It still astonishes me that we’re arguing in Canada about lane filtering. Most of the rest of the world practises it, for us to see its pros and cons, and yet we can’t agree on whether or not it’s safe or even a good idea. This isn’t even a riders vs. non-riders thing – Canadian motorcyclists in general just can’t agree.
The fact is, it looks unsafe, and that’s enough for most people to make up their minds. And yes, when it’s done at speed, it is unsafe. I know. I used to do it all the time.
I spent the first two years of my motorcycling life, at 16 and 17 years old, riding in the U.K., where filtering is both legal and assumed. I took two separate safety courses and passed two separate riding certifications, and each time, the instructors stressed that when riding between vehicles in traffic, you needed to keep your eyes open. That was it. No speed limits or advisories, no “filtering or splitting,” just be aware of your surroundings.
So if there was space, I’d always squirt through traffic. It was no big deal and everyone on two wheels did it. Dispatch riders made a living doing it, delivering packages around the city, unaffected by congestion. They still do, and every European city has couriers on the road with bicycles and motorcycles who can guarantee prompt delivery of urgent items.
These macho riders were my heroes as a young teenager, and if I’d stayed in the U.K. I’d probably have become a dispatch rider myself. It was a rough-and-tumble life and they’d take chances at every opportunity to shave time from their deliveries. Once, riding behind a dispatcher on my Honda 250 as we sliced between two lanes of traffic, we came up against two small cars that were too close beside each other to allow room to pass. I think they were a Mini and an MG. The dispatcher, on his Yamaha XT 500 with its wide bars and slim everything else, didn’t even slow down but just popped a wheelie to clear the bars over the tops of the two cars. I pulled up behind, gob-smacked and totally impressed.
Another time, on a four-lane highway, I rode between two trucks that were driving alongside each other at probably 100 km/h. I was riding at probably 120 km/h. As I neared the front, they pulled closer toward each other and left barely any space between my handlebars and their huge wheels. That was maybe the dumbest thing I ever did, and I never did anything like it again. I learned the lucky way that lane-splitting is safest at low speed.
Fifteen years later, I returned to live in the U.K. for another couple of years and commuted 80 kilometres every day in and out of London on a Suzuki GS550. There were still no rules around lane-splitting or filtering, but this time there was more police enforcement against yahoo riding. Also, I was older and wiser and imposed my own rules. I’d only ride between lanes of traffic that were either stopped or driving at a crawl, and I wouldn’t push right to the front at a red light if the leading driver hadn’t left space to let me in.
If there was no traffic, the commute into Camden Town would take 40 minutes each way. If there was traffic and I was on the bike, it would take 45 minutes at most. If I was in the car, it could take more than two hours. So I rode the bike in all weathers and really didn’t contribute to the city’s congestion, either on the road or when parked near my office. Many thousands of other motorcyclists did the same thing and still do. European cities encourage them.
Never once in four combined years of riding – both novice and experienced – did I witness a collision between a motorcycle and a car caused by lane filtering. I’m sure it happens, but it’s not common enough to even register on an accident report. The truth is, a rider is a lot more vulnerable to being hit from behind when stuck in a lane of traffic than from being sideswiped when travelling between lanes. Zac made this clear on Monday. And if you don’t want to lane filter, you don’t have to. It’s your choice.
But no, it looks dangerous so our lawmakers are reluctant to allow it. My point is, it can be very dangerous indeed, as I proved when sandwiched by my own stupidity between two trucks at speed, but with some basic guidelines, it’s not dangerous at all. California, Utah, and even Hawaii have recognized this and provide their own guidelines to make their riders safer while speeding up traffic. Why can’t we?