How to Lane Split

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How to Lane Split

Focus: What’s going on in your head
More than technical operating skills, splitting lanes requires the ability to be present, evaluate and make advance decisions about your course of travel while maintaining the ability to react quickly to unexpected events.

More than anything else, you need to use your eyes to take in as much as you can about your environment. This means seeing more than just what your eyes are focused on. When I’m blasting through traffic on the 405, I’m not picking out things to focus on or look at, but instead keeping my eyes up and forward with a focal point somewhere roughly an 1/8 mile ahead of me. If you have targets, you run the risk to fixate on them, block everything else out and set a collision course. Don’t do that. Keep your field of view wide and avoid focusing on one specific thing. The immediate foreground isn’t in focus, but I still give it awareness. Learn to use the out of focus corners of your vision and if a car grabs your attention, slow down and make sure it’s safe to pass them. At first, this will be extremely hard and will limit your speed. If people surprise you and you feel an adrenaline rush, that’s bad. Slow down until you can see where you’re going and where you are. When you’re first starting out, it will be mentally draining to pay so much attention to so many different things. Take it easy and you’ll get better. Once you can see all the cars, start paying attention to the negative space between them. Search for narrow spots and prepare for them in advance.

In addition to mentally calculating your position in relation to others, you must also be able to evaluate traffic to spot untrustworthy drivers. It’s like a Rorschach test you don’t want to fail. Look in the drivers mirrors and back windows. Are they talking on the phone, watching a movie, eating/shaving/brushing their teeth, screaming at their kids, etc? These people are what I would call untrustworthy. You can’t depend on them to stay in the center of their lane, use their turn signals or look before they make snap lane changes.

Be extremely judgmental toward other drivers. If there’s ever a time to stop being politically correct, it’s when you’re sandwiched between lanes on the 10 freeway. Start profiling. Is that lady driving an Escalade on 24″ rims while texting on her rhinestone encrusted Blackberry? Does she have a “Children are a gift from God sticker” on her back bumper? When I see this lady, I give her a wide berth. How about the guy in the ’89 Civic with a double-decker wing, coffee can exhaust, seat leaned WAY back and broken driver side mirror? How about the old, vaguely middle eastern man in the beat to shit minivan? Would you trust these people with your life? If a person gives me any reason to think that they might be aggressive, absent minded, stupid or is otherwise suspicious, I give them my full attention. People in unfamiliar places (I’m looking at you 113 year old Chinese lady with Nevada plates in the Benz) tend to dart across 4 lanes of traffic to make that off-ramp they weren’t expecting. People that have a lot of bumper stickers tend to do make bad decisions. Riders of Goldwings and Harleys will often attempt to lane-split, holding you up, and rarely check their mirrors. Don’t even get me started on Prius drivers. When you come across anyone that doesn’t immediately come off as a competent and trustworthy driver, slow down and wait for them to make whatever bad move it is they’re going to make. If it seems like it’s going to be awhile, go around or wait for them to stop and proceed cautiously.

There are no hard and fast rules on who you can trust, but I’ve found that most guys wearing flat-billed hats in lifted trucks are actually very good drivers. They pay extra attention to motorcyclists, move over for you and often wave. If drivers wave at you, wave back. Keep them happy and they’ll keep being nice. Professionals on their way to work, often driving boring commuter cars, are generally trustworthy. Other motorcyclists wearing complete gear on dirty bikes are usually safe. If you commute on your motorcycle, you’ll notice that you end up seeing the same people every day. You’ll cross paths with the same motorcyclists on opposite sides of the freeway, and see many of the same car drivers. Knowing the roads and freeways you ride help quite a bit as well.

Watch for patterns
You need to develop a sixth sense to tell you what cars are going to do before they do it. Don’t worry, that’s not as paranormal as it sounds. On the highway, is one lane of traffic slowing down while another continues apace? If so, expect drivers to try and dart from the slowing lane into the one where traffic is still flowing. In stopped traffic, has one lane started move before another? Again, expect drivers to shift into lanes with higher speeds, even if its futile.

By lining these cars up for a pass as they’re adjacent to each other, this rider is reasonably sure that neither car will attempt to merge lanes.

Riding between lanes of equal speed traffic, watch for gaps to open up that cars could turn into. Avoid sitting next to those gaps. Sometimes, passing two cars while they’re next to each other is safer than waiting until one is in front of the other. If a car has no way to shift lanes, then it probably won’t.

Take advantage of the safety benefits
While navigating a constantly shifting, unpredictable, deadly obstacle course does have its risks, splitting lanes will help you overcome some of the inherent safety deficiencies a motorcycle is saddled with.

Removing himself from the shortening traffic column by moving between lanes could have helped this rider avoid being rear ended.

Lacking any sort of crumple zone and visual awareness among dozy drivers, we’re uniquely exposed to rear end collisions. Instead of sitting in an empty lane at a red light, waiting for a truck to rear end you, pulling in front of a car gives you a free crumple zone and much more visual area and lights to catch the attention of that texting teenage girl approaching from the rear.

There’s a lot more to learn
By now you’ve read almost 2,600 words about lane splitting. The reason I have so much to say is because I’ve gathered each little bit of my lane splitting advice, near miss stories and observations over 3 years of commuting 80 plus miles per day on four of LA’s busiest freeways in all weather conditions. While this lays out a framework and some things to keep in mind to get started, this is a skill that is truly about practice.

Further Reading
Wes has written about the advantages of lane splitting for both Jalopnik and Newsweek.

  • Myles

    Lane splitting is not prohibited in D.C. – 14th St is generally a parking lot, but transforms into a glorious challenge on two wheels. It’s even more fun on your girlfriend’s scooter.

    Don’t do it on the Virginia side unless you want huge trouble, though.

    • Pete

      I’ve been ticketed for lane splitting in DC. It is definitely illegal.

    • Dan

      This is curious to me as I sometimes split on 295 when traffic is stopped, but notice a lot of bikers do not. I don’t often find the need to split in VA or MD. I haven’t been cited for it, but the instructor at my safety course was a retired DC cop and he swore up and down that splitting is NOT legal in DC. Per that same guy, riding through a red light in MD is ok, as long as you wait a reasonable amount of time. Something about the mass of a bike isn’t often enough to trigger the sensor in the street.

      • Todd

        Virginia just put into effect a new law that motorcycles, bicycles, and mopeds can proceed on a red light with caution if they sit through 2 cycles or 2 mins because of lack of weight to trigger sensors at some lights.

  • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub sean (the roommate)

    You were never down to 3% body fat.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Maybe he left out a zero?

    • nick2ny

      You’re a tough customer today huh.

    • Sean Smith

      I was doing a few hundred miles per week on a road bike, in the summer, in Pasadena.

      • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub sean (the roommate)

        sorry dude. i’ve met you. not buying it.

  • jason

    I didn’t even read the article yet but will say it is a great topic. I spent 6 years in SoCal and go back often. Lanesplitting at rush hour is a great motorcycle riding drill/skill session. Clutching constantly, balancing at a standstill, looking through cars to see whats ahead, doing things like wiggling the bars to get the headlight moving in rearview mirrors…… just great skill stuff and another thing that should be 100% legal everywhere. I live near Canada. never noticed it up there in Ontario. Wonder if it’s legal there?
    OK, time to go read this thing.

    • Devin

      Lane splitting is not legal in Ontario, it is considered “stunt driving” which means a $1000 fine, 6 points and your bike is impounded on the spot for one week. Also, even if you beat the charge in court, there will be no compensation for the impound fees for the week nor compensation for “loss of enjoyment” related to not having your motorcycle.

      What is “stunt driving” is completely up to the officer in question, but also includes going more than 50 km/h over the speed limit or racing.

      • Randall

        Oops… I was definitely splitting lanes while taking a road trip from California to Toronto. I’m just too used to it. I think it might make sense now why people were yelling at me from their cars….

    • David

      “…looking through cars to see whats ahead, doing things like wiggling the bars to get the headlight moving in rearview mirrors……”

      This practice alone has saved my skin numerous times, aside from all the other excellent points in the article…

      • jason

        I figured it was illegal in Ontario (I’m in Rochester NY) especially since they passed some new speed laws a couple years ago. I have done it here and there in NY. People freak out and you see ones moving into the middle to block you. Scary to think that the person in the car is willing to direct a 2 ton vehicle at what is no different than a person on a bicycle.

  • T Diver

    Good article. A lot of words. I think I read once in the DMV manual that they don’t recommend splitting at above 10mph beyond the flow of traffic. Not something I always practice but it’s good to know. I also try to avoid splitting lanes during rush hour as people are far more distracted and in a rush (try to). And everyone is on their phone. The main thing, for me at least, is to remain calm. Don’t get agro at cars. It does not solve anything and it’s pretty awkward to get in the elevator at work with someone to whom you just gave the finger.

    • T Diver

      One other thing. If I hit your mirror. Screw you. I am not stopping.

      • David

        @ T Diver: Well hopefully, you did it on purpose… Otherwise, that means you blew it! ;>)

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    Good article. Lane splitting and filtering is one of the great things about riding a motorcycle. It’s dangerous, but what isn’t?

    I always ride with my high-beam on when I split. I feel like drivers notice it more, especially during the day on the freeway.

    FTR: splitting in the HOV lane is legal if you do it between the white line and the car. Crossing over the white or into the double-yellow is illegal (I do it anyway, mostly to pass drivers that aren’t paying attention, are on the phone, etc, etc.). It’s unusual to get a ticket for it but it happens.

    • 85gripen

      I also flip on the high beam while splitting, but usually only in heavy traffic. I have a yellow headlight too which I think attracts more attention into people’s rear view mirrors.

      I have CRG Hindsight LS (lane-splitter) folding bar-end mirrors on my bike but since I’ve had them I haven’t had to use the handy auto-fold (like when they come into contact with a stationary object) feature yet. :-)

      Unfortunately the 101 (in The Valley) doesn’t have a carpool lane so I have to really concentrate splitting between the #1 & #2 lanes as there’s much less space between the cars.

      • Sean Smith

        I’m not sure I could recommend it to people just starting out with lane splitting, but I strobe my high-beam fast enough to induce seizures when I see somene about to do something stupid.

  • Nicholas

    Great piece. As you say it all comes with practise and is exhausting at first, because you brain has to work very hard at a time in the morning when your body tells you it shouldn’t be. Great piece of advice about the 5-15 mph speed delta.

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    Sean. you’ll get a lot more traffic on this article if you cut it in half. I’ve been lanesplitting (here in LA, as well as NYC, London, Barcelona, Frisco, North Carolina) since 1985 and I could say all that in 1/10th as many words. ;-) But thanks for getting the word out. Most of my crashes were not while lanesplitting but while following too closely or entering an intersection too recklessly.

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

      I usually prefer shorter pieces due to my attention span being that of a 4-5 year old, but in this case I have to disagree with you pinky. This one had me the whole time.

      Having lived in LA for a year and now being back in Seattle definitely makes me miss the legality of lanesplitting in CA. I’ll do “safety maneuver” splits now, but fear a ticket for just barging when traffic is slow.

      One thing I’ve gotta say, I laughed when I read the “don’t get me started about Prius drivers” part. I found in my year of splitting in LA that undoubtedly Prius drivers blocked the lanes and caused me more frustration than any other driving demographic. I guess I’m glad it wasn’t just me…great article dude.

  • Coreyvwc

    This article makes me proud to be a Californian. Oh, and always make sure there will be eye drops at your destination. Whether it’s 45 seconds or 30 minutes, there is no blinking while lane splitting…

  • Steven

    California über alles.

    • robotribe

      I’m stuck in Orlando for a year. Now I REALLY miss my beloved El Lay.

    • cadillacjack

      North Carolina – Lane Splitting Not referenced in Administrative Code or Statutes.

      Also DK rock!

  • Kirill

    “Don’t even get me started on Prius drivers”

    Amen to that. I also give a wide berth to livery and taxi drivers since neither group is apparently capable of competent operation of a motor vehicle.

    One thing I would have added is that your splitting ability is inversely proportional to the width and overall agility of your motorcycle. I could never pull of some of the semi-suicidal moves I can swing on my Aprilia when riding my KLR for example.

    As for the riding on the double-yellow, its definitely illegal and I almost got a ticket for it a few months ago because I was dumb enough to do it in clear traffic (the guy in front was going too slow, man!) and the CHP was actually able to get to me. You’ll never get done for it in busy traffic though.

    • Dan

      Are motorcycles not permitted in HOV/carpool lane in CA?

      • Kirill

        You’re allowed to be in the lane, but not in the double-yellow divider that separates the lane from the rest of the road (except in heavy traffic where the cops don’t care and can’t do much about it even if they wanted to)

        • Steven

          This only exists in LA.

          • Kirill

            Yes, I know they don’t use double-yellows up in NorCal and, recently, some freeways in Orange County (like the 22).

            Or are you talking about the cops not caring?

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    Love it, thanks! If your in IL don’t get tempted to do this, you’ll get a Wreckless driving ticket. I won’t say how I know. :O

    When you say…
    “when the signal changes you can take off immediately”

    …probably should remind people to look for cars blowing the red light first. If your focused on jumping the green you won’t be looking at cross traffic.

    • runrun

      really good point. don’t be the first one to find out the intersection isn’t clear yet.

    • Mattro

      this. one of the scariest experiences of my life was waiting the obligatory two-three seconds before beginning a right on green just to have a huge dodge pickup blur past me. missed by maybe a foot.

      if i’d taken off the second the light changed, it’d have been a very, very bad scene.

      • Gene

        Even worse when it’s a sheriff’s cruiser doing about 20 over the limit, no lights. F’n Florida cracker redneck cops.

    • Toby

      Hrm, always thought Wreckless driving was the point…

    • Joe

      Anyone not looking for cross traffic is a moron. I don’t even live in a high traffic area and I would never ride through an intersection without checking left and right first (don’t forget oncoming cars turning left).

      The best traffic riding advice I’ve ever heard is “Ride as if everyone is out to get you”. A little paranoia goes a long way to keep you alive.

    • Sean Smith

      If you can’t pay attention to cross-traffic at an intersection, you shouldn’t even be walking. This is basic stuff that gets covered in kindergarten.

      • HammSammich

        I fully agree, but it’s crazy how often I see other motorcyclists in my area focusing on stoplights like they’re at the drag strip. Relying solely on a little red light to protect them from cross traffic when they blast through intersections (the stupidity is compounded even more by the fact that the perpetrators are seldom wearing any gear beyond the state mandated DOT half-shell)…

        • Sean Smith

          There’s just not a lot you can do to help the shorts and a t-shirt crowd. They buy bikes to be bad-ass in June, crash sometime between the first ride and October, get hurt, sell the bike and never ride again. This is one reason I talk about the importance of gear so much.

          It makes motorcycling more comfortable (a mesh jacket in the summer is WAY cooler and less sunburn-y than a t-shirt) and less dangerous. When you wear good gear, a motorcycle can become a piece of transportation instead of just a dangerous hobby.

          You can fall off, bounce around, slide to a stop and be uninjured. Imagine how messed up Wes would have been on Saturday if he hadn’t been wearing a neck brace, full MX armor and abrasion resistant stuff over that. Instead of six weeks off the bike, it could easily be six weeks in the ICU and then years of physical therapy.

  • Roman

    Wish the ABATEs and AMAs of the world would focus on legalizing lane splitting and expanding bike parking, instead of the never ending war against helmet laws.

    Having said that, I lane split in and around Philly on a pretty regular basis. Haven’t been pulled over yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time. Good advice, though I think most of it is well summarized by this little nugget- “Don’t be an asshole and you should be alright.”

    • Sean Smith

      It’s funny how relevant that little piece of advice is to almost any situation on a bike.

      • Roman

        Or just life in general.

    • Steven

      I agree with this. I read all of the AMA’s position papers, and it was just a bunch of bullshit about how helmet laws step on our freedom, mannnnn, and how it’s more important to jump OHVs over every square foot of wildland than it is to keep wildlife from going extinct.

      I bet they’ll have a paper about banning abortion before they’d have one on lane-splitting. Lanesplitting is just for young punks on sportbikes, not respectable Harley riders.

      • Sean Smith

        The AMA is really useful for $19 per year roadside assistance.

        • Gregory

          +1.

          That’s the only reason I’m a member.

          Over my 6 years of membership, I’ve had to use the AMA’s towing service… only once.

          But the peace of mind was _so_ worth it.

          -gceaves
          Portland, OR
          2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

        • 85gripen

          Didn’t know about this. Thanks for the comment. Might save me a bundle over AAA.

          • jason

            I’m glad to know it too. I was “dropped” by AAA from RV coverage (motorcycles) to basic because I used the service too much. 3 times in a 2 year period for bikes. Fuck you AAA. I have been a member since 1989 and now you can kiss me ass. AMA…. good info.

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Great article. While its illegality in MA hasn’t stopped me from doing it all the time, I can’t wait until I’m in CA and its legal. Knowing that the preferred lane is between the carpool and fast lane is a valuable tidbit of information.

    Heading down to The Cape in the summer is always a nightmare of stopped traffic, but lane splitting has cut the time from around 2 1/2 hours to just under 1 1/2 hours (for a trip that takes 45 minutes with no traffic).

    This past weekend, I was part of an impromptu motorcycle caravan, going about 15-20 through stop-and-go traffic. The lead rider was an older biker dude on a 70s sportster. He was very skilled, and made sure to pat the top of his head when he spotted the police. We all then filtered into traffic until we passed the cop, then, almost on cue, immediately popped back between the lanes.

    • Alex

      Problem is outside of CA (where drivers are used to it and grudgingly accept it) drivers get resentful and will more often open doors, throw shit at you, pull in front of you on purpose etc.

      I too am originally from MA and encountered all of the above the few times I lanesplit to avoid 100 degree heat and stopped traffic situations.

      Shame other people get so mad that they are stuck in their A/C car with a stereo that they have to endanger a rider.

  • runrun

    i commuted in and out of boston on the mass pike for 5 years, so started splitting and filtering out of necessity. though it’s illegal, i never got a ticket. it definitely helps to not go too much faster than the cars, not ride like a dick, and to only split when traffic is really slow or stopped.

    another threat you have to be prepared for is from drivers who just hate the idea of you being able to get through while they’re stuck. i’ve had coffee thrown at me, been spit on, and had cars ahead of me move over just to block me. i wonder why they’re called massholes?

    fortunately a pretty reliable sixth sense does develop that helps you spot these pricks.

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      I almost got crushed by a guy in a black panel/rape van this weekend. Totally out of spite. Then the guy leaned all the way out of his van and leered at me as went by…

      “Serenity now…serenity now…what would Ghandi do?…”

      Goddamn Massholes.

      • David

        Ghandi notwithstanding… Did the van lose a mirror (or brake light)???

        • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

          I was way past him by the time the thought of revenge surfaced. I like the idea of having worn out spark plugs to fling at offending vehicles…

          • Gregory

            Hunter S. Thompson’s friends would hang a drive chain over their handle bars. Use it as a whip.

            If any security officer asks, it’s a “spare part in case of break down”.

            -gceaves
            Portland, OR
            2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

    • Sean Smith

      Coffee eh? One more reason to wear a full-face helmet.

      • runrun

        definitely, as it was more than likely that corrosive dunkin’ donuts crap

  • JaySD

    Three things I tend to do while lane splitting

    1) Ride with my high beam on during the day

    2) I don’t exceed the traffic by a larger differential than I could outbrake a potential incident (IE I am not going so fast that if the car in front of me starts to lane change I cannot slow/stop in time)

    3) I treat each car like it is a pass. Watch the driver, predict their movements, look for your opening, make the pass smoothly and then continue

    It definitely requires 100% concentration and should not be done without giving it the respect it needs

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    The part about doing 90 while riding a stand-up wheelie seems to be missing…

    Great article, like usual. I know that it is about lane splitting, but I think a lot of it is applicable to general commuting for the other 49 states.

    • T Diver

      Sit-down wheelies are a far better choice at 90. This article is way too long. Lay off the booger sugar Sean.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    My personal rules for splitting.

    1. There must be at least two lanes of traffic (in the same direction). I cringe when I watch riders share the inside of a one-lane road. People pull off of the road, into and out of driveways, turn right all the time without warning.

    2. Typically don’t split over 45 mph. Unless I”m just squeezing by one or two a-holes that are holding up things, I usually stop splitting at 45 mph on the freeway. Mostly because fast splitting scares the shit out of drivers. (Honestly, I feel lane changes are slower the faster traffic is moving, ergo lane splitting is somewhat safer for it.)

    3. Split between #1 and #2 lanes. They’re typically the least messy lanes (no one exiting/entering freeway, closest match for speed) but there’s another reason that becomes apparent when you’re on the road with other motorcyclists. Cars frequently jerk left or right to create more space for splitting bikers. Very nice, except when there’s another rider in the other lane. If everyone’s splitting the same lane, you don’t have to worry about polite drivers accidentally taking out another rider.

    4. Watch body language (and motor body language). People don’t use their indicators to tell you when they’re about to switch lanes, but there are other visual cues. Cars slow down, start inching in, or notice that the driver is looking into his mirrors (or, crazily enough, some even look over their shoulders).

    • 1

      Point 4 look over shoulder check. Should be a standard for all car and bike riders.

      Should be: Mirror check, Indicate, Mirror check, shoulder check, manoeuvre.

      Bikes easily disappear into blind spots, and have a habit of arriving quickly into that blind spot.

  • GoFasterPB

    Explained it well. There’s a special satisfaction that arises from rides where your predictions of driver behavior and perfect timing through gaps are in harmony.

  • Jeremy

    I got pulled over on the 101 in the bay area by a CHP on a motorcycle for splitting and he ripped me a new one. The guy was basically hightower from police academy. He pulled out the DMV book and opened it up to the lane splitting page. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but something along the lines of it being unsafe. It didn’t say it was illegal.

    I think the cop just thought I was going too fast and not going about it safe enough & although he was a dick, he was prob just lookin out for another biker, cause he didn’t actually give me a ticket. Just cursed at me, showed me the DMV book and rode off.

    Also different topic – a buddy of mine did get a ticket for riding in the space to the left or right of the lane when there is only 1 lane to get to the front of the traffic light, i.e. the space btwn the curb and the cars. Dont do that

    • Kirill

      The letter of the law on splitting in CA is that its legal as long as its done in a “safe and prudent” manner. Weird that he yelled at you, the one time I’ve been pulled over on a bike I got lectured about not being an idiot.

    • robotribe

      “Safely”.

      The flip side to this is the almost “free pass” a rider in CA gets when they get passed by a lane splitting cop (sometimes well above the designated limit — 80+mph for no obvious reasons). For myself and other riders in my immediate proximity, this is a signal to do as the cop does.

      This is something I get to take advantage of at least 3 mornings out of every work week on my commute on the 210 freeway from Pasadena to Glendale and can make the difference between a 25 minute commute and a 18 minute one.

      • Kirill

        I’ve only ridden on the 210 in traffic a couple times, but that seems to be the place with the looniest splitters. Some dude on a Road King was leading the pack going 60 between effectively stopped cars.

        • robotribe

          I know what you mean, but if you really want loony/ballsy/crazy/talented examples of LA lane splitting, check out the 110 fwy at rush hour between Highland Park, below Dodger Stadium and into downtown.

          There’s a regular I used to see on a 90s vintage BMW complete with huge metal side panniers who is a freaking MASTER.

          • Kirill

            Splitting down the 110 is lunacy. I’ve done it, but it certainly makes you want to pull over and take a swig of whiskey afterwards.

  • nick2ny

    Who’s that handsome postman in the main picture?

  • NickP

    Thanks! I really like your real-world tips, please keep them coming! This is quite timely as last week I decided that I no longer care about the legality of this in Michigan. Cut a good 10 or 15 off my traffic-filled commute!

  • Jeff

    Lane split everyday down to the Holland Tunnel. I’ve unfortuneately tasted a rear end truck sandwich. Never again. Keep moving, be alert. And be careful when wet. Those painted lines are damn slippery.

  • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ cynic

    Lane splitting is in my top ten reasons I don’t want to live anywhere else in the country.

    Good article, it really is one of the most intense and stressful things you can do on a motorcycle. I love being able to do it, but after 30-45 minutes I’m mentally done. Just glad I don’t have to do it in my regular morning commute.

    • Sean Smith

      Focusing completely on one thing and pushing everything else out of my mind for the 40 minutes of my old commute always left me relaxed and clear headed.

      • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

        +100. I love the fact that when I’m fully present on the motorcycle I can’t stress over my day job until I actually arrive. I’m too busy staying alive and upright to do that.

      • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ cynic

        I have a horrible memory of Lane splitting for most of a 2.5 hour ride coming home from Sacramento to San Francisco along Hwy 80.

        In general I love motorcycling because I have to focus on what I’m doing and leave the world behind. Lane splitting especially in narrow lanes in SF or Golden gate, where I most frequently do it, is never relaxing for me.

        Maybe once I do another 50,000 miles on a bike.

      • Kirill

        I come away less stressed from a fully-concentrated ride through traffic than I do from a parked-in-a-cage drive in traffic.

    • Randall

      Very intense concentration that’s needed. Except that for me, often times, I forget what happened those 30-45 minutes from being in the zone.

  • Edward

    Please elaborate on what “vaguely middle eastern” adds to “man in the beat to shit minivan.” Is this meant to indicate that he falls into the “otherwise suspicious” category? I would consider revising this bit since, intentional or not, it is a serious distraction in an otherwise excellent article.

    • Sean Smith

      I don’t care that he’s middle eastern, what religion he may or may not belong to or where he’s from.

      But I think it’s fair to use that guy as a specific example. He hit me on the 405 a few months ago.

      • Edward

        Fair enough, but that’s not how it reads. The context doesn’t indicate that he’s meant as a specific example when the other examples seem to be types. Also, even if the description refers to a specific incident, the question still stands as to why that detail stands out in the writer’s mind. I’m not suggesting that it’s a relevant fact for you, but I am saying that the article would be stronger for not leaving an unpleasant implication in the reader’s mind.

    • runrun

      wait a minute ed, don’t you also bristle at the chinese reference?

      • Edward

        also unnecessary.

        • runrun

          keep on staying vigilant for those opportunities to be sanctimonious. geez.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You’ve stumbled across possibly the most liberal, open minded motorcycle publication in the world. Relax.

      • Kirill

        Some people just look for any possible opportunity to get offended and/or indignant

        • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

          By “Some people” are you inferring that I’m a vaguely large-nosed Mid-Westerner who quickly takes offense at jokes about Jewish lawyers?

          No? Okay, so these two Jewish lawyers walk into a bar. . .

      • Edward

        I don’t need to get into arguments on the internet — my point was that, all things being equal, there are better ways of constructing that sentence.

        Anyway, good article and also good advice in the comments. Lane splitting seems to be one of those essential skills not covered in safety courses or the existing literature.

        • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

          totally off topic, but Edward – you will probably appreciate one of my new favorite blogs: http://microaggressions.com/

  • jonoabq

    I installed hyperlights on my commuter…5 seconds of flashing, then constant on. I milk then at stops when traffic approaching from behind, especially at night. Dunno if it’s actually saved me from a rear ender but it can’t hurt. Cops in Albuquerque are mostly motorbike friendly except for stunting or blatant speeding. Never been looked at twice for lane splitting or using the breakdown lane.

    Aside from the earlier mentioned bad drivers be very wary of anything resembling a tuner car or ANY car near a high school parking lot.

  • http://www.anotherdamndj.com evilbahumut

    Lanesplitting isn’t mentioned in the law books here in Missouri either, but I’m sure that if you get caught, they’ll lynch ya and then burn a cross in your yard.

    BTW, what does your editorial calendar look like? It must be crazy!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Calendar?! I just shouted “go!” three years ago.

  • David

    Lane sharing (’cause I’m a giver…) definitely takes not only practice, but also conditioning. As cynic commented, 30- 45 minutes of full, complete focus and concentration is taxing. And that’s AFTER you’re good at it! Best to start in small doses so you don’t fatigue and blow it!

  • dnos

    Being comfortable with splitting lanes is so goddamn important to the safety of motorcyclists I have no clue why its not legal everywhere. If a car slams on their brakes or comes into your lane, having that instinct to go around them and split lanes INSTEAD of slamming hard on your brakes will safe your neck. Also, what do air-cooled bike owners do when it’s gridlock? Pull over and wait?

    You learn how to deal with cars on a bicycle. This is so true. I was splitting lanes the day i rode my first bike home.

    Also this happened to me the other day and i felt kindof bad about it. I was splitting lanes and a couple fully loaded baggers who were sitting in traffic sprang out at me! Ok not really, but one didnt see me until the last second. He hit the brakes and I saw his giant hamhock of a leg slam down to save his giant bike and his bigger lady from falling. I felt sorry for his knee. Moral of the story is, if you’re gonna split lanes, start splitting early so you dont have to watch your ass from retardos like me.

    Also cops around SF are pretty nice to lane splitters. Im not squidding out and going 70 between cars, but they dont have to move over and give me more room either.

    • 85gripen

      My dad used to be a cop and he told me the reason California made it legal to lane split is because of air cooled bikes and the gridlock that was endemic to California at that time (which has unfortunately since spread to other parts of the country as well).

      I often wonder how riders with air cooled bikes in other Southwestern congested cities (like Vegas or Phoenix) deal with the gridlock on hot days.

      • noone1569

        I know how I do it in Indiana. . .I just split. On the way to the Indianapolis 500 in May, traffic was absolutely gridlocked, cops at every intersection down 16th Street for ~8 miles . . I split. I got stopped once and forced to join back in line even thought I told the kind public servant that my shit was overheating.

      • Sean Smith

        This is basically true except for one detail: California never made laws against lane splitting, whereas every other state did.

  • dnos

    Oh and watch for crosswalks. If a car ahead of you stops at one, chances are someone’s walking on it.

  • 85gripen

    There’s a Facebook group trying to get lane splitting legalized in Oregon. Join even if you don’t live in Oregon to support their cause: https://www.facebook.com/groups/orlaneshare

  • Felix

    Excellent article. The speed delta, beyond just avoiding the attention of law enforcement, is really key to safety as well IMHO.

  • Tommy

    Ha. So glad you mentioned prius drivers. My friends and I were having a convo at breakfast the other day about the worst drivers to look out for. Number one was Prius drivers, two, was anyone with those stupid familty stickers on the back of their car, and three was the old mini trucks picking up scrap metal.

    My last accident was because a prius driver changed lanes right in front of me while lane splitting. Luckily she took blame, and I had a witness. Suddenly my $900 fzr i got off craiglist was valued at $1900 by my auditor, plus money for my helmet and a bruise on my hip. I lucked out that time, but still keep an eye out for those prius drivers.

    • casey

      I was just posting about this conversation and happened to look up, Hey tommy!

  • 1

    From memory, I think there is a country that is considering a motorcycle safe zone. This is a box at the front of the traffic lights.

    The idea is that when cars are stationary at a stop light, bikes can filter/split their way up to the front. This is to reduce the danger of a bike being rear ended when behind stationary cars.

    • Tony

      Portland, OR, uses bike boxes for bicyclists. I don’t think car drivers much care for them because it precludes their ability to turn right on a red light, but I find I feel much safer being in a protected space. The trick would be to see them used outside the downtown area.

      I don’t think the US will give much thought to motorcycle safety in general until gas gets much more expensive.

    • jye

      The country you are talking about is Taiwan.

    • robotribe

      I’ve noticed something similar in Fukuoka, Japan. Very sensible.

  • daniel

    In Cali you might have dangerous Prius drivers, but in NYC we have access-a-ride…

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      Yikes those remind me of The Ride in Boston.

      Combines the erratic driving of a taxi with the random stopping of a bus, and the “I don’t give a shit about anything” attitude of a trolley driver. Always fun.

    • Wilbur

      I hate those short bus assholes. I don’t even know why they put mirrors on those things.

  • Gregory

    Here, here!

    I lane-split here in Oregon. Vroom, vroom~

    The fleece-wearing Subaru drivers– the types who pick up Golden Retriever shit with their hands in plastic bags– look on at me in (my-eyes-perceived) envy.

    Most likely, though, they don’t even notice or care.

    For me, it just gets me home faster.

    -gceaves
    Portland, OR
    2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

    ps. I learned to ride first in the Philippines and then in Korea, successively on a 90cc, a 125cc and a 250cc. This training in a non-US environment improves overall skill. First, I don’t believe in Pirates with plastic yarmukles nor PowerRangers in bright yellow leather. Second, I believe motor bikes are to be ridden by normal humans. My training made me comfortable in traffic. Hence, the lane-split. Vroom, vroom~ GCE

    pps. I wear a reflective vest at all times. Not only does it allow you onto most military bases, but it also helps visibility. Lane split? Wear something bright. -GCE

    • Jeremy

      Fleece wearing subaru drivers? WTF do I need to get rid of mu subaru. I dont have a dog whose shit i pick up at least

      • Wereweazle

        I think he’s referring to the Fozzy crew mostly. I’ve seen quite a few of those fall into the hands of soccer moms and their offspring lately.

        • noone1569

          Er maybe its the Lezvans?

  • Scott

    I’m sure many have seen this before, but for some lane splitting Insanity check it out. (Skip to about the 4 minute mark for the craziest part) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XihQeZpwqpE

    • 85gripen

      Maybe this guy didn’t realize that Trinity’s motorcycle scene in The Matrix Reloaded (where he got that music from) was CGI.

  • Randall

    Regarding the carpool lane, it’s definitely illegal to split that double yellow. I still do it any ways. A moto CHP in Santa Ana creeped up next to me while I was splitting the carpool lane and yelled at me through his megaphone next to my ear. You can imagine that this startled me and made me swerve a little.

    On another note, focus on the heads of people in cars. It’s good to keep track 5 cars ahead of you. Usually people will turn their head before they switch the lane without signalling.

    • Sean Smith

      I try to keep track of at least 20. Less than that and it’s hard to keep a steady speed and predict traffic.

    • robotribe

      Per a previous response of mine on this thread, I see CHP motorbike officers split the carpool lane almost daily on the 210, and then proceed to do the same right behind them.

      The problem I see is that if it’s indeed verboten, then law enforcement should clarify this “do as I say, not as I do” situation. As far as I’m concerned, anything the popo does with a police car or bike WITHOUT their lights flashing (as if they’re making some kind of emergency maneuver) is by default A-OK for me as well.

  • Andrew

    In the UK it’s called ‘filtering’ and it’s legal. The only rule is not to go any faster than the rest of the trafic by 15-20mph.

  • Justin

    Nice article. I tend to look at front wheels. They have to move quite a bit before cars can change lanes and it gives you a lot more warning then checking cars. Too many drivers (in the SF Bay area at least) don’t even check their side view mirrors when lane changing. Truth be told, the only times I get into trouble in traffic on the motorcycle are when I don’t lane split or filter.

  • Steve

    I split for 3 yearsfrom O.C. to LA on the 405. Only 1 well deserved ticket (too fast), caught by CHP who blasted up shoulder to get ahead of me. We talked, he appreciated all my gear and let me off light.
    BTW…Prius no longer legal in the carpool lane. YES!

    • 85gripen

      But strangely mother in Suburban with baby in the carpool lane is still legal. I think they should change the law to make it only legal for 2 or more *licensed drivers* in the same vehicle. You’re not taking another vehicle off the road by driving your kid.

  • Denzel

    Extreme example of filtering is SE asian cities where the thousands of small cc bikes flow like water around slower cars/trucks.

    • robotribe

      And Paris, Rome, Barcelona etc. etc.

      U.S. traffic laws are back-asswards

    • dirtridingBil

      Yeah, come here to SE Asia and have yourself a ‘training’, the cost is cheap, even the Harleys are lane splitting at high speed.

  • Kent

    As a fellow SoCal rider, I noticed he left two important tips out:
    1) Fridays and days leading up to big holidays are especially dangerous. More than usual darting between lanes w/o looking, more general aggression to ‘get there first.’
    2) The ‘stagger’ of cars in their lanes tells you a lot about the collective mood of the traffic. Smooth lines of cars generally depicts a calmer commute. But if every other car is staggered in the lane, then you can expect a lot of erratic behaviors.

    • Sean Smith

      This is what I was talking about when I said commuters tend to be more trustworthy.

      • JaySD

        It’s even true morning vs evening. Morning commuters going to work on the I-5 from Oceanside to San Diego almost pull over to let bikes by. Commuters heading home at 5? Totally different ball game much more ignorant and much more aggressive

        • Sean Smith

          All true. It takes time to learn the local traffic patterns. Once you do though and you start to see the same people all the time, things get a lot easier.

  • noone1569

    Anyone have any tips about starting a process to get lanespliting or “move to the front” legislation passed?

    I’m shooting to move this forward in Indiana.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I’d love to give you advice, but I’m afraid I don’t know any awful lot about the American legal system. This sounds like good material for an article if we can figure it out though. “How to advocate for legal lane splitting”

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

        Step one – Find incriminating photos of your congressman.

        Step two – Blackmail

        Step three – Enjoy lane splitting.

      • noone1569

        Fair enough. I’ve started researching. I’ll shoot you guys an e-mail when I get some information gathered.

  • Filippo

    Fantastic article. I’ve been lane splitting in NYC for twenty some odd years. Great points. Kent made a great point about the traffic’s ‘demeanor’. Sometimes all the timing is ‘off’, and you seem to be fighting for every square inch. When this happens, I have learned to hang back slightly, to good effect.

  • Bobby

    I agree with not going much faster than traffic. I also like to use rev’s or my horn if I can see someone not paying attention. It is of course illegal in Arizona but I like to think I make up for it by all my good deeds like closing open gas doors or readjusting mirrors if they weren’t able to see me. Just so they don’t miss the next guy. :)

    • Sean Smith

      Revs tend to piss people off and perpetuate the South Park biker stereotype. Horns are just a hair better. High-beams are better still.

      Still, if you find yourself in a jam that requires you to make a lot of noise to keep someone from killing you, you’ve already screwed up. Think about what that car did before it tried to kill you and make a mental note to steer clear of that sort of thing in the future.

  • CalamariKid

    Educating the cagers in Texas about lane splitting one day at a time…

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      The last group of people I’d want to try to educate on the topic.

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

        Generally, the last group of people who want to be educated about anything.

        #JustKidding
        #PleaseDontGiveMeTheDeathPenalty
        #ButSeriouslyMostTexansIKnowAreNice

  • Jeremy

    I’m such a tool – just dropped the bike while standing still in traffic. Me and my girl who was on the back are fine. Basically I was slowly splitting and the cars in front of me converged, forcing me to come to a stop. Unfortunately, the ground where i came to a stop had a big downslope to the left, and as the bike was already leaning that way, had no way of righting it to the other side, so I couldnt get a leg down till the bike was already tipping over, so down we went. Pushed the bike to the shoulder & checked it out – sliders took the whole impact so the bike is fine and so are we, so no big deal i guess

  • luxlamf

    I am glad you brought up the Bicycle point, I used to be a Bike Messenger in NYC in the late 80′s early 90′s, I got hit by cabs, open doors you name it. Learned to “Read” my surroundings rather quickly. Fast forward to 2005 and I am living in LA and buy my 1st motorbike, Once I get up and going well enough to do so the splitting lanes part comes real “Natural” to me and I have often thought it was because of my prior Bike experiences. Riding in other states such as Texas and NV and AZ are horrible (Those are the only other states I have riden) and I do believe I wouldn’t have 87,000 miles in 5 years if I lived elsewhere that splitting isn’t allowed But I more than likely would have bought a convertible instead.

  • luxlamf

    I also like that you brought up proper riding technique while splitting with other riders in the area. I have More problems with people on BIkes than I do cars (Except Prius drivers) while splitting I keep a Close watch on my mirrors while splitting and if I see a Bike coming up quick and more agressive than I happily let them go. A few times where they “Snuck Up” on me and than blast by shows what an asshole they are and of course the idiots who Canot split well but refuse to let you by are the biggest problem out there, causing all the rest of the bikes to scatter all lanes to get by so while one car is moving Over to let one by they are unknowingly cutting off another rider on the other side.

  • updownsideup

    I’ve been riding in the SF Bay area for the summer and just started splitting slow traffic, It’s a blast! I asked a motorcycle cop about it, he told me that a motorcycle can share a lane with a car, that it is technically illegal to ride on the line, he called it straddling a lane. Then he said Don’t worry about, we dont really care so long as it’s not really fast and dangerous. I asked about exit ramps that get backed up and he told me that I could ride past the cars, since it is technically sharing that outside trim of the lane, Badass. So far I have noticed Cycles out here drive about 5 to 10 faster than traffic anyway and that drivers are nice to move over and be aware, better than Illinois anyway

  • dnos

    One thing about SF: Lanesplitting here is legal, we have a LOT of bikes, and we also have a lot of cars with banged up/broken/missing side view mirrors. Coincidence?

  • ruger

    What sort of man gets satisfaction from breaking the mirrors off of the cars of innocent motorists?

  • Ben

    When I moved to CA from MA, I got pulled over and issued a warning while lane splitting.

    I was exceeding Basic Speed Limit which is 10-15 mph over traffic. I was also warned about splitting lanes other than the left-most lanes. The officer explained that cars in those lanes are more-likely to expect lane-splitters.

  • MV

    Late to the party here, but a great tutorial for sure. I split from Redlands to Santa Monica for 4 years and live to tell about it (90 miles each way on the 10), so I can say you really did a great job of covering the topic. The one thing I would add would be to be very wary of what I came to refer to as the “Zone of Death”. The “Zone of Death” is the space where the transition from flowing traffic to stopped/slowing traffic and moving into the actual lane split occurs. During this transition, be extra vigilent as cars tend to do a lot of erratic, last minute jockeying as they see the brake-lights clicking on ahead of them. The other danger going on at the same moment these cars are wildly switching lanes are the cars coming up from behind and stopping short directly in front of you, as seen on the embedded video clip. During this Zone of Death you really need to have full 360 degree situational awareness and just be hyper vigilant.

    Again, great write up!

  • D C

    With 35 years of riding behind me, untold thousands and thousands of miles, near-misses and hair-raising situations I can say I am speaking from a position of long experience…

    Lane-splitting depends on the cars not doing something stupid. As we have all learned cagers can be depended on to do exactly that: something stupid and always at the worst time. With lane-splitting you have no escape route. That right there tells me it is something not to be done.

    I don’t care that it’s legal in CA; that will be little comfort when one is lying on the side of the road in bloody pieces. I prefer to ride in a way that near-guarantees I’ll ride again tomorrow. That mental attitude is how I am able to sit here 35 years later and type this for you to read. Think about it.

  • Ben Wipperman

    Since I used my amazing skills to follow a contextual link, I’ve got to ask a question. I went over to the CHP website to see what the law said about lane splitting, and found this: “Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.” Is that it?

    That’s all I find, not what on earth constitutes “safe and prudent.” I hopped out to some other sites, like lawyers, and the suggestion is the same: it’s insanely subjective. I expected guidelines, like specific traffic speeds/circumstances, etc.

    Maybe I should ask this in the RideApart video that was just posted regarding lane splitting. I watched it and felt like lane splitting really wasn’t clearly defined. Maybe it’s the law that isn’t.

  • mpescatori@hotmail.com

    A polite reply to DC who declares to be a MC rider against lane splitting. I am 53, have been riding since I was 17, so I have some 36 years of riding under my belt.

    Lane splitting is sometimes abenefit, sometimes a necessity. Poodling along at 10mph over the speed of stuck/near stationary traffic is certainly not unsafe, quit the contrary… Very few people can afford to broil in direct sun while cars have aircon, or to cook their air-cooled engines by sitting statinary.

    Being rear ended in a car will result in a dented bumper; being rear ended in a bike may result in death, or a broken leg at best.

    Last, to those who blame broken car mirrors on motorcycles… my elbow isn’t that hard and certainly can’t break a car mirror… and neither are my knuckles.
    Try blaming the careless driver in the next lane!

  • Roderick Brenes

    I have a question. What do you do if you are lane splitting, and somewhere down the line and there is suddenly no room to ride between? Maybe because of random position of cars or because some a-hole blocked you on purpose – should you stop in the middle of the lane and wait, find a way to ask the driver to move, or attempt to move back into a lane? Thanks

  • Curly

    I can’t help but feel, albeit with a paltry 3 years of experience riding, that lane splitting between moving traffic of *any* sort that’s not crawling at grid lock speeds is too much of a risk with too little reward. You’re unlikely to get much further lane splitting moving traffic without speeding excessively than another motorcyclist who only lane splits stopped or crawling traffic and you run serious risks to your personal and financial safety.