I grew up in the UK and rode there for two years before moving to Canada – it never occurred to me that lanesplitting should not be legal.
As such, however, I took it for granted. I was a fearless teenager, so I’d squeeze between traffic that I’d never consider today. One time, giving my aunt a ride on my Honda 250, I almost took her kneecaps off as we whizzed between vehicles and they skimmed the car doors. Another time, I booted it along the white line between a pair of trucks on the motorway that were already travelling at 100 km/h – one truck that didn’t expect me to be there started moving closer and things got worrisome, but I made it out the other side in one piece and never attempted something so stupid ever again.
My point is, as Zac shows us this week, that there are rules for lanesplitting that make the practice both safe and workable. Just like the rules of the road, if you follow these guidelines, you’ll probably be safer on your bike than waiting to be hit from behind, but if you don’t follow them, you put yourself and everyone else around you in danger.
The two most important rules, as recommended by the California Highway Patrol, are to never attempt to lanesplit if the speed of traffic is faster than 50 km/h, and to never ride at more than 16 km/h above the speed of traffic. These two guidelines allow enough reaction time for an alert and competent rider to take appropriate action if something unexpected occurs.
The fact is, some car drivers don’t want motorcycles buzzing beside them through traffic, because they don’t want their doors potentially scratched and they don’t want somebody else to make a quicker pace than them. We all know how frustrating congestion can be.
Years later, I was riding again in the UK and came upon a traffic backlog that stretched more than five kilometres before ending at temporary traffic lights, installed for non-existent construction. I rode slowly and carefully past all the stop-and-go traffic, which probably took about 10 minutes, before stopping at the head of the line and waiting for the red light to turn green. I moved in front of a van at the front of the line. That van driver had probably taken an hour to get there, and when the light finally turned green, there was no way he was going to let a damn motorcycle get ahead of him.
When the light turned green, I rode off on the clear highway, but the van gunned it and tried to pass. I rode faster to get away, but the van also drove faster. I pulled to the side to let it overtake, and it shot past. After that, after passing any exceptional length of frustrating stopped traffic, I would always pause short of a few vehicles at the head of the queue, to not rub it in.
This is another of the basic rules of lanesplitting: be considerate. The CHP recommends the fours Rs of being reasonable, being respectful, being responsible, and being aware of road and traffic conditions. If motorcyclists practise these, then we just might be able to make splitting and filtering an acceptable practice for all road users. And if we can do that, we’ll all be a lot better off.