging as a mile of technical enduro landscape or miles of canyon carving.
The flow of freeway traffic is like a river. Learn to read every ripple and snag in the pattern.
The whole freeway is your playing field. The gap between vehicles is where the game is played.
On a motorcycle, you are in another space- time continuum from other vehicles. No wonder they don't see you.
When you are all going the same speed - cars, trucks and motorcycles - holding position, you are motionless, relative to one another. When you accelerate slightly, the pattern changes, but only at a difference of several miles per hour. (All vehicles are moving at 65 mph., you accelerate to 67 mph. The situation changes at 2 mph.) Moves take place in relative slow motion.
The experienced eye can judge the mid- point of variably changing distances. Rear bumper to front fender of surrounding vehicles. It is a solvable three-body problem.
You will see other motorcyclists lane- splitting. It is a temptation to see who can go the fastest. Deal with the temptation as you see fit.
Henceforth, all car drivers will be known as "Civilians." However, when we drive cars, we will be known as motorcyclists.
Be in tune with your machine; the way it smells, the sounds it makes, the shadow it casts when you ride.
You have just lane-split all the way home in the rain, in the dark, at rush-hour on Friday night. You've had a great ride.