Lane splitting is my single favorite thing about riding motorcycles. There is something magical about being able to go wherever you want regardless of traffic conditions, getting there fast and without spending a ton of money on gas. If you lane split on your commute to and from work and save an hour per day, you’ll get back over a week of your life every year. Would you rather sit in a car, being frustrated and wishing you were somewhere else, or cruise home stress-free on a motorcycle in 1/3 of the time? Here’s how.
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Does this sound too good to be true? Well, that’s because in 49 of America’s 50 states, it is. There are two things to take away from this story. If you’re Californian, from literally anywhere outside America and want to learn to lane split, I’ll give you some of the information you need to get started. If you live in one of the other 49 states, hopefully I can make lane splitting attractive enough to you that you’ll tell your buddies, they’ll tell their buddies and eventually someone will write a letter to a government official to start the process of getting it legalized.
It feels amazing when your speed isn’t governed by a sign and the fear of highway robbery at the hands of the police, but instead by the constraints of your physical environment. You can only ride so fast with a few inches of clearance on either side of the bike. There are also police around, but no one is going to give you a hard time for zipping through traffic between the carpool lane and the fast lane. It gets even better. Instead of being motivated by bragging rights, points and the possibility of a plastic trophy, going as fast as you safely can through traffic means arriving at your destination sooner and having more time to spend on whatever it is you left the house to do. But just like any other riding skill, safe and effective lane spitting takes practice.
Watching riders split lanes while sitting low down, in a line of traffic, in a car can look pretty scary. But look at it from a rider’s point of view. High up and sitting in the gap, there’s plenty of room to make safe progress and spot lane changes before they occur.
Consider starting with a bicycle
I was without a vehicle or drivers’ license for a few months back when I was 18. I rode a road bike everywhere and got pretty good in traffic. Pasadena, Hollywood and Downtown LA all have brutal traffic and that’s where I was riding. In addition to dropping down to 143 and 3 percent body fat, I learned how to safely navigate traffic. If you want to quit sitting in traffic, hoping you don’t get rear-ended or die of heat-stroke, get on a bicycle and learn how to filter through it. You’re unlikely to run in to any legality issues and there’s no stress of dropping your 400lb bike on a car while trying to get past its mirrors. You’ll be able to pay attention to car drivers and form opinions about the risk they pose to you.
Wear Safety Gear
If you live in California and decide that lane splitting is simply too scary and dangerous for you, consider this: Attempting to occupy the space of a car with something barely larger than a bicycle simply doesn’t work. People will always be trying to change lanes into you, not seeing you in front of them and running you down. If you’ve ever ridden in traffic, you’ve undoubtedly encountered this before. I would put fear of being rear-ended or lane-changed into up there with having someone turn left in front of me.
That said, lane splitting is dangerous. You could die or seriously injure yourself. I’ve been the first guy on the scene of bloody lane-splitting related crashes more times that I’d like and after seeing what happens when a drunken crackhead on a stolen 748 clips a car and hits the ground, it’s hard not to get preachy about ATGATT. Know that if you’re wearing anything less than high-quality protective gear head-to-toe, you are increasing your chances of bloody broken knees and ankles, a broken back or shattered and bloody jaw. Invest in armored pants or Kevlar jeans, boots with ankle protection, a back protector and a full-face helmet.
Your gear is at least as important in traffic as it is on the track. If you crash at 50 mph between two rows of cars moving at 35 mph, there will be no shortage of hard objects to run into and once you get slowed down, no shortage of cars to run over you. Waterproof textile suits (one piece or two) that fit over your regular clothes are ideal commuting gear. They’re comfortable in most weather and when you get where you’re going, you just take them off. Having a way to transport a pair of shoes and a place to put your gear is really nice and will help you avoid the temptation to dress like a squid and hope for the best.
Why am I doling out a harsher safety warning than when I told you how to get your knee down? Lane-splitting is more like racing than any other kind of riding. It demands your full concentration; there is very little room for error and, if you crash, it can get ugly in a hurry.
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