With Motorcycle.com HQ based in sunny southern California, we know a thing or two about lane-sharing. Heck, for the first nine years that I lived in California, my only mode of transportation was motorcycles. It’s a much faster way to get around. Moving from the cornfields of Illinois with its single-lane highways and sparse traffic to the sprawling population-dense metropolis of Los Angeles was a culture shock to my 19-year old sensibilities and the idea of lane-sharing my way through it was daunting, to say the least. I was timid the first time. Fast forward 11 years and I now feel safer and more comfortable sharing lanes than I do sitting in the middle of them.
After all of that time with no accidents and just a handful of close calls (knock on wood), I thought I would share what I believe to be five things you need to know about lane-sharing.
Keep your head on a swivel
It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings, but it’s paramount while lane sharing. After you’ve been doing it long enough, it’s easier to notice a car in front of you starting to get close to the lane markers just before they turn on their turn signal (or don’t) and prepare for them to change lanes in front of you. Little cues like this give you a heads up to what other drivers may be about to do.
Of course, it’s not just what’s in front of you that matters, but also on both sides and behind you. Use your peripheral vision to keep track of what’s going on around you and, even though it may seem sketchy to look in the rearview mirror while lane sharing, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on what’s happening back there too as much as possible.
Ride just slightly faster than traffic
Riding just slightly faster than traffic puts you in control of what’s happening around you. This helps negate the risk of being rear-ended. Of course, you shouldn’t be traveling too much faster than traffic. The higher the speed differential, the greater the risk thanks to diminished stopping distance and slower reaction times.
Cover the brakes
There aren’t many situations while riding that covering the brakes is a bad idea, but while lane sharing, it can make the difference between getting slowed in time or ending up as a permanent fixture of the car that cut you off. Covering both the front and rear brakes greatly reduces the time it takes to apply them. But you don’t have to take it from me:
“Remember, it isn’t just how well you can stop your bike, it’s also how long it takes to initiate braking. You can practice emergency braking all you want, but if you need to unwrap your fingers from the throttle grip and reach to the brake lever, that could be a quarter of a second. At 60 mph, that .25 of a second will be 22 feet before your brake pads touch your brake rotors.” – Nick Ienatsch
Be respectful of others on the road
The golden rule! Treat others as you want to be treated. It applies for lane sharing as well. It’s always a good idea to give others as much space as possible. Some people aren’t used to motorcycles splitting lanes since it’s not legal in most of the U.S. and can be startled by a passing motorcycle. Another reason it’s a good idea to check that rearview mirror every once in a while is to be sure you don’t have other riders sitting behind you that might like to go a little faster. When you can, move into the lane and let them pass. The safest way to lane-split is with somebody else leading interference.
Expect the unexpected
Probably the best advice that can be given is to expect the unexpected. Always assume cars will cut you off, slam on their brakes, and be otherwise trying to cause you harm while you’re lane sharing. When you’re prepared for the worst to happen, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the situations more quickly and calmly when they arise.