The art of Lane Splitting – But first, a little background.  I rode in California starting in 1972.  I started Lane Splitting almost immediately and watched the evolution and learned a lot.  Good and bad.

All total, I have over a million miles on road bikes, I drive in ALL weather, and I drive basically 24/7.  I don’t take safety lightly.

There are 4 terms thrown around a lot.  Lane Splitting, Lane Sharing, White Lining, Filtering.  For sake of discussion – Lane Splitting and White Lining are essentially the same thing.  Lane Sharing is totally separate and legal in every state (2 bikes side by side in one lane, etc).  Filtering is more like weaving through the traffic by going from an open space in a lane to an open space in an adjoining lane and then over/back to the next forward space.  I’m not a fan of filtering as MOST that do it end up “dive bombing” the cars in the lanes forcing slow downs or swerves.  And the motorcyclists themselves drop a couple of miles an hour doing the lane filtering – that’s more dangerous.  So let’s just stay with Lane Splitting.

Lane splitting is dangerous,  just like not wearing a seat belt,  just like speeding.  The safety solution is simple.  Don’t speed, wear a seat belt, and don’t lane split.  Or learn how to do it, and when possible and safe, try it, and then make a decision on whether or not you want to do it.  But for now, just think about it.  And remember, its an option, not a necessity.

What do you need to recognize?  There are two very important things.  No matter how well you ride or how well you lane split you need to watch the other vehicles. Regardless of eye contact in the mirrors or otherwise, you’re not always seen.

  • You need to watch where you ride – The “zipper” can have long cracks in the road some big enough to bounce you around or take you down.
  • If there is a difference between the lanes – one slightly higher than the other – it will be where the zipper is – and that can throw you off.
  • Loose stuff on the roads is usually between lanes (zipper) or on the shoulders.
  • When riding between 4 wheelers you can occasionally be riding on Bott’s Dots – they can make you bounce, throw you a little sideways.
  • Many “stripes” are latex – slippery when wet.
  • Other autos can get shook up by you coming through but it’s up to you to control that.
  • 4 wheelers do not hear you coming regardless of your bike. They have their windows shut; they are listening to music; they are on the phone.  A loud bike just startles them – not good.  (I currently ride a Gold Wing but prior to that I had a VTX 1800 with extra loud pipes.)
  • 4 wheelers also think they can move faster – cut in front of you, etc.
  • You need to keep your speed down to a level where you can control your movements in an emergency.
  • On the highway, you need to make sure that on multilane roads, the lane splitting is only done in one place – between the 1st and 2nd If someone is lane splitting between 3 and 4, and 3 moves to the left to let a bike through, what happens to the bike between lane 1 and 2?
  • Lane width is not always the same. It depends on rural or freeway, when the road was built and how wide the shoulders are.

Lane splitting is not just to be used to get to you someplace faster.  Its to avoid traffic delays and actually to make you safer.  University of California Berkeley did a study and found that lane splitting was safer than sitting in traffic and caused less rear enders.   This 2015 study   found lane splitting was a safe strategy if done in traffic moving 50 MPH or less and the MC riders do not exceed other vehicles’ speeds by more than 15 MPH.  The study concluded that lane splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer head and torso injuries or die in a crash than those who didn’t lane split.  Regardless of every law or even common courtesy – you and your bike probably weigh less than 1000 lbs.  I drive a 4 door dually long bed pick up.  That’s about 9000 lbs.  My truck would win in a confrontation.  No matter how wrong my truck is, the motorcycle loses.  So the 2nd thing is YOU.  YOU  MUST know your limitations, YOU must know what YOU will do if a 4 wheeler cuts YOU off or swerves into your lane, and YOU must understand that initially 4 wheelers may be “mad” that YOU are not sitting in traffic like them.

There is also a certain amount of mental issues.  Splitting lanes between two cars is different than between 2 buses, or trucks.  Construction areas may have slightly narrower lanes and the concrete barricades are mentally imposing.  Mirrors, especially after market, can be a physical or mental issue.  If you ever follow a bike doing lane splitting you can see the clearance they have.  When you’re doing the lane splitting, your perspective is very different.  Freeway lanes are mostly 12 feet wide.  Vehicles are a maximum of 8 feet wide.  That leaves 4 feet (48 inches) between two vehicles in a PERFECT world.  Measure the widest part of your bike to see if the needed clearance within that 48 inches is feasible.

To me, a lot of this is the same as side by side riding.  I can not tell you how many times I’ve had someone say they won’t ride side by side unless they know the other person.  Ok, but more importantly, you need to know what you’re going to do when the person next to you does something not expected, or they swerve to miss something (unexpected), or they drift off in thought.  If you’re on a freeway completely by yourself, you’re slightly safer.

California is the only state currently that has a law allowing lane splitting.  Some police in other states (I drive in most every state) have told me that they SOMETIMES evaluate the situation.  In Europe, lane splitting is the norm, rather than the exception.  Cage drivers will never understand certain things about bike riders.  When we are in dead slow traffic we have to depend on our legs to handle the constant “walking” due to super slow speeds.  Most bikes are heavy and a lot easier to handle at speed.  While sitting in traffic at a dead slow speed, or sitting perfectly still for a long period – heat can get to you, rain can get to you, and the cold can get to you.  The idea that you can exit the freeway at the next exit is not quite that simple.  First – you have to get there.  Then the exit has to have the facilities you need (that’s not available at every exit). Hydration is an issue for bike riders – cold or hot, still a problem.  A cage driver doesn’t face most of these issues – they have air conditioning, heater, and an ice chest, maybe.

Doug Lyvere
SgtMaj, USMC ret
RFTW BoD, Dir Ops & Training
www.RFTW.usPresident & Chairman, Eagle Warriors