How To Lane Split

How To -


How To Lane Split

Lane splitting has its own set of special riding techniques to master. Dragging the rear brake to smooth things out at low speed is a common enough skill, but it’s extra useful here. If you have an awkward hiccup rolling off and back on the throttle between cars, you may run out of room and crash.

Speaking of awkward moments, you’ll have one if your front brake lever makes contact with a car’s mirror. Pay special attention to the space between car mirrors and your bars.

Once you make it past the tightly packed rows of stopped cars at an intersection, pull to one side to let other bikes though. It’s never a fun to be stuck between cars when the light turns green. Keep the bike in gear too, when the signal changes you can take off immediately and get out in front of the cars. This is one most satisfying feelings you’ll have riding on the street. Most of the time, things will go smoothly and you’ll get to do that.

There will be other times when you come across a stake-bed gardener truck and have no hope of getting past. Make sure the cars around you understand what you’re doing and try again at the next light. Traffic often loosens up once cars start moving and if those people know there’s a motorcyclist, they’ll usually move over and let you by. Sometimes the gardener truck appears out of nowhere. In these sort of situations, you’re reminded of why you don’t just fly through stopped traffic at 50mph. Getting stopped from 8 mph can even be a challenge sometimes. Your best defense against people opening their doors, pulling out of hidden driveways and others making last ditch efforts at lane changes is to slow down and pay close attention to what is going on around you.

Even where lane splitting is permitted, it’s often technically illegal. And, if you come across a copper while splitting, don’t expect a judge or insurance company to rule against the poor, innocent driver that ran over the dangerous, scary biker.

Most places where splitting is legal or at least permitted, the general rule of thumb is that it’s only kosher to split through slow or stopped traffic. On the highway, slow might be 35-45 mph. On a surface street, that might mean 15 mph. Your relative speed to that traffic also matters. If you’re going 55 mph through stopped traffic you’re a) a moron and b) likely to incur the wrath of the Highway Patrol, even if you’re not exceeding the speed limit. Again, this is all about judgement, but figure a 5-15 mph speed difference. Don’t be a jerk and you should be alright.

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 man in the beat to heck 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 lady with Nevada plates in the Benz) tend to dart across four lanes of traffic to make that off-ramp they weren’t expecting.

People that have a lot of bumper stickers tend to 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 2,000+ 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 three 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.

  • Batman

    I’ve noticed it draws a lot less flak when I refer to it as “lane sharing” with my cager friends.

    • Ben Wipperman

      You’re Batman. You don’t need to coddle them. Just save Gotham and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Michael Roell

    That was a great wite-up. I’ve given nearly this same information to people before, but missing some if the finer details.

  • Khali

    I found that having a loud exhaust is extremely helpful when lane-splitting. Mine is not one of the loudest (it is within legal limits), but in the city EVERYONE can hear you and when they know there is a motorcycle around they tend not to do as many stupid things. They also tend to let you pass more often because when you are so close your engine noise is annoying for them.

    In the highway they can hear me when i am like 30ft or less around. Usually enough to prevent them from changing lanes spontaneously or pulling apart to let you pass. In the most dangerous areas I downshift one or two gears, and keep the engine on high revs. Not only does it help you to be heard but also gives you far more engine retention.

    And last thing I found useful is wearing hi-viz yellow, specially on your shoulders and chest. It does help you to be seen BUT also resembles a cop’s uniform on the distance when looking through a car’s mirror (Even more if you ride a white bike like i do): Everyone will be twice as helpful letting you pass and half as probable to do stupid/illegal manoeuvers :)

    • Wes Siler

      The whole point of riding a motorcycle is that you’re taking your fate into your own hands. Relying on car drivers to see or hear you is a recipe for disaster. Check the placebos at the door and accept responsibility for your own life.

      • Khali

        Yeah I ride with 100% attention focused on traffic and what Im doing, always hope for the worst, and assume it is always my responsability whatever happens. Just saying that changing your stock exhaust for a louder one helps, when a car driver hasnt seen you, he at least is hearing you. Here there is a bit of bike culture and car drivers know there are plenty bikes around, so if they hear a bike they are less likely to do surprise manoeuvers.

        I’ve been lane-splitting daily for a year, im still learning, but have already seen plenty incidents with cars and motorcycles, specially involving super-silent scooters and drivers that didnt know there was a bike around. Being a noisy fluorescent clown helps!

      • Ben Wipperman

        Agreed with Wes. When I was still fairly new, I got a loud exhaust and was amazed at the reductions in close calls with other drivers. I attributed it to the exhaust. A few months later, I got sick of the noise and put the silencer back in. Strangely, my close calls never returned. It turns out that I was riding more responsibly and not giving cars the opportunity. My current bike has had the stock cans for three years and, even in crazy Dallas traffic, no major close calls.

        Plus, there is the benefit of not being a nuisance in residential areas. I love bikes, but still would like to smack the idiots in my apartment complex who roar through the lot.

        You might be surprised.

        • Khali

          I have seen a couple cars change lanes into scooters that were next to them, riding in their lane. It has never happened to me, but yeah maybe a stock exhaust is enough for them to hear you at that distance. I just notice many cars pull away when i am reaching them and they hear me.

          But yeah maybe I dont need it and my experience is enough to avoid problems :)

          • Ben Wipperman

            Always beware the dangers of confirmation bias. Often, we see what we want to see or expect.

            • BobbyDuco

              I can attest having witnessed this myself. My roommate rides an obnoxiously loud R6 and when riding through traffic I’ve seen people notice him quite a bit more often than me, even when I’m following close behind. My bike has stock cans. Call it bias if you want, but there’s definitely a difference.

    • Grendel

      I picked up a hiViz vest this year and noticed that cagers tend to slow down and act more respectful – the idea that they might think I’m a cop crossed my mind, lulz.

      • Khali

        For me it started with my leather suit, which is custom made to measure on a local company. Race quality and cheaper than a mayor brand’s one. I chose hi-viz yellow arms with black stripes and hi-viz yellow lower legs, i like that damn color. When going riding with other motorcyclists they started saying that on their mirrors i looked like a cop and i always scared them for a couple seconds until they noticed it was me. So I bought a hi-viz summer jacket for commuting and watched the drivers reactions…some even change lanes to clear your way lol.

  • Tyler 250

    So, what’s the proposed course of action to get lane sharing allowed in other states? Has anyone put any effort into it?

    • NONo443

      I believe the A.M.A. actively lobbies for stuff like this, but they are only as powerful as any other lobbyist group.

      • roma258

        Actually, I’m pretty sure they don’t. Their big hang up is helmet laws….and not much else. When they want to put their muscle behind something, like fighting the mini-bike lead ban, they can be quite effective. It’s just that practical stuff like lane splitting or reduced cost parking in downtowns just doesn’t register.

  • casplit
  • Michael Hatton

    Would be nice to do this in Calgary but we haven’t really got there with the law enforcement yet. I’ve followed a few guys when it becomes a standstill on our main highway but I’ve never filtered through traffic alone. There is something calming about a fellow rider having your back while you go between cars.

  • Julio Rosenfeld

    I’ve been lane splitting for exactly as long as wes, I’ve had much of the same conclusions and am very glad they’ve been put into good words and shown to a large part of the world

  • Mat Booker

    Maybe the law is because most american bikes wouldn’t fit between two hummers.

  • Khali

    It is not that loud, its a homologated exhaust within legal limits that passes revisions. But its sound is enough for car drivers to hear you when youre a few meters away from them.

    • Afonso Mata

      I can’t agree with you on this matter.
      A lot of people, when driving, usually have their stereo way too loud to hear you unless you’re right on their side. (And on the few times i get to drive a car I’m one of those)

      • BobbyDuco

        I think some folks are missing the point of this. The objective is to use as many tools as you can to be seen by other drivers. As a rider myself the desire for a louder exhaust makes total sense. As does riding with reflective gear, high-beams on all the time, brighter brake lights, etc. I would rather a driver be annoyed at me than not notice me at all. However, it is still responsibility of the rider to be safe and manage their risk accordingly.

  • Wes Siler

    I sent an email to the address your commenter account is registered to explain things.

  • fletchty

    I really am curious. DId that guy survive being rear-ended?

  • Chris Higgs

    Steep learning curve on lane splitting for me was working as a courier/despach rider at the age of 20 in the UK…still here, never broke a bone yet and lane splitting with finesse at the age of 48 on a Superduke and an R1…(SDuke bars are a tad wide tho…a few waved apologies for occasional clipped car mirrors tho, LOFL!!) As with everything, experience counts. Take it easy if it’s new to you. Most big european cities it’s a given- car + drivers think you’re nuts if u dont in France, Spain, Italy (throttle-on-the-stop, lane-splitting designer-clad hotties on mopeds in Rome top-trumps methinks!)