Four Reasons I Don’t Split Lanes…Usually

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Four Reasons I Don't Split Lanes…Usually

Photo by Steven Vance

As a guy who began riding in the friendly confines of New York City, I was always envious — okay, downright jealous — of my friends and colleagues in California who could split lanes. It made perfect sense: LA’s copious freeways with their ample lanes (comparative to NYC’s narrow tracks) seemed ideal for zipping through the rush hour crush. And I saw some crazy moves on visits to Europe. If those madmen could survive cutting between insane traffic, why oh why couldn’t I?

Of course, 99% of motorcyclists the world over support the notion. Even the California Highway Patrol recently released a set of guidelines on lane-splitting’s proper implementation; lobbyist groups such as are trying to get the practice legalized nationwide; and even the AMA, while neglecting to technically endorse it, is sticking to its tried-and-true “personal freedom” company line.

But, since moving to California last year and becoming one of the lane-splitting hoi polloi, a very jarring and very real fact has made itself as plain as day: I’m a one-percenter. I don’t like to split lanes.


1. It’s Illegal

Recently, Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson was on The Late Show, telling David Letterman all about his Sportster and how he rides “everywhere” in LA. Dave brought up lane-splitting, to which the kid made a smooth retort. He then added, in all seriousness: “It’s only legal in, like, three states in the US.” The conversation then moved on to other, more important things (mainly Jennifer Lawrence).

Here’s the deal, Josh: Unless you’re riding in the state of California, lane-splitting is prohibited in the United States. End of story.

A bigger problem? As recently as 2012 about 53% of automobile drivers in the Golden State — where lane splitting is expressly legal — didn’t even know lane-splitting was an acceptable practice in the eyes of the law. Fifty-three percent! Are you willing to put your life in the hands of about half the drivers on the 5 freeway? I’m not.

2. It’s Dangerous

Lane-splitting takes what is already a dangerous practice and cranks the risk factor up to 11. Oh sure, your adrenal glands start pumping out the Good Stuff — but for all the wrong reasons. There are just too many variables out there. Even in traffic, the threats to your life — in that space, at that speed, on your vehicle – are too many to count. And most of them have nothing at all to do with you.

As I said above, I don’t usually split lanes. Oh, I do it! But I don’t like it. And only when traffic is moving really slow. I will never understand the logic of splitting cars that are already doing 70 miles per hour. Fact is, there is no logic to it. Go down at that speed and you’re staying down — ATTGATT or not.

Continue on to reasons 3 & 4 >>

  • Aakash

    You’re not a 1-percenter Jon. Lanesplitting is a necessary and practical practice, not enjoyable recreation. I don’t like to split lanes either; I’d rather be trundling along in smoothly-moving 50mph+ traffic. However, when things get slow, it just doesn’t make sense to stick around. Splitting, while often stressful, scary and dangerous, is better than sucking on traffic exhaust, baking in the heat or having your left hand cramp up from clutch-work. Of course, it also gets you where you need to go, sooner.

    I don’t see many riders out there splitting at above 50mph. Ideally, we should split with respect for the CHP guidelines-at no more than 10mph over other traffic and at a maximum of 30mph-but varying conditions means the guidelines don’t always apply or make sense. Guidelines:

  • Chris Cope

    It appears you really only have two reasons: 1) It’s not expressly legal in most states (though, in some places the law is very gray), and 2) No likey.

    So, really, only one valid reason. There are a lot of things I don’t like — ranch dressing, for example — but it makes no sense for me to do a little tinkle on everyone else solely because I don’t like those things. I live in the UK and the efficiency created by filtering/lane-splitting is astounding. I find (some) Americans’ opposition to it to be baffling.

    • Piglet2010

      The biker/cruiser oriented organizations (e.g. ABATE) seem to have no position or actually oppose filtering – they are more worried about being allowed to have noisy exhausts and ape hangers while riding lid-less, it seems.

      • Surj Gish

        ABATE of California is very pro-splitting, and has sworn to fight bills like SB 350. But they’re also concerned about the other things you mentioned, which I care very little about—in spite of being a member.

        • Piglet2010

          ABATE of Illinois worked to defeat the lane splitting bill, since it also had a lid requirement.

          • Surj Gish

            Yep, SB2439 back in 2006. I discussed this very bill in an interview with Jim Viverito, one of the AMA board members behind their recent lane splitting position statement. (He’s also been involved with ABATE since way back)

            I don’t know if ABATE of IL would have supported the bill if it didn’t have the helmet requirement. It’s hard for me to care too much about the helmet issue—I wear a helmet all the time, and would even if there wasn’t a helmet law in CA. I get the freedom thing, but I also think it rings a little hollow.

  • Kr Tong

    Im totally cool with articles like this. Balances out the threads by dudes who say “When i see that gridlock up ahead, i do a quick fist pump and shout, ‘Yo. It’s game tiiiiime.’

    • FiveG

      Unfortunately, it’s jerks like that VFR dude, and other jackasses who like to zip their 600s in and out of traffic on the superslab while wearing t-shirts and maybe a helmet with a mohawk thing attached, which most drivers think about when they think “biker.” (That, and the Pirate/Outlaw bunch.) That then feeds the “if someone is having fun, we have to regulate it away” brigade, and the end result is we all — including those of us who actually take the sport seriously — lose. Sadly, in the current social environment where a cry “We need to make people safer” trumps everything (other than “for the children”), we are likely looking at a future where riding is highly restricted. Certainly that will be the case if these jerks like your VFR dude continue along.

      • Kr Tong

        He was atgatt too, but what that VFR dude didn’t get either, was that he was still slow. All that weaving in and out, getting in the faces of drivers, driving over the fogline and on the shoulder of the freeway, refusing to move over for other motorcyclists, still rode slower than me.

  • Darcy Stalport

    I think you make excellent points that mimic my feelings when I lived in Cali. I think the biggest problem with lane splitting in California is that there are no hard and fast “rules” surrounding it, and much of the practice is left to the best judgement of the rider.

    Much like yourself, I would only lane split when traffic was at a complete crawl >10mph, and if possible between the HOV and left-hand lane; you reduce the risk of cars changing lanes and increase the amount of space between you and the cars.

    There are, however, two realities we much concede to: there will always be people who break the rules, no matter what they are, and in the rest of the world lane splitting is generally acceptable and in some cases expected behavior.

    Let me break it down. People break the rules, there’s little else we as a society can do than enforce the rules with police etc, or make the rules less stringent and just not care as much when they have undesirable repercussions. I like to think that 90% of the time I am a responsible enough adult to not do dumb things, but when I do, I own them. However, modern American society takes some liberties to help reduce the irresponsibility of people in order to protect all of the people. This is not the case with all societies, which brings me to the next part.

    Take for example second world countries where people ride around on scooters and other 2-wheeled transport, dodging cars through every intersection. Wait, they do that in continental Europe too, actually pretty much everywhere except the US and Canada. So does that make the argument invalid? No, because in general, North America is home to larger, more powerful motorcycles, and larger cars. The U.S. also ranks in at the 8th most dangerous country for drivers based on a 2009 study*; that means there are only 7 countries that are more dangerous for driving, Russia being the worst. I’m sure you can infer the implications for motorcyclists.

    So, for whoever took the time to read my full comment, there is no “good rule” only the weight of what could happen if things go wrong, and chances are they will one day, whether its because you did something stupid, or, more than likely, someone in a big lumbering SUV didn’t see you while you were lane splitting down the 101 at 70mph. So it wasn’t your fault that you have no legs, that person has to live with the guilt.

    *The study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) is limited to 30 countries with market economies. For the study, the group tracked both deaths per million and deaths per million individuals in 2007. Forbes then did a lovely job of averaging the ranking on each data point for a composite result that I’ve referenced here.

  • William Connor

    The only rebuttal I have is that you say it isn’t safer. There are multiple studies, most notably the Hurt Report 1981 that show “filtering” or “lane splitting” are safer. Now the VFR mentioned in the comments and people who split lanes at high speed are more dangerous than what the report was discussing. Lane splitting at slower speeds is safer and also relieves congestion.

  • ThruTheDunes

    Something Jon said bears consideration regarding efforts to legalize splitting: California’s nice wide lanes vs the Northeast’s narrow tracks. There are many miles of narrow lanes up this way, including older 3-lanes converted to 4 by squeezing lane width. Add to that the use of breakdown lanes as travel lanes in rush hour and you can appreciate his point: what works on the 405 might not on the 128/95.

    Also, driver styles are a key difference. Up here, following the car in front of you by less than a car length is a sign of weakness (as is using blinkers), a far cry from the more patient pacing (and spacing) that I experienced in the Golden State.

    • imprezive

      It’s not true though. Roads in LA and SF are quite narrow. I rarely have an issue splitting in Orange County with our nice wide lanes but get up into the city and you are going much slower and judging a lot tighter distances. It’s not unusual for me to be on an LA street and get stuck in traffic because my STR won’t fit between cars. Like anything else you need to use judgement.

      • Jonny Langston

        I doubt you’ve ever ridden the FDR ;)

    • Surj Gish

      As imprezive says below, there are tons of narrow roads in CA too. I’ll occasionally run into spots I can’t get through when I have my big sidecases on, but it’s rare, and it usually opens up pretty quickly.

      I don’t know where you drove in California, but I haven’t seen much of this patience you mentioned. :)

      • Drive The Wheels Off

        I don’t disagree with your points on lane splitting, but having lived & ridden in the northeast & northwest (with extensive riding in CA), there is a noticeable different outlook towards bikes….which is a big factor in filtering. The motorcycle culture is larger & the full time of year for CA.

        We have a role in its success…don’t be obnoxious with your speed when conditions warrant filtering, and car drivers won’t have such a negative outlook towards it. Keep in mind, the majority have never experienced the joys of being on a bike, so when you blast passed, inches from their car, yeah, that’ll create a riff we don’t need.

  • Fred

    Errr… Here in Brazil is almost legal. And the car drivers are used to it.

    • LS650

      I think this is a good point. Lane-splitting can be done safely _when_ drivers are used to it and expect it. Where I live, it is completely unexpected by cagers and literally scares them. They are not expecting it, and if you lane-split, even in a slow, sedate manner, the car drivers will go ape-shit.

  • Jonathan Ward

    I can understand your point of view, some people are comfortable with filtering and others not so much. I’ve been riding daily for the past few years in sun, rain, ice and pretty much everything else we get here in the UK. Almost every single time I go out I end up filtering. For me, filtering is what makes bikes so practical in city centres and why I plan to continue using mine as a primary method of transport. It’s bread and butter stuff. Many people I’ve met over the years who’ve just started riding make the decision not to filter, and I can respect that. It takes experience and the ability to be completely at ease with the controls – nothing should take your mind off monitoring the traffic around you looking for ‘getaway’ opportunities. In essence, filtering is a good thing, but only if you feel confident in doing it. If not, then you’re probably putting yourself at undue risk.

    As for filtering at speed, no, I can’t see the point. But for anything moving at a slower speed then yes. In the UK filtering is a bit of a grey area, the Highway Code (which regulates how motorists use the road) states that moving between traffic is an accepted practice. Filtering at high speed (ie. 70mph on a motorway/highway) is to the best of my knowledge illegal and will probably land you with a dangerous driving charge. That you certainly do not want.

    Regarding your comment about being cold in poorer weather conditions, have you thought about adding some winter riding accessories? I use handlebar muffs, heated grips and occasionally a heated jacket to keep me toasty throughout the year. Never had a problem.

    • Chris Cope

      I’m from the US and live in the UK. I am starting to think that UK riders are by and large made of tougher stuff than those in the US. Even British summer is probably too cold for a lot of California guys to consider riding, and I know as fact (because I was driving the car when my sister-in-law did this) that some Americans will cry from fear at the narrowness of UK lanes.

      • Jonathan Ward

        Haha! Glad to see your perspective on this. I have wondered why some people from the US on Twitter are debating whether to go out when it’s mildly overcast :D

        • Ben Mcghie

          I’m in Canada, and the weather is only a concern when I worry the bike will float off… or the ice and snow has become downright suicidal. Everything else counts as “exciting!” :)

          • Jonathan Ward

            That’s the spirit ;-)

  • Chester Nodier

    I’ve read, and I believe motorcycling is an exercise in personal responsibility. I also believe in obeying the law. Here in Florida, lane splitting is illegal, so it’s not an option, but if it was, doing it would still be up to me. I would choose when and where I thought I could do it safely. The author is basically saying the same thing. I would like the option of using lane splitting or filtering here, but I’m not even sure where I could. There are so many distracted, agitated and just plain bad drivers out there that it’s dangerouse enough riding in a lane where other drivers should expect to see a motorcycle.

    • HoldenL

      It’s really not so bad on clogged thoroughfares with long lines of cars stopped at lights, and drawbridges with long lines. I’ve never been stopped by the cops for lane splitting here in Palm Beach County, although I do keep an eye out for them and try not to pass a cop who is waiting in traffic. That’s a bit too provocative.

      But I have lane-split up to the traffic light, only to see a cop stopped at a light in another direction. I’m sure they’ve noticed, but they ignored my indiscretion.

      So, basically, I think that in South Florida, if you’re helmeted and geared up and you’re filtering through stopped (or extremely slow) traffic, cops aren’t going to go out of their way to pull you over for lane splitting and filtering. It might be different in Miami, where the cops and the drivers are all perpetually furious and lethally insane. Gawd I hate Miami.

      • Piglet2010

        We should give Miami back to Spain.

  • tobykeller

    All your reasons apply only to lane splitting at high speeds. Lane splitting at low speeds and within the CHP guidelines is 1) legal in CA, 2) safer than waiting to be rear-ended, 3) not scary, and 4) fun (well, that’s subjective, but I enjoy it with gusto)

    • Peter Chen

      I agree lane-split is fun with CHP guidelines,, I think its “fun” cursing at 30mph, and go between traffic when traffics comes to a halt.

      CA drivers seems respectfully move out of my way if I ride slowly (20mph)

  • f1rehead

    I agree with all the points above. Only in one instance have I ever lanesplit – on Sept 11, 2001. I was living in DC at the time and the entire city was gridlocked in the understandable panic after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Lanesplitting is the only way I was able to get home that day. I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it since then.

  • Michael Howard

    If you don’t like riding in the rain, you don’t like riding. ;)

    • Jonny Langston

      First time I heard that, I thought it was a stupid statement.
      1000 times later, it’s still stupid ;) Have fun out there.

      • Michael Howard

        When you love riding, rain is totally and absolutely insignificant.

        • LS650

          Ah, horseshit. I live in the Pacific Northwest (or Northwet), and have been commuting by motorcycle since 1992. I’ve rode in storms with torrential rains literally thousands of times.

          It sucks. I can wear good rain gear and put up with the crappy weather, but riding in the rain still sucks.

          • Piglet2010

            I always laugh at all the biker dudes* stopped under overpasses in the rain, while I ride on by in comfort with proper gear on a touring bike.

            *Almost always people in “biker” clothes riding Harley-Davidson’s.

            • Michael Howard

              “Live to Ride”. Unless it’s raining. Or cold. Or windy. ;)

          • Michael Howard

            I’m not talking about storms. I’m talking about rain. I don’t even think about whether or not it might rain – I just ride and let what happens happen. It totally doesn’t matter. The only time rain is a concern to me is if the temp is low enough to bring ice into the equation.

            The other evening as I rode around before work in 15 degree (F) temps I started thinking about why I was the only one in town still riding this time of year. When I was a kid with my first mini-bike, I’d ride and ride and ride in the snow and freezing temps and wouldn’t stop until I ran out of fuel or my dad made me stop. That passion for riding hasn’t dulled in 40 years. Riding is the most enjoyable thing in my life. It makes me feel good about myself and about life in general. As long as I have time, fuel, and enough traction to keep myself upright, I’ll ride.

            If that’s horseshit, all I can say is, “Bring it on”.

  • Conrad

    I was nodding my head the whole time reading this. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Malandro

    Can’t imagine not being able to do it. It’s a massive part of why a bike makes sense in Europe. Did it with my instructors when I was learning. Did it a couple of times on my test. A fundamental part of modern riding.

    • ms

      Just moved from somewhere splitting is legal to somewhere it is not legal. Life is now maddening and strange and, in bad weather, desperately uncomfortable. Can’t even describe how weird it is.

  • tbowdre

    I feel much safer moving slightly faster than traffic and traveling in between the cars. Sitting in the column of traffic hoping the guy behind me sees me stopping or slowing is way, way more scary than lane splitting in my experience.

    I find riding in nasty weather invigorating… I also like surfing, snow skiing, camping and basically any opportunity to be outside.

  • Surj Gish

    Hey Jon, Surj here. I run While I’m kind of stoked that the project has achieved the footprint of a lobbyist organization, that’s not what we do—we’re a (mostly) California-specific organization (basically me) that promotes awareness of the CHP lane splitting guidelines to both riders and drivers. We also track legislation in other states, but our primary mission is focused solely on California. That said, we’d of course love to see splitting legalized in other states and will help out where we can.

    As Chris Cope says below, you basically have two reasons, not four: it’s illegal where you are, and you don’t like it. Both are totally valid—if you’re not comfortable with splitting, don’t do it.

    BUT—don’t spread misinformation like “It’s dangerous.” If done correctly (along the lines of the CHP guidelines) it actually makes riders safer in traffic—there’s some data behind this, and you do a disservice to your motorcycle community when you just say “I don’t split because it’s dangerous” with zero facts behind it.Splitting keeps riders from getting rear-ended in traffic, and as a bonus we get places faster and can help reduce overall congestion. We have tons of resources around this over on the lane splitting resources / links page at our “lobbyist organization.” :)

    You’re also incorrect in your statement about the AMA’s position on lane splitting. Here’s their official position statement, which says “Given the ongoing success of lane splitting in California and the recent enthusiasm for lane splitting and/or filtering in other states, the AMA endorses these practices and will assist groups and individuals working to bring legal lane splitting and/or filtering to their states.” And here’s an interview with AMA board member Jim Viverito, in which he discusses the position statement and the background on lane splitting within the AMA.

    • imprezive

      Can we have Surj here guest write an article “Four Reasons I Do Split Lanes?”

    • Jonny Langston”

      “The Safety Transportation Research and Education Center ‐ University of California, Berkeley (May 3, 2012). . 2012 Motorcycle ‘Lane Splitting’ Intercept Survey. California Office of Traffic Safety. “The OTS survey showed that only 53 percent of vehicle drivers knew that lane splitting is legal in California.”

      Surj, I appreciate your input, but please reread the headline before preaching.

      • Surj Gish

        Let me clarify. There’s a 2013 study that updates the info—I linked to it in my comment, but I’ll do it here again.

        I have no idea why anyone an older study when a new one exists, unless they just didn’t research very well—but I should have been clearer in my original comment. The point is, the number’s a couple points higher now, and the CHP and OTS are doing a lot of PR that should keep increasing it.

      • imprezive

        We all read the headline. Just because it’s your personal reasoning doesn’t mean you can misstate opinions as facts to back it up. If I say I think Honda Civics are dangerous cars that’s my opinion and no problem. If I say Honda Civica are dangerous because they handle unpredictably and the brakes are awful that’s an opinion but it’s supported by false information.

      • I Have the Hat

        To me, both sides can be right. It’s like speeding. You can say speeding is dangerous and clearly be correct: doing crazy excessive speed, for example. You can also say that speeding is safer and be completely correct: using acceleration to escape a dangerous situation. When the author expressed the opinion that splitting was unsafe, I didn’t take it as an assertion that the act itself is inherently unsafe and never has any safety benefit, but rather that it *can* be unsafe, such as when done beyond reason or even when done reasonably but just happens to evoke a risky reaction from a driver who didn’t expect it. The first time I observed it while visiting (and driving) in CA I was completely shocked. I didn’t react in any way other than to watch out for splitting bikes, but I had no idea it was legal and thought the riders were insane. I don’t think that anymore, but I haven’t forgotten that I once did, and assume a lot of drivers fall into that category. Of course that’s where I can bring it full circle and say that is the benefit of awareness campaigns like Lane Splitting is Legal. See, everybody wins… hahaha :-)

      • grb

        Lane splitting is not an activity intended to be fun, exciting or entertaining… its useful, it works, and if you know what you’re doing it its perfectly ok and absolutely not scary… Im sorry to say this but Jon you got it all wrong, makes me wonder if you even know what your doing on your motorcycle.

      • grb

        And Jon, while riding, if you’re reckless, speeding, don’t know what your doing, you’re over your limits or over the bike’s limits, it can definitely be scary, and this applies to everything you do on a motorcycle. For example, cornering, if you made the mistake of taking a corner too fast and you scared the s..t out of yourself, this doesn’t mean you will never corner again, or that cornering is dangerous or scary, because its not, as long as you know what you’re doing, in control, you know your limits and your within your safety margin, its totally fine, comfortable (not scary) and as safe as motorcycling can ever be.

    • contender

      Dangit. I move from CA to CO and I was thrilled at the prospect of a lobbying organization to get behind.

      • Surj Gish

        LOL. You can still get behind what we’re doing—the more support across the riding community, the better. But I’m not gonna be a lobbyist. :)

    • Luis Fernando Ponce

      Sorry boy it is dangerous.

    • Piglet2010

      When I commuted in Milwaukee by car, I would get hit from behind about once a year during stop and go traffic on the freeway. Not a big deal in a car (scuffed paint and slightly deformed rear bumper), but likely a trip to the hospital or morgue on a motorcycle. Legal or not, I will position myself between the lines of cars in these situations when riding a motorcycle – I am unlikely to get a ticket or even piss off a cager if I do not actually pass people.

  • imprezive

    Feel free not to do anything you aren’t comfortable with but don’t pretend like it’s for anything more than that. I lane split each and every time I get on my bike. Sometimes I split at highway speed if there is enough room and it’s obviously just a couple of cars pulling a rolling blockade and sometimes I just sit back and cruise. Just depends on my mood and the conditions on the road. I’ve been splitting before and pull back into the flow of traffic because it didn’t feel quite right, I also frequently split for 30mins+ in a shot singing along to heavy metal and having a good ole time. Point being just because you find something scary and not fun doesn’t mean the rest of us do.

    I usually feel bad for the guys sitting in traffic on a bike but I never judge them if they feel safer standing in the middle of a bunch of cars on the freeway that’s fine by me. So feel not to lane split but also jump down off that myopic mountain you are on.

  • Strafer

    I think Aakash put it well – you don’t have to lanesplit at 70mph

    For me I put up with a lot of hassle to ride – gearing up for a short trip – maintenance – safety concerns – stolen bike – etc.
    If I have to give up the advantages a bike has (like filtering ahead of congested city traffic to get to a safer clear road or accelerating away from traffic) then I would reluctantly give up on riding

  • JT

    Moving from Cali to Illinois I thought I would miss lane splitting more than I do. It’s not the fact that I like sitting in traffic, it’s more the fact that where I live now there is mostly 2 lane highways where I couldn’t lane split anyways. I miss my freeways big time, I barely break 60mph anymore while in San Diego…well we know fast traffic can move as long as it’s moving. When traffic did back up splitting was a time saver and once I got used to splitting it became an indispensable tactic.

  • Surj Gish

    I’d like to weigh in on the statement in reason 3: “Scary is not fun when my very livelihood depends on the whimsical, distracted attention spans of a thousand other drivers who are piloting bigger, harder, heavier machines than mine”

    Our safety as riders is almost entirely in our own hands. We can increase the likelihood of being seen by increasing conspicuity—I wear a bright yellow helmet and run Skene lights on my main bike of this reason. But in reality it’s up to each rider to engage in extremely active self-preservation, and good riders develop very high situational awareness. Constant scanning, risk assessment, and of course good bike-handling skills are the things that keep you alive—your life is almost always in your own hands.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Jon, I think you should watch this RideApart video:

  • Fresh Mint

    This website is really hit or miss sometimes with its articles…Some are awesome, some are total garbage.
    This is one of the later.

  • Clint Keener

    Have fun teetering along in traffic.

  • stever


  • phil aro

    Here in the SF Bay Area traffic comes to a complete stop in miles long traffic jams on a daily basis. I’ll filter through that – and I’m in the majority of riders as far as I can tell. The problem (as I see it) arises when a filtering, but slower bike can’t move out of the way of an approaching faster rider “quick enough.” After being alerted by a bit of throttle from the approaching bike, both riders should accommodate each other and leave the agro and road rage to the surrounding cage drivers. And if the faster rider wants to race through traffic far above the CHP guidelines, the slower rider will eventually reach the crash site and be able to render aid.

  • Stuki

    As others have mentioned, there is no hard data backing the assertion that lane splitting is in and of itself more dangerous than not. And if done withing CHP guidelines (30/10), or even the more common and easily obeyed 40/20, speeds aren’t lethal in the first place.

    At higher speeds, splitting one or two pairs of cars driving parallel, is probably about the safest way to pass them, as even the most distracted cager usually maintains enough awareness not to barrel into a car driving parallel to him. While having seeing one suddenly decide to get off on an offramp from the leftmost lane is only all too common. This holds at slower speeds as well; it’s mucho safer to split between two cars, even if it feels narrow and “scary”; than to slalom between staggered cars, where each has enough space to reckon he can change lanes at any moment without blinking, if he only does it quickly enough and without forewarning…..

    The latter is how I have seen bikers hit on the freeway while splitting; never squeezed to death between two cars.

    I personally try to stick to less than 40mph absolute/20mph differential, but do reckon that I occasionally end up going a bit above. At differentials above 30mph, I start feeling personally uncomfortable these days. When younger, I though nothing of doing 50 between parked cars (in shorts and flip flops at times…. draw your own conclusions), but now even thinking about it makes me cringe. I’ve done enough crashing, particularly on bicycles wearing “nothing”, to be genuinely unconcerned about a 20-30mph crash in ATGATT; but above that, self preservation starts making me focus hard enough to quickly get tired, and hence slow down to within my comfort zone.

    I do try making a point of checking my mirrors for faster splitters coming up behind me, though, in order to give them space to pass. nothing more irritating than making good time splitting, only to be hung up behind another bike “splitting” at a pace little different than the surrounding cars….

    • Ben Mcghie

      So true about the “canyons” between cars being safer. Good post, thanks.

  • RideaTart

    Without lane splitting, life itself would be impossible. That’s a slight exaggeration, but if I have to spend 60-70 minutes getting home from San Francisco to Marin every night, as opposed to 30 when splitting lanes, the whole living-in-suburbs thing becomes much less practical. The problem with Bay Area, and with most metro areas, is that there aren’t enough people commuting (safely) on 2 wheels.
    90% of the benefits of lane-splitting are achieved by doing it safely, within the CHP guidelines. Exceeding those guidelines to get into that last 10% of benefit is, in my opinion, not even close to worth it.

    • stever

      all that’s true, but you’re not taking advantage of the ability to ride a boat to work every day!

  • Jonno

    The greatest danger when lane-splitting in the U.S., and an important factor that I’ve never seen addressed, is the fact that it makes the automobile drivers ANGRY. A person lane-splitting is perceived as someone who is “cutting in line”. It is seen as a provocation, and although in some countries line-jumping is something of a game practiced even by sweet little old ladies (I’m looking at you, Italy), In America it’s grounds for a fist-fight or worse (this is as distinct from any actually dangerous or hot-dogging behavior, which is its own provocation). Simply moving ahead of the cars around you in a sane and reasonable manner feels to them like you’re jumping the que, and while very few will go so far as to open a door on you, the majority are disinclined to move over to give you room; many will constrict the opening on purpose. Their anger is of course caused by a misperception on their part (since you probably aren’t going to exactly the same place as a given car- driver, the two of you are essentially in different lines and your moving ahead does not slow them down). But it is a mis-perception shared by 98% of the American population.

    • mid40s

      Good point Jonno, and I agree 100%. This is where the California Department of Motor Vehicles should focus driver education dollars. They won’t of course, because they like to put up antagonistic flashing signs like “Click it or ticket” & “Text and die” (ok I made that one up). Believe me, I support seat belts and not texting, reckless driving, etc. As lane splitting is legal practice here in CA, the DMV & CHP should try and help educate the driving public. I split only when I want and feel it’s relatively safe and sane (lower speed limits in bumper to bumper traffic. I won’t split in construction zones with reduced lane width, or when I don’t “feel” it. I don’t like splitting either, like the OP, but it is nice to have the option. Also, I think anyone splitting at highway speeds (which I see all the time) should have their license yanked by the CHP when caught, or at least a hefty fine. As a rider and occasional lane splitter, that kind of conduct makes me angry.

      • imprezive

        As some one who splits at freeway speeds regularly I’d like to know why it makes you angry. Mind you I’m not blowing through cars at 100mph but I don’t stay behind slow people holding up traffic.

        • mid40s

          Angry is probably a harsh word, it makes me sad actually. By not obeying the guidelines, rules, law (whatever), you are abusing the privilege to lane split. Yes, it is a privilege in CA. It’s already a touchy subject and riding outside the guidelines is not helping the cause to make it an acceptable practice. Not one single non-rider I know thinks lane splitting is a good idea. Every rider I know does, including me. Drivers already don’t like it when we split as slower speeds, by splitting at higher speeds which seems unnecessary ( and outside the CHP guidelines) unless you are in an emergency, I don’t see the point in splitting. How hard is it to change lanes like a car on a freeway at freeway speeds? If you need to split at that speed, to me it’s just reckless driving. Believe me, I have my fair share of tickets and I’m no fan of the CHP, but when/if our privilege to lane split gets revoked, I will look at riders who broke the “rules” to blame. Of course, you opinions may vary.

    • SteveNextDoor

      I really don’t see lane-splitting spreading to too many other states any time soon, not with the “Objects In Mirror Are Losing” attitude in the U.S.

      I won’t argue whether it is a good practice or not (on paper, I think that it is; however, my state does not allow it, so I can’t speak from experience), but I can definitely say that most drivers I know do not like it. For it to succeed in other states, there would need to be a lot of effort put towards educating all drivers, not just riders, of its benefits as well as its legality.

      I’ve been to CA a couple times in recent years for weddings that involved large gatherings of old friends from across the country, people I’ve known 15+ years who are all level-headed and well-educated (PhDs and other fiddly pieces of paper). On both occasions, lane splitting came up as a topic of discussion. Each time, the reaction was outright vitriol. The most recent trip was after I had started riding, and armed with my knowledge of lane-splitting bestowed upon me by the innernets, I tried to explain the benefits and the law. Few cared (note that the audience also included a number of CA residents). To them, it was just a bunch of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ jackwagons cutting ahead of them simply because they could; they felt it shouldn’t be legal because it was dangerous (sound familiar?).

      Long row to hoe, and all that.

    • Jack Meoph

      People get angry when you pass them, period on a bike or in a car. I pass people all the time, you’d think I’d just took a cr@p on their sofa by the looks on some of their cud chewing faces.

    • LS650

      I was a passenger in a friend’s car. We were stopped in traffic, and a couple of sportbikes split past us at just a few miles an hour.

      My friend started freaking out, honking the horn, and getting really angry. “That’s cheating – they’re cutting in front!” etc.

      I tried to explain that if motorcycles filter through the cars, they aren’t slowing down the cars, and in fact are relieving some of the congestion – but she just refused to get it.

    • artist_formally_known_as_cWj


    • gap2

      I bought a supermoto a few years ago for the reason that I can get easily get through traffic jams and to my destination in minutes instead of an hour, and park right in front. I am constantly amazed at the road rage that I inspire, just by putting past someone at 5-10 mph. Even more amazed to be cursed at by soccer moms.

  • I Have the Hat

    For those of us who live in states where splitting is illegal and uncommon, I have a question, although I think I know the answer. Do you split the far right lane to move past a line of cars stopped at a light to make a right on red (assuming right on red is allowed)? I have been riding for six months and have not done so mostly because lane splitting in general is not practiced here (it’s illegal but I’m more concerned about predictability than legality), but I saw someone do it the other day and it does seem like a reasonable choice. There is no lane to the right of you for drivers to decide to change into, although if one does move into your splitting space there is no escape between the car on your left and the curb on your right. I frequently do it on a bicycle, but that’s more common. Anyway, I’m just curious what others think.

    • carbureted

      You are correct in thinking that you have no escape route.

      As a daily lane splitter, I use the space between lanes 1 and 2. As I approach the light, I filter to the far right side and take the corner. Granted, I live in a congested city when people are used to lane splitting motorcycles.

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    My solo motorbike law is “behave as a car the most you can”, I only split when traffic is in halt mode. Since I enjoy a lot to be on my bike, the more time I am on it the better, no hurry here, and my Ducati knows it.

  • andr01dm

    Lane splitting is quite illegal where I live, but I must admit that there are times when I wish I could (legally) do it.. but only when it’s bumper-to-wheel traffic as far as the eye can see, puttering along at a walking pace. Even then there are a lot of lane jumpers, lane filling SUVs and trucks, and the risk of pushing some driver who’s already P.O.’d over the edge and becoming their target d’jour. That said I try to keep myself ready to do an emergency lane split at any time.. I’d rather break a law than get a car up the tail pipe.

  • Aaron Brown

    the rest of the world lane splits…… When your sitting in traffic and some SUV runs you over because they are sexting their mistress and didn’t see you. you’ll wish you weren’t a static target…

  • Y.A.

    In NYC lane splitting is the only way to get around. But if you have to lane split you might as well be in a cage.

  • Stef

    I have the feeling that there are two opinions here. And the difference is lane splitting with hispeeds and lane splitting when in a gridlock.

    The fist is unnecessary the other is actually quite save. (And not so scary)

  • Kingsix87

    Jon, you are right. The only time I filter through traffic is when the cars are stationary at a traffic light. When they get going I occupy my space on the lane and guard it, trying to maintain a safe distance. There were few times I was caught lane splitting when the traffic started moving and I didn’t like it at all. Luckily, here in Bulgaria we don’t have huge traffic jams yet, so once the traffic gets going, it is going fast.

  • carbureted

    As an American who lives and rides overseas in a very congested city, I must say; some of you guys gotta get over yourselves.

    I didn’t realize it until I moved, but the American spatial bubble is HUGE. Anything that comes even remotely close to us is a threat. I get it. Most of us grew up in a place with lots of space, so we got used to having lots of space to maneuver. There’s nothing wrong with that, but take a look around at the rest of the world. They do just fine with closer proximity. It’s all about being 100% AWARE of your surroundings.

    Yes, lane splitting (and riding in general) is more dangerous than driving a car. We all know this. That’s why RideApart made a short film about lane splitting “safely.” You’re not going to change anyone’s opinion by saying, “Well, that’s just too dangerous!” Most riders like danger, or we wouldn’t be riding in the first place.

    Now let’s all get back to reading the Ural article.

    • Piglet2010

      On the other hand, personal cages are generally larger and drivers less competent (compared to Europe and Japan) here in the “colonies”.

      • carbureted

        I can somewhat agree with your comment on size. However, there are lots of incompetent drivers everywhere. Then again, “competent driving” is also completely subjective based on the culture you grew up in. That’s why discussions like this seem arbitrary to me.

  • Jack Meoph

    The guy stated he didn’t live in CA until one year ago. People who have grown up riding in the state, raises hand, don’t think twice about lane “sharing”. and as far as the 53% of drivers who don’t know that it is legal, that’s the 53% who don’t know how to drive anyways.

  • Kevin Daly

    I first learned to ride while stationed in Japan 20 years ago, in a country where lane splitting was an expected practice. It makes total sense to allow it, to some degree, where there is constant traffic congestion. When I was riding in Japan I only split lanes if traffic was at a standstill or crawling at a very low rate of speed but if traffic was flowing well there was no need to. I would like to see, at least, to allow motorcycles to have the ability to move to the front at a stopped traffic light.

  • Neil Robinson

    Here in the UK it’s legal (at low speeds and when done safely) and most bikers do it, although it doesn’t seem that many car drivers know it’s legal. Some will still move over and block you, which is easily done when you’re usually filtering through a gap maybe only 1-2′ wider than your bars. This topic reminds me that once I was in Rome when the taxi I was in split lanes on a 3-lane highway. The car to the right of us was a police car, we were doing 165kmh and the police didn’t even bat an eyelid. Those Italians know how it’s done!

  • Omega Racer

    I really don’t see the problem. Never had the problem in Europe and even less here in Thailand, where lane splitting is not only common practice among riders, but accepted by all cagers and police. If you think lane splitting is scary in the US, I wonder what you’ll say about Bangkok! :-)
    Scary or not, dangerous or not, I think you wouldn’t think twice about lane splitting when stuck in traffic with this heat.
    To each his own

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    returning to the discussion one of the great concerns is that drivers that checks the mirrors now find 10 miliseconds later that “there was” a motorcycle beside them, how can you avoid collition when you pop up like magic?

  • ThinkingInImages

    I won’t lane split in moving traffic in New York City, street or highway. It’s just not worth the risk to save a minute or two. Stopped street traffic is a whole other matter and it’s conditional. Some streets are wider than one lane, but not quite two. Now, with indecipherable bike lane markings all over the place it’s hard to figure out what to do.

  • Guest

    Lane splitting is not supposed to be an activity that you do for fun, excitement or entertainment… its useful, it works, and if you know what you’re doing it its perfectly ok and absolutely not scary… Im sorry to say this but Jon you got it all wrong, you don’t even know what your doing on your motorcycle.

  • Piglet2010

    With proper gear* and a bike with decent wind protection, riding in the rain is not uncomfortable. Heated grips and vest make it snug. Only time I dislike doing it and avoid if possible is late fall and early spring where dropping temperatures could turn the water to ice.

    *Such as a full-face lid, water-proof boots and gloves, and an Aerostich Roadcrafter of recent vintage with the new waterproof zippers.

    • Jonny Langston

      Thank you, Mr. Goldfine. ;)

  • Piglet2010

    I rarely split lanes on my 12/10-inch wheels, 9hp, 108cc piece of scootery plastic, because it is both illegal and mostly unnecessary where I live (here a traffic jam is more than 5 vehicles in line at a traffic light). But a few people will get annoyed if I slip by to make a right turn, even if they plan on going straight or left.

  • Curtis Caulfield

    Umm, this is one of the worst things I have ever read on this site. Lane splitting in CA is legal and safe. While he has 1 good point about not doing it when traffic is already flowing at a decent speed, aside from that this entire article is garbage written by a guy who is apparently scared most of the time he is on a bike.

    • Jonny Langston

      i’m scared just reading these comments … ;)

  • Wayne Geer

    I don’t know Mr. Langston, but reading the article twice, it would seem to me (and should be reasonable to other readers) that this article is his OPINION. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see the sentence **Note: This article represents the opinion of the author…
    It’s an interesting take on a topic, nothing more. In no part of the article did I feel I was being deceived (facts that were one year old versus this year and only being a couple % points different) and forced to take on his beliefs about lane splitting.
    Even though I live in a non-lane splitting state, I do think about situations to lane split regularly. This article is one more bit of information for me to contemplate on this topic.

    A good amount of the comments are laughable. I choose to read Mr. Langston’s and most of Ride Apart’s online articles because they are interesting. I take their facts as information relevant to me or not. And I may not agree with their opinions always, but the interest factor always outways my personal opinions.
    Also, I choose to read Ride Apart because they are good at writing! And yes, I realize that’s my opinion. But frankly, I would not choose to read any of the commenters if they were given the same platform.

    Thank you for the article Mr. Langston and Ride Apart.

    • Jonny Langston

      Careful, sir -comments like that just may get you vilified … !Ssensibility is a trait that some around here (apparently) don’t appreciate.

  • aircraftmech

    If lane splitting was legal here in FL, I still wouldn’t do it. While riding my bike in California last year, I saw plenty of riders lane splitting, it gave me the heebie jeebies just watching those riders doing it, but it’s legal there and they like doing it, and, drivers there expect it.
    Now, riding in the rain? There’s nothing wrong about doing it and yes, I find it to be almost enjoyable. I’ve got some good rain gear now, and I’m extra, extra attentive while riding in the rain. It can be more dangerous but take those extra precautions especially giving yourself more space to act and react and you’ll be fine.

  • Bruce Steever

    Wouldn’t ride on the street if i couldn’t split. Full stop.

  • Jonny Langston

    If you’re hitting mirrors, maybe you shouldn’t be lane-splitting, either?!

  • RyanG

    Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. Not lane splitting can be dangerous. I know several people who have been rear ended by cars. Lane splitting can be dangerous. Cars and open their doors as a driver leans out to spit on the blacktop. A car can change lanes without signaling or looking. I think the article is misleading to a degree. The author admits he does it, but he does it with caution and calculation. I think that is an important factor. Just cause you can lane split at any speed doesn’t mean you should. You have to factor in your speed and reaction time within the space you have to work in. Be wise, be safe, and minimize risk. Use your privileges wisely. It will go a long way to making everyone safer.

  • Ben Hendricks

    I’ve felt more at risk and have had more close calls by not lane-splitting. Doing so gives me options. Plus at a light I’m more afraid of what’s coming up behind me in a lane (and possibly being sandwiched) than what’s in front of me by going between them.
    I don’t know anything about you other than what I just read in this article, but it *seems* like you’d be better off sticking to four wheels instead of two.

  • Khali

    I wouldnt say splitting is fun. But it lets me pass the slow cars in search of empty areas of the road where i can go at a reasonable speed. It lets me not stopping in traffic jams, keeping me always in movement, with my mind always busy, and not letting me to get bored or frustrated due to the traffic.

    Lane splitting is a big part of why motorcycling daily makes me a happier man.

  • Tony Shipley

    Rule for splitting lanes

    Never ride faster than the cops when splitting lanes.

    Thank those that get out of the way.

    Dont waste time on those that block your way.

    unlike the USA most of the world allows splitting

    if you get hit it’ll be your fault; “I didn’t see him, but he was going too fast”

  • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

    My perception, upon seeing the first person pronoun in the title, was that this is an opinion piece.

    I suppose I am silly that way…

    A couple weeks ago I was “filtered” on by a squid on a bike noticeably absent its muffler while I was riding in Manhattan. I try to judge the validity of the maneuver by whether I will be taking any cagers by surprise, whether I am moving out of congestion or whether I simply being inpatient.

  • DrRideOrDie

    I only have had the good fortune to ride in CA for a long weekend and would say that Lane Splitting is awesome. I live in AZ and HATE that feeling when stopped and I keep flicking the brake lights hoping that I don’t get taken out from behind. It’s not scary to lane split. It is no more dangerous than riding. When done safely and proficiently then it should be legal in more states.

  • East-West Brothers Garage

    Jon, you don’t see the point of lane-splitting at 70 mph because there isn’t one. In fact, the CHP, in their guidelines, does not recommend lane-spitting at high speeds either. Lane-splitting is intended to allow optimal use of existing road space and provide more vulnerable vehicles an added protection against being hit from behind when in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It should only be exercised in situations where traffic is moving well below normal freeway speeds and only when conditions are safe to do so. Riders should make use of it only if they are comfortable with performing it and they should not feel obligated to do it. You may notice, there are other riders who are uncomfortable lane-splitting and therefore, like you, choose to take advantage of it sparingly. Other riders, who are more comfortable with it, will make it a regular part of their commute because the traffic frequently slows to a crawl. The important thing is that, at least in California, riders have the option of choosing to lane-split or not.

    As for those riders who are trying to lane-split at full freeway speed or higher, the CHP most likely does not condone that behavior and they are not representative of the vast majority of riders in CA who know how to safely lane-split.

    So before you vilify it further, perhaps spend a bit more time practicing your lane-splitting skills and see if you become more comfortable with it. Who knows, perhaps you’ll come back in a couple of years and tell us that you have changed your mind on this topic.

  • Rich Wentz

    I disagree with all. They all CAN be if you ride like a fucktard. I moved to CA 3 yrs ago where learning proper lane splitting can save your @ss and also save time to get to your destination. It’s safe and it works if you do it responsibly.

  • Robert Glover

    I’m with Surj on this one. I’m fed up with misinformation being spread as fact and not personal opinion. If YOU think it’s dangerous, great. Fact is it’s NOT. Fact is it’s SAFER then not splitting, and there’s data to back this up.

    The whole reason I started riding was to be able to split. From there the sport grew into a passion, and being outside of California sucks because I can’t legally split. Doesn’t mean I don’t from time to time though.

    But the point here is the spreading of misinformation. LANE SPLITTING IS IN FACT QUITE SAFE IF DONE RESPONSIBLY. And in fact it will keep you out of more crashes than it will get you into. If you do it enough, you develop a sixth sense. I’ve had morons swerve into my lane (on purpose or not) and do all kinds of other stuff. None of it has been an issue because I always see it coming. Frankly, I’m prepared for it each and every time I slip between cars.

    I will be back in California next month and look forward to being able to get through traffic much easier. Join me, or don’t. But please stop giving it a bad name.