Cutting the Cake

So what’s the deal on safe lane splitting?

California has traditionally been the state that’s been intentionally vague about lane splitting but only recently ( … fucking finally) passed a law stating that lane splitting is legal. Now, most other states and countries don’t allow lane splitting, so if you looove to moto, Cali is where it is at, if you don’t mind the god-awful commute traffic.

bay_area_traffic

los_angeles_traffic

Aside from that, I hear there are really nice roads elsewhere in the world.

If you’re going to split, which I hope you are, I’d prefer if you do it safely. Showing up at your intended destination alive is probably a good thing, and to get around in that traffic shown above, you better fuggin’ split. Splitting offers you the advantage of getting to places faster, making Google Maps consistently overestimate your travel time, and keeping your engine, armpits, and noggin nice and breezy.

Great man - splitting is good, yadda yadda, be safe, whatever! Time to moto! HOLD UP. I know you’ve got all these giddy-goody feelings of beating your friends to crowded destinations, finding easy parking, and generally snuffing at the idea of traffic, but hooooold your horses. Splitting safely is a learned skill.

As I’ve commuted more and more (commuting = daily riding in shit-ified, angry, impatient conditions), I’ve discovered some rulesets that I usually follow whenever it comes to lane splitting. Mind you, these are my own observations of scenarios that moto-ers should be highly aware of. Tune your inner-spidey-sense and your reaction times because you’re going to need it!

Let’s go over some scenarios. I’ll make this fun. Imagine 4 lanes of cars; cars denoted by - and ^ for stopped and moving, respectively, and you by M. Cars switching lanes left and right are denoted by < and >. Oh, read the images bottom to top.

Scenario time. Lane splitting when …

traffic is at a dead stop. You’re fairly safe. That doesn’t mean “let’s go 80 mph :D”, but generally, cars can’t just turn out into the space between lanes, because really, where the fuck are they trying to go? Into the car next to them? The immediate dangers here are someone opening their door (usually asshats out to get you), and other motorcyclists popping into the splitting fray.

                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -   M  -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -  M   -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -

traffic is at a dead stop and begins to move. This scenario can get dicey. This is when those lane-changing knuckleheads who HAVE to be in the fastest fucking lane decide “I-gotta-get-six-lanes-across-to-the-exit-coming up-in-two-seconds-that-I-should’ve-seen-ten-minutes-ago-but-was-on-my-phone texting-my-kid-who-is-in-the-backseat-texting-me.” Like I said, things get dicey. They don’t shoulder check, and as they’re trying to squeeze in that appearing space in the lane next to them, they jerk out of the lane like they’re in full seizure, right into your path, or worse, into you.

                        ^      ^      ^      ^
                               ^      ^      
                        ^      ^             ^
                        ^             ^      
                           >M                ^
                        ^             ^      
                               ^             ^
                        ^      -      ^      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -   M  -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -                            

traffic comes to an abrupt stop. Same gig. Some asshole wants to avoid hitting the brakes so they sneak out into the lane next to them because they think it’s moving faster (but not really) and in doing so, doesn’t shoulder check for moto-ers. You die.

                        -      -      -      -
                               -      -      
                        -      -             -
                        -             -      
                                      -      -
                        -      -      -      
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -             -      ^
                           >M                -
                        ^      ^      ^      ^
                                              
                        ^             ^      ^
                               ^             ^
                        ^             ^       
                               ^                

traffic is moving slowly and there’s some space in between cars in either lane. This is rugged territory. People can switch in and out of their respective lane whenever they want. They also can not indicate and not shoulder check … whenever they want. So here’s the thing at that speed. You think that going a little slower might be better, but you actually might want to go a little faster. This allows you to minimize the amount of time you’re in people’s blind spots. Keep your RPMs high, so you have power to GTFO. However, there is a speed sweet spot. Go too fast, and you can’t react if someone pulls out. Go too slow and you could be a moto sandwich. I think splitting at what I call a “healthy clip” (borderline-spirited) suits me well.

                        ^                    ^
                        ^      ^      ^       
                           M<         ^      ^
                               ^             ^
                        ^      ^              
                        ^             ^       
                        ^             ^       
                               ^              
                        ^      ^      ^      ^
                           >M  ^      ^      ^
                        ^                      
                        ^             ^      ^ 
                        ^      ^      ^      ^
                               ^      ^                                         ^              
                        ^      ^              
                        ^             ^      ^
                        ^      ^      ^      ^

there’s a sacred gap. This scenario is particularly dangerous. Imagine the previous scenario - cars are tightly packed but moving, except this time, add a wiiiide open part of the lane on your right. Usually this happens in traffic when cars leave lots of space between them and the car in front, so they can coast the entire way through traffic and never stop. Good for them, they save their brake pads, zone out because they can, and coast like gangsters. Bad for you. Think about it. Open right area, crowded left area, you coming up the middle … what’s the natural response here? 50% of the time, someone in that crowded left lane is thinking they can beat traffic by switching into that open right lane spot. What they don’t think about or don’t look for, is you.

                        ^      -      -      -
                        ^      -      -      -
                                      -      -
                        ^             -      -
                                      -      -
                        ^             -      -
                        -             -      -
                        -             -      -
                        -             -      -
                        -             -      -
                        -             -      -
                           >M         -      -
                        -             -      -
                        -      ^      -      -
                        -      ^      -      -
                        -      ^      -      -

I had a little incident a couple of weeks ago when a car did exactly that. A Geek Squad car (yeah, of all fucking cars) made a sudden turn out of his lane. I had the reaction chops to brake, but as I was performing my emergency dodge, it just wasn’t enough. I smashed into his right mirror (quite literally, smashed) with the tip of my left handlebar. The mirror made an awful plastic shattering noise, like someone obliterated a sturdy tupperware with a baseball bat.

When I looked back, his mirror was hanging off the side of the car. I muttered some incoherent swear words, nodded to the lady next to me who slowed down and asked me if I was okay, and motioned for the Geek Squad car to move to the shoulder. I got to the shoulder, and looked behind me. No Geek Squad car. I look on the freeway, four lanes over in the carpool lane - there he was, coasting away like a gangster, one arm on the steering wheel, and his front seat tucked back and low. Playing it cool, I suppose. Well, whatever, mister got-hit-and-ran. You still turned out and almost hit me. I had no damages on my moto. Can’t say the same for your car.

you don’t … need to. I was moto-ing along at a nice pace in the carpool lane, at a brisk 75 miles per hour. Out of nowhere - “NNNEEAAAUUUU!!!” another moto-er blows past me, pretty much dodging everything and everyone on the freeway. This is generally … not recommended. Metal gets pretty pliable at those speeds. Yes, you’ll have the maneuverability and skills to do shit like that, but one mistake and you’re pretty much cream on the highway. I generally avoid splitting above 50-60 mph and even when I do so, it’s to get by one or two really slow moving peeps. A nice rule is “five or alive” - would you like to get to your destination five minutes faster, or alive?

                         ^M^ ^ ^ 
                         ^ ^M^ ^ ^       
                           ^ M^ ^ ^
                           ^M^ ^ ^ 
                          ^M^ ^ ^           GTFOUTTA MY WAY!
                         ^M^ ^ ^ 
                           ^M^ ^ ^  
                            ^M^ ^ ^    
                             ^M^ ^ ^             

on the right side of the most right lane. Don’t do it. This is where people get out of moving cars, get out of parked cars, pull out from parking spaces, back into parking spaces, make right turns, and cycle. Leave this area for cyclists to deal with. Don’t split here unless you’re close to a bomb-ass parking space. If you wanna bypass traffic to make a right turn, split on the left hand side of the right turn lane. Much safer.

                        ^                 >M< -
                        ^      ^          >M< - 
                                          >M< -
                               ^          >M< -
                        ^      ^          >M< - 
                        ^                 >M< - 
                        ^                 >M< - 
                               ^      ^    M< - 
                        ^      ^      ^    M< -
                               ^      ^    M< -
                        ^             ^    M< -  
                        ^             ^    M< - 
                        ^      ^      ^    M< -
                               ^      ^    M< -                           ^      ^    M< -
                        ^      ^      ^    M< -
                        ^             ^    M< -
                        ^      ^      ^    M< -

cars want to hug you. The “huggers” are guys and gals who make really slow lane changes into you. Fast enough where it startles you and thus begins the process of moving away, but slow enough where it’s not super urgent to GTFO right away. These are particularly irritating. You’re moving away the entire time, but the other side of your brain is screaming “HEYHEYHEYHEYHEYWTFFFFFFF.” I usually just hold my horn while moving away. Only the bravest don’t immediately jump back into their own lane.

                      M      ^   :|
                        M<       "WTFFFFFFFFF" *HONNNNNNNNNK*
                         M<      "HEYHEYHEYWTF"
                          M<     "HEY"
                           M ^   :D

cars really really see you. There’s always going to be that car that knows you’re coming and decides to just use the entire left shoulder of the highway to get away from you. I might need an inch or two of extra space (if any, because motos are pretty thin), but you don’t need to move away from me like I’m the plague. I always give these dudes and dudettes an extra peace sign of appreciation for at least watching out for us, but come on, no need to commandeer an entire shoulder or someone else’s lane.

                        ^                    ^
                        ^      ^      ^       
                                      ^      ^
                               ^             ^
                        ^      ^              
                        ^      ^      ^       
                      ^          ^    ^       
                    ^            ^              
                    ^      M     ^    ^      ^
                    ^            ^    ^      ^
                      ^         ^            
                        ^      ^             ^ 
                        ^      ^      ^      ^
                               ^      ^                                         ^      ^       
                        ^      ^             ^ 
                        ^             ^      ^
                        ^      ^      ^      ^

cars are clueless. By law, cars do not have to move for you, but they cannot block you. That being said, there’s always this one segment of the road that you’re just stuck on because there’s two cars that need to just get a goddamn room because they’re waaaay to close together and totally cramping your style. True, they don’t have to move for you if they’re still within the bounds of their lane. I’ve seen some moto-ers rev their engine in hopes that they’ll hear it and move, but I sort of think that’s rude.

                        ^                    ^
                        ^      ^      ^       
                                      ^      ^
                               ^             ^
                        ^      ^              
                        ^      ^      ^       
                               ^      ^       
                          ^  ^              
                        ^  M          ^      ^     *RAGE*
                        ^             ^      ^
                        ^      ^            
                        ^      ^             ^ 
                        ^             ^      ^
                               ^      ^                                         ^      ^       
                        ^      ^             ^ 
                        ^             ^      ^
                        ^      ^      ^      ^

haters are out to get you. These guys will actively try and run you over, block your path, tailgate you, flash their lights at you, give you the finger, etc. I’ve never encountered this but I know it exists out there. Just stay away. Take a different route, get off, and get away. They will try to run you over because of some kind of screwed up jealousy that moto-ers get to split lanes and “cut in line”, and this anger comes out in these aggressive urges that probably require a couple sessions of therapy to sort through. By the way, there is no fucking line. We’re not at a grocery store.

                          ^ ^   ^               
                          >M<         ^     ^     
                          ^ ^   ^     ^     ^
                          ^     ^           
                                ^     ^
                          ^                                               

people are trying to talk to you. Yo, I can’t hear you with my earplugs in. Yes, the moto is fast, and it rides great. No, I’m not going to rev it for you. I’m trying to save gas. Yes, I know it’s nice. What is this? A show?

Okay, okay, I’m not that mean. I usually preface with “I’m sorry, I’ve got earplugs in, blah blah blah.” I smile in my helmet but they can’t see it. Hmmph.

                        -      -      -      -
                    "YO! I-USED-TO-RIDE-TOO!"
                        -   M  - "HEY-NICE-MOTO!"
                        "CAN-YOU-REV-IT?"    -
                        -      "HOW-DOES-IT-RIDE?"
                    "CAN-I-TOUCH IT?  -      -
                        -      "NICE-RIDE."  -
                        "WHERE YA GOING?"    -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -
                        -      -      -      -

That’s all folks. Keep these scenarios in mind and don’t be that guy that does 150 mph in a residential area. More riding tips to come as I think of em’.