Lanesplitting 101

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by PizzaHog, Sep 20, 2007.

  1. PizzaHog

    PizzaHog Thought Criminal

    Aug 9, 2006
    Left Coast, CA
    I thought I'd share a few insights I've developed after ~18k miles of lane splittling the only freeway in the north SF Bay Area, Hwy 101, which goes from 2-lane to multi-lane. And, I'd like to see if anyone out there has different or parallel suggestions regarding how to stay alive while lane splitting.

    Everyone has lane splitting "war stories", many of which are covered in other threads. I'm hoping that this can be more of a "This is what has worked for me over the past 'X' number of years/miles" thread.
    • The most dangerous parts of the split seem to be when traffic is slowing down. Drivers seems to be most interested in squeezing that last little bit of advantage out of their lane position before things come to a complete halt.
    • Stopped traffic seems somewhat safer than "mostly-stopped" traffic, possibly because of physics (inertia and getting a heavy car moving) and psychology (traffic-induced coma & apathy).
    • In the split itself, I've found that the worst place to be is somewhere in which there is only one car beside you. I can't tell you how many times I've seen cars quickly - without any prior indication like tire or head movement - make a lane-dive to gain 6 inches of advantage. Sometimes, they misjudge the amount of space available and end up straddling the lanes at a 45* (or more) angle.
    • Looking through rear windows for the driver's head movement and/or position (heads tend not to be upright when on a cell phone - go figure) seems to have worked the best for me. This only works well when I'm going slow enough (<20 mph relative) to look, see and register what I'm seeing.
    • I don't mind lane-splitting up to 60 mph, CHP criteria be damned. I try to keep a ~20 mph speed differential between me and the cars around me.
    • Both times I've been involved in "situations" that caused me to either go down or come close to going down, I've been looking in my mirrors to make sure I'm not holding a fellow lane splitter up.
    • The next 2 situations that seemed most dangerous for me were when faster motorcycles passed me, going from behind me around to the shoulder side of the freeway and then dashing between me and the car in front of me/us. I guess I didn't get out of their way fast enough...:rolleyes
    • I get fewer people pulling in front of me with auxilliary headlights (e.g.: PIAA 510s, Hella FF50s, etc.) and a headlight modulator going. I base this on observations of how many people pull in front of me and compare that to the number that pull in front of bikes in front of me.
    • The number of people pulling out in front of me increases as fall/winter approach and the mornings get darker, making my headlight modulator inoperable (Federal DOT requirement); I now tend to use my high beams until it's bright enough for the modulator to kick in.
    • I don't use the high beams or headlight modulator when I'm not splitting - they tend to drive the folks I'm behind kind of crazy after being exposed to them for any measurable length of time.
    • There are people out there that actively resent lane splitters. There doesn't seem to be any clear demographic: I've been forced to take evasive action against aggressive buses, bobcat-style delivery trucks, commuter cars, and redneck-style pickups. These kind of folks are clearly differentiated from the "usual" idiot on a cell phone or yelling at the kids - there are folks that go out of their way to make the split harder. :loco
    Did I miss anything?

  2. dlew

    dlew Daypass Adventurer

    Oct 26, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    good post. thanks for writing.
  3. PishPosh

    PishPosh n000000b

    Mar 9, 2007
    The Basement
    I prefer to split when there's a carpool lane. There are minimal lane changes going on with the double yellow lines.

    I slow down a lot when traffic slows down. I found that many drivers take this opportunity to swerve into lanes that look like they're going a little faster than the one they're currently in. Usually they treat it like an evasive manuever, briefly glancing in their mirror before swerving, and that scares me.

    If there's another lane splitter in front of me, moving at a satisfactory pace, then I like to keep a little distance from him/her so they don't think i'm trying to pass, and just follow their pace. Once the drivers see the lane splitter pass them, they like to look in their mirrors to see if there are any more motorcycles coming. This results in a wave like action of cars clearing space for me to pass.

    I like to slow down at the sections of the carpool lane where it opens up for merging in and out. People stuck in traffic will drag race into the carpool lane in an attempt to match the carpool speed. Again, they do a brief check on the mirrors before swerving.
  4. Silver King

    Silver King Maita'i roa ae!

    Apr 24, 2007
    Saint Rosie, California
    Out here, we have a million dodge 4X4, 3/4 ton diesel quad cabs with elephant ear side mirrors. For me, these are ones to watch out. They take up a whole lane themselves and can ruin a split real quick.

    Thanks for the thread.
  5. rufus115

    rufus115 Thunder on African Roads

    Jun 27, 2007
    and from another continent

    - ditto the slowing down, I use the pontential difference theory, if you have three lanes, and two of them have three cars and one of them has two (relative to a point causing the slowing), one of the cars is going to try and even out the difference.
    - as soon as rapid decceleration starts, people start using more of the lane they are in and splitting becomes dangerous, select a safe lane and watch your rear view for some guy about to lock it up.
    - single person in the car tends to be more alert than driver plus passenger, as they often engage in distracting conversation with each other.
    - Pickups, LDV's and other such vehciles with poor rear window visability are a real danger and are treated accordingly.
    - slower moving vehicle amongt faster ones is a moving chicane, expect fast lane changes
    - beware the courier or other professional driver, he feels invisible after years of driving day in and day out
    - ride with your levers covered and make sure you have braked hard enough and often enough in the past to not panic brake and lock up the front.
    - ditto the danger time when switching from looking forward to scanning your mirrors for the faster lane splitter

    good thread
  6. tiorio

    tiorio Battle Commuter

    Mar 14, 2007
    Great thread. Would like to add that as much as there are those who resent the lane-splitters, there are those who see you coming and make a little room. Let these folks know they are appreciated, a wave if you can or a very obvious nod-of-the-helmet helps them feel it was worth it to make the effort!
  7. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Aug 16, 2002
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Over here, where traffic can be as congested as it is in Cali, lane splitting is a :nono, but I still do it anyway when traffic is stopped on multilane highways or it's stop and go / stop and go.. I always ride with my high beam on during the day since all vehicles in Canada have had daytime running lights for the last 16 years. To my amazement, quite often, cars pull over and out of my way when I'm coming up to them (the European thing to do), but generally, people either ignore me, yell something out that I can never make out what they're saying, or honk at me. :flip I ignore them and keep on riding.

    Over here things are so regressive, that newly inaugurated HOV lanes either forbid riders or riders must have 2 occupants on the bike :rolleyes
  8. tbarstow

    tbarstow Two-wheelin' Fool

    Jul 9, 2007
    Viva Lost Wages!
    When splitting:

    - don't try to split between two big rigs, you'll just end up squashed.

    - always realize that someone is going to do something stupid in front of you and you CANNOT afford to road rage. Pass them and keep a clear head.

    - don't fixate on the cars directly in front of you, look further down the road (look where you want to go, not at what you don't want to hit).

    - pass through the cars at a consistent pace, leap frogging just causes more congestion.

    - if you think you are holding people up, pull into traffic and let them pass.

    - if you don't think you can split vehicles safely, don't try.

    - always be looking for a way out.

    +1 on practicing braking HARD in a parking lot before you try to split.
  9. twowheelnut

    twowheelnut Back from the shadows.

    Apr 25, 2007
    Santa Barbara, CA
    On a two lane, limited access highway (same direction), don't share lanes while passing exit and entrance ramps. Cars have tendency to change lanes to let cars in or zip off at the last second from the #1 lane.
  10. duck

    duck Banned

    Mar 19, 2004
    Seattle (Berkeley with rain)
    - Bright yellow foglights. Yellow because it's different and stands out in a sea of traffic - fog lights because they have a broad general beam that can be seen from many directions. I've lanesplit both with and without the fog lights on and having them on is like having the Red Sea part before you vs. having them off.

    - Look out for drivers who will close in on you on purpose and slowly but subtly close up your gap. Not too extremely common but not too uncommon either.

    - Concentration, control (clutch/gear/brakes) and smoothness

    - Ditto on getting in behind another lanesplitter but giving them some a good safety cushion. I give LOTS more room if the rider's bike/technique makes it seem to me that they're not seasoned lanesplitters.

    - It's not a race. If a gap ahead starts to close up on me, I hang back and wait for the next good one instead of forcing it.
  11. duck

    duck Banned

    Mar 19, 2004
    Seattle (Berkeley with rain)
    When "slow" lanesplitting (traffic under 30mph) I spend a fair amount of time watching the edges of my mirrors as they define the width of my bike and I want to make sure I don't smack mirrors on the cars I'm going by - while simultaneously keeping an eye way ahead for sudden traffic changes or potential obstacles.
  12. Who Me?

    Who Me? n00b

    Sep 22, 2007
    While this used to be true, with the advent and uptake of cell phones, PDAs, in-dash entertainment and use of other miscellaneous gadgetry, I find single-person vehicles MUCH more likely to not be paying attention and/or drifting over.

    My other notes:

    - If I see gaps opening around me in slower moving traffic, I will intentially pull up close or next to a vehicle so that they guy in the next lane doing the 1/2 second glance over his shoulder after he's already part way in the lane will at least notice the other vehicle and swerve back away from me...hopefully.

    - When people give me room, I try to give them a noticeable head nod if not a quick wave of thanks.

    - I definitely prefer being in a carpool lane if one exists. For the most part, people respect the double yellow. I still keep an eye out if the next lane stars to slow and suspect that someone's going to jump the lines if they see a gap.

    - Luckily(?) my current streetbike has some of the worst headlights I've ever experienced. The good news is that they don't point where they belong and because of the poor mounting and lense combination, effectively give a "modulating" effect that is very noticable in almost any light condition. +1 for bad design! I have not corrected the problem w/ aftermarket parts & work for this very reason.

    - Take the wind factor in to account. I'm more cautious on windy days where gusts can move me around, especially in passing large vehicles.

    - Minimal use of my mirrors. I flick my eyes down when I can to see if there's another bike behind me but my focus remains in front of me; I look often enough and will make room so they can pass that another rider should have no reason to be irritated.
  13. PizzaHog

    PizzaHog Thought Criminal

    Aug 9, 2006
    Left Coast, CA
    Excellent, common-sensical suggestions - thanks all!

    Some other things occurred to me the other day: lights - number and location.
    • Based upon my limited exposure, it seems to me that picking a single, unmodulated headlight out of a mass of car headlights is pretty tough.
    • Picking double headlights (like on a V-Strom) out of a mass of car headlights is easier than a single headlight - possibly because the dual lights provide better perspective or subconsciously help the brain recognize that dual-light configuration = MC...?
    • Car divers tend to ignore lights and reflectors that are on a horizonal plane/straight line, yet tend to notice similar light wattage when in a "V" or upside-down "U". On my Strom, my PIAAs hung below and to the outside of my headlights. On my ST1300, my Hella FF50s sit on brackets above and to the outside of my headlights. Both configurations seem to increase my visibility disproportionate to the actual increase in watts sent down-road.
    • I like having my aux. lights as high as possible - I would think that placing lights on the front forks would be less visible in high-congestion situations...?
    • Different-colored lights do tend to get more notice, as one rider already pointed out. Yellow is probably the best legal color (red might work better, but the cops might have something to say about that :D), but blue seems to get noticed too. I have no idea how functional these colored lights are for road illumination, but they seem to help for splitting.
    Keep the good ideas coming!

  14. PizzaHog

    PizzaHog Thought Criminal

    Aug 9, 2006
    Left Coast, CA
    The position of the sun, relative to the ride you're on.

    I think someone splitting lanes on SB 101 was nailed by a van and evacuated. No idea what happened, of he/she is OK, but it got me thinking...

    At this time of year, if one is on a north-south ride in the early morning, the rising sun could be an issue. Low-angle sun hitting drivers' eyes at an unblockable level and direction could:
    • Cause some drivers not to look into their sun-side mirrors before changing lanes.
    • Cause drivers to put on their sunglasses, even when it's not completely daylight.
    • Cause headlights to becomes "washed out." Especially, I would think, bikes w/o supplemental lighting, modulators or highbeams on.
    • Cause stark contrasts and partial blindness when the road/highway is shaded by hills, trees, etc. (I believe this mornings accident would have been in one of these shaded areas of 101).
    I would expect that the sun's position would affect any ride, because it is just as hard to see things when driving directly into or away from the sun. I just happened to notice quite a few drivers flinching when the sun hit the sides of their faces during this morning's commute.
  15. batoutoflahonda

    batoutoflahonda Long timer

    Aug 8, 2007
    Easton Wa
    Strongly opposed to dealers promoting lane splitting to new riders. I seem to see more motorcycle accidents on the news now than in the past. Higher bridge tolls, gas prices etc. I think are getting more people on two wheels. My average commute was 75 miles one way, year around on the bike. I can only recall twice where some one intentionally tried to block me. Kudos to the cagers for that. Now living in Seattle where there is a bill (stalled) to allow it.

    Oh, and to the car full of girls on 80 near Richmond who's bra I snagged from your antenna while splitting by you. Drop me a line and I'll send it back
  16. Wolfhound

    Wolfhound Been here awhile

    Mar 13, 2007
    San Diego, CA
    Excellent thread. Near the top of my list is that the most dangerous time to split is as traffic is slowing - I always wait back a little for things to settle down (I usually see cars making last minute dives during this phase).

    Lanesplitting is tiring and requires alot of concentration - just don't do it if you don't feel up to it, for whatever reason. It is also hard not to find yourself speeding up as the traffic speeds up around you - keeping an eye on your speedo is hard when focusing so much. I like to think that I am getting back in line when the speeds are 35+ mph.

    Truthfully, I hate lanesplitting but it is just unavoidable at certain times and I am glad it is acceptable/legal in CA. I actually try and work around the worst traffic times specifically to cut down on the times I "have" to do it.

    Also, I think it is important to acknowledge (if safe) those drivers that make an effort to give you room - even though you may not have needed it!!

    Take care - Wolfhound
  17. Rad

    Rad Done riding

    Sep 24, 2001
    My biggest problem in lane splitting is the adrenalin rush I get from splitting in commute traffic. It can be almost as addicting as cornering fast in the mountains. You can not lane split in a relaxed riding mode. You must get into a hyper aware, vigilant, alert mode, that in me starts to kick in the adrenalin and if I’m not paying close attention I start to push it too much and take too many risks.

    Ahhhhh, ya gotta love this state :nod
  18. eatpasta

    eatpasta Lawnmower Target

    Jul 5, 2006
    Santa Barbara, Ca

    Where's Das Rider? He usually enjoys chiming in during these posts.


    oh it goes on and on

    Read the whole thing here
  19. old wanderer

    old wanderer Old quick guy

    Apr 7, 2007
    Bonney Lake, WA
    As an avid lane splitter, and I have over 50 years of riding in SoCal, so not much suprises me, however, for me the most dangerous time to lane split is after dark...

    During dayling, I will just twist the throttle and enjoy the ride. 6" clearance is plenty of room at 70 MPH. However when the sun sets, and the traffic is all headed for home after a day of work, I try to avoid riding, or if I do, in is into the HOV lane and just follow along (Unless I have some incredibly slow jerk ahead, then I use the merge lanes to pass. )

    The biggest danger when riding a sports bike and lane splitting is the reaction to use the brake instead of the throttle. Ususally I can clear a situation that is starting to become dangerous with a twist of the wrist and 2 seconds I am in the clear. If you are riding a larger cruiser bike, then the dynamics are understandably different.
  20. FreckedUp

    FreckedUp n00b

    Feb 19, 2007
    San Diego
    My prefered lane splitting configuration is to never let up on the horn while doing a wheelie. I figure the noise alerts drivers and the vertical position limits lateral exposure.