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Lane Splitting - by Daffe Duc on 5/9/2003

"Lane splitting" in almost all states, except for California, is prohibited by law. Lane-splitting in California, otherwise known as sharing a lane with another vehicle, is done at the rider's discretion and must be done within the limits of the law. Please check your local and state laws on this issue by contacting your local or state police department.

For those of you living in California, this is what was found in a "search" on the California Highway Patrol website (http://www.chp.ca.gov) Q&A:

Q: Can motorcycle riders "split" lanes and ride between other vehicles?

A: Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.

This can be loosely translated as "If the officer who observes you sharing a lane with another vehicle deems the action as not safe or endangering yourself or other motorists, you will be cited." Also, sharing a lane and following the rules of the road may not always coincide. If you are on a 1-lane road (i.e. solid line on either the L or R side), according to the interpretation of the law, you may share the lane with another vehicle and "move to the front of the line," so to speak. However, if you ride over the solid yellow or white line, thereby either riding in the oncoming traffic lane or on the shoulder (the same as passing on the shoulder, which is illegal as well), this is prohibited by law in all states.

So, be warned. In most cases, those of you who are more comfortable "lane splitting" will not have any issues or problems with deciding whether it is safe or not to do so. As always, if you are NOT SURE about the situation, be conservative, stay in your lane and don't share it with another vehicle.

REAL WORLD RISKS (from personal experience):

These are some of the risks involved in lane-splitting, and are, by no means, exclusive...

A) Sudden lane-changes by other vehicles. This is first and far-most the most common risk you will encounter. Most people are not aware of their blind-spots and cannot hear your motorcycle until you are already passing by their blindspot. The other drivers who make lane-changes may do so without using their turn-signals while talking on the cellphone, changing the radio station, or talking to their passenger. They may also suddenly try for an opening in the adjacent lane. Advice: stay alert and take note of the space between vehicles in front of you. If there is enough space for a cager to switch lanes, then be prepared to react accordingly.

B) Psychotic anti-social drivers. There are not many of these, but enough for you to encounter at minimum, one per rush-hour commute. They have this idea that it's "not fair" that they wait in traffic while you breeze on through. They can be one of the more dangerous motorists, since they intend to cause you harm and bodily injury, just to "teach you a lesson." They will try to prevent you from lane-splitting past them by doing one or more of the following...

1) "Sandwich the rider" by closing the distance between the adjacent vehicle while you're next to them. Advice: back-off, pull into the slow traffic and lane-split between another set of lanes. Many riders will take their chances and try to "outsmart" the offending cager to get past them. This is highly dangerous and not recommended. If you feel more cautious, wait until there's a better opportunity to get through traffic, when it opens up.

2) Close the distance between the adjacent vehicle. Again, this is similar to the "sandwich the rider" trick but you are able to see the offending driver's intentions (Cager mind-tricks don't work on me! I'm a Ducatisti!). Advice: same as dealing with "sandwiching the rider." This cager trick may anger some riders, who may attempt to either provide special hand-gestures or strike the vehicle as they're riding by with a body part, most commonly a gloved fist or boot. Refrain from belligerent attacks on another vehicle because it's against the law.

3) Run the rider down: Once the traffic pattern opens up, the angry motorist who hates lane-splitters may attempt to run you down with their vehicle! This is attempted homicide! Advice: Common-sense maintains that since your vehicle is more maneuverable, it would be harder for them to catch you. However, think of your safety first! If you feel you are in danger and cannot open the distance between the other vehicle without endangering yourself or other motorists, exit off the freeway at the next safest opportunity. If they still are after you, find a well-populated location such as a shopping mall or a police station to cool down. If possible, take note of the vehicle's license plate number and report it to the California Highway Patrol.

4) Road-rage. This can be a combination of either running you down when the traffic opens up or attempting to hurt or kill you with a firearm or other weapon. Advice: same as the "running down the rider" maneuver. You can also use evasive techniques like exiting off the freeway and getting back on in the other direction. Don't forget to file a police report!

5) Clothes-line trick: Most people will not open their door to try to prevent you from lane splitting. However, this doesn't mean it has not happened. This trick is hard to spot. You may be able to see the passenger's or driver's side door open slightly or remain ajar. Advice: choose another pair of lanes to lane-split or wait for traffic to open.

C) Debris in the lane-splitting "lane." There may be debris such as power cables dropped off utility trucks, trash, road-kill or other house-hold items or construction equipment in your lane-splitting "lane." Advice: pull back into the rest of the traffic to avoid the debris, then return to your lane-splitting once you have passed it.

D) Uneven surfaces. You may be splitting where one lane is either higher or lower than the adjacent lane, or where there is a gap, gravel, grass, or other road-hazard between the lanes. You may also find raised lane-dividing markers (ceramic dome-shaped markers are common, as are the reflective raised plastic markers). Advice: If you feel that you cannot confidently lane-split during this situation, pull back in with traffic then return to your lane-splitting if you feel it's still necessary once the lane-split "lane" is safe for you.

E) Lane-splitting caravan: following another motorcycle while lane splitting. The danger here is you cannot see the road far enough in front of you and must rely on the forward rider's judgement to react to dangers. Advice: Keep a good following distance in between the lead rider. If the rider ahead has to do some evasive maneuvering, you will be able to assess the situation and avoid an accident. If you are the lead motorcycle and there is a line following you and you get the feeling that you're being tailgated (via mirrors or engine noise), find an opening between the cars and safely pull back into traffic to allow the rest of the line ahead of you. You will find that some riders are more comfortable riding faster than you when lane-splitting. Being the slow lead bike in a lane-splitting caravan is a "no-no" and will earn you scorn from the other riders.

F) Motorcycle CHP. You may have a run-in with these officers at one time or another. Remember, it's up to the officer to determine if the lane-splitting situation is safe. Advice: I'd rather be following a CHP motorcycle officer than be leading one.

G) Mirror Duel. Sooner or later, your mirror(s) may strike another vehicle's mirror (if you haven't experienced this already). A larger mass and more stationary mirror will always win. Advice: don't panic if you lose a mirror. Maintain control of your bike. Most cagers won't try to run you down for their broken mirror. Use plastic mirrors such as 3rd-Eye bicycle mirrors ($10 - $15 each at the local bicycle shop) or smaller bar-end mirrors. Some riders will run 1 mirror only, which is legal in California.

Real world stories:

- Clothes-line experience #1: This happened to a motorcyclist in Silicon Valley. He was lane-splitting and a pick-up truck clothes-lined him. The rider was not badly hurt, as he was able to get up, brush himself off and pick up his bike. He managed to re-locate his bike away from the pick-up truck, keep the engine running while it was on the side-stand, and proceeded to exact revenge. He climbed atop the offending vehicle and proceeded to jump up and down on the top of the cab. He jumped off and took off on his bike. The onlookers in the other cars cheered him. Exacting revenge is not recommended. The "lane-splitter" haters may be packing heat or have other weapons with which they may defend themselves.

- Clothes-line experience #2: Again, in Silicon Valley, but this time, a huge cruiser (most likely a full-dress Harley or other large Japanese-made bike) was involved. The passenger of the cage thought it would be funny to open the door on the rider and did so. The full-dress bike had quite a lot of momentum when it hit the open door. This caused the door to "hyper-extend" on its hinges. It bounced back on the passenger, who had part of his leg severed by the rebounding door. An ambulance was called to the scene.

MINIMIZING THE RISK:

A) Some motorists will pull to the side of the road (onto the shoulder) or make more room for you in a lane-splitting situation. This is great for you! It means that they are either more observant than their other cage-driving colleagues, or are themselves riders who happen to be commuting in the car and are always on the lookout for fellow lane-splitting riders. Be thankful and ride on! Many riders will wave at the "motorcycle-friendly" vehicle or beep their horn in a gesture of thanks. Please, use your judgement in showing thanks. If you feel you will not be in full control of your motorcycle when "thanking" them with a wave, just smile and be on your way. Showing gratitude to other motorists will earn you kudos with them. When goodwill is acknowledged, it is remembered.

B) Revving your engine. This can either be an advantage or disadvantage.

Advantage: Alerts the surrounding drivers that a motorcycle is near. Loud pipes are a boon when using this tactic. About 30% of the drivers who hear a motorcycle will try to give you lane-splitting room and acknowledge your presence. Reward them with a smile or good-will gesture if it's safe to do so.

Disadvantage: On an air-cooled bike, revving the engine while traveling at slow speeds will allow the engine to get hotter. You don't want to damage your engine so be conservative in revving the engine. Also, this may scare the other motorists or make them feel like you're being a squid or are "challenging" them. Their reaction to this is unpredictable.

C) Accessorize your motorcycle and yourself. There are several things you can do to minimize your "footprint" as well as your risk in the lane-split area. Narrowing the bike consists of removing any accessories that tend to make the bike wider, such as: side-bags, bar-end mirrors, wide handlebars. What are those #4 ball-bearings for? Assault and battery is against the law.

- Side-bags are easily removed. You can use a tank-bag or backpack to carry your items instead of side-bags. A backpack can shift the weight distribution on the bike so be aware. You can purchase a school backpack for $20 at the local department store. Tank-bag prices vary.

- Mirrors: Running 2 bar-end mirrors will make the bike much wider. Check with your local laws when attempting to run 1 bar-end mirror. In California, only 1 mirror is required. Switch from bar-end mirrors to stemmed mirrors off the bars or controls. CRG makes a "Lane split" mirror that actually folds in for lane-splitting! It's da bomb and is $79.50. You can upgrade your CRG hind-sight to the Hind-sight LS (lane-split) for $19.50.

- Handlebars: you can run shorter handlebars or shorter clip-ons on your bike, but this will dramatically affect the handling, making it more twitchy and harder to handle due to the shorter lever-effect of the steering. Prices can vary on this mod.

- Oscillating headlight: it's annoying but effective, getting everyone's attention. Gold-wing and BMW riders use this mod pretty often. Haven't seen it on a monster (yet). You'll probably get heckled just as much when using this mod, as when you wear your Aerostitch suit while riding your Monster!

- Motorcycle: If you have a BMW or Gold-wing in your garage, take the Monster instead of the Beemer or 2-wheeled RV to work. It's narrower!

- Body Armor: Wear body armor, including motorcycle gloves and boots all the time when riding. You never know when you'll need it!


D) Remove any pillion riders (i.e. passengers). Your ability to control the motorcycle will be limited by passengers. Riding solo between the cars is preferred over riding 2-up. If you must ride 2-up and feel unsafe splitting, then ride with the rest of the cars in traffic. Be sure your passenger is aware and comfy with the idea that you will be lane-splitting if you choose to do so. The last thing you need is a significant other or friend to be scared out of their wits of motorcycling because of unpreparedness!

E) Practice and plan!

- If you intend to lane-split, practice on familiar roads that aren't notorious for road hazards such as pot-holes and a large percentage of tractor-trailer rigs.

- Use the lower gears for more engine response and engine braking.

- Scan 5-10 cars ahead depending on your speed!

- Stay focused... if you're running the latest Metallica CD in your ear-phones, turn the music OFF before you lane-split. Motorcycling requires 100% attention to begin with.

- Timing. Don't ride above your limits and/or safety by thinking it takes the same amount of time to reach your destination when on your bike while lane-splitting vs. riding/driving to work in no traffic. Allow extra time.

F) Attitude. Just do it! If you want to lane-split, DO IT. Any mind-games on "should I or shouldn't I" in a lane-split situation will put you in danger. Lane-splitting is not for the timid or low self-esteemed rider. It puts you at higher risk for an accident so weigh the risk and the benefits.

LANE-SPLIT ROAD TYPES & SITUATIONS:

A) Freeway. Most of the information given above is for freeway lane-splitting. This consists of the majority of your commute.

B) Secondary roads AND intersections or turn-lanes. Lane-splitting to the light is common among riders. Be sure to time your take-off so you don't get jumped by the other cars. This will make alot of drivers irate! A motorcycle at the front of the light is able to see the side-traffic lights much better. When the cross-traffic light is yellow (if there is no turn lane) or after most of the L-turn traffic has proceeded, you should already be in 1st gear with your clutch-hand ready to release and ready to roll the throttle. Be wary of red-light runners when getting the jump through intersections. This happens to me about 40% of the time I take the bike out and quite often involves drivers running the oncoming traffic's L-turn lane signal. I usually get the jump up to several feet in front of the traffic I'm with (5-10 feet or so), rev the engine and let the car run the red. The cars behind you will usually see the red-light runner and stay behind you. In a showdown between a car/truck/SUV and a motorcycle, you know who will always lose so stay focused and be on the look-out! Memorize the traffic signal pattern often-traveled ride routes on your commute. Some signal patterns are different.

C) 2 Lane Metered entrance ramp. This was highly debated on the list. On 2-lane metered entrance ramps, you can lane-split to the light. Be aware of signs. Some say "1 car per green." Others say "2 cars per green." A motorcycle is not a car. Most riders will get the jump on the cars when the light turns green. Regardless, wait for the green before proceeding. Sometimes you may be in a car position and not trip the sensor on the metered light. Use your judgement. I'm sure that most riders have run a red turn or metered light at one time or another due to a non-tripable sensor.

D) 1 Lane Metered entrance ramp. It's illegal to ride on the shoulder. If possible, lane-split within the law. Be aware that the shoulder hides road hazards such as nails or other tire-unfriendly debris.

E) Merging multiple-lane Metered entrance ramp. If possible, avoid splitting through the merging lane, which is usually on the R-hand side. If you end up being caught in a merging lane-split, move into the traffic line as quickly and safely as possible when the timing is appropriate before lane-splitting to the front.

F) Lane-split caravan on a metered ramp. This usually happens once you finish a ride or when you begin a ride out to your route. If you are in a group, stagger your group so that no more than 2 or 3 riders are caravaning with each other to the front of the metered ramp.

G) Lane-split caravan at a traffic signal. Try to break the group up so that there are not more than 2 or at most 3 bikes in a line. If possible, lane-split the group between more than 2 lanes (e.g. on a 3 lane road).

This FAQ on Lane-splitting is quite exhaustive and if you've managed to read down this far, you're well equipped to handle almost all lane-split situations possible. Have fun, stay focused and GO RIDE!

Ride safely...

- Daffe Duc (webmaster SFBMHA site)

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