Lane sharing. Lane splitting. Splitting traffic. Filtering. Whatever you call it. If you live in a place where lane sharing is legal, or it’s being talked about in your state to make it legal, keep reading for some tips on how to do it and not piss off people (mostly).
What is it?
Lane sharing is just what it sounds. You’re sharing a lane with another vehicle travelling the same direction. One nuance between ‘lane sharing’ and ‘filtering’ though, ‘filtering’ is usually reserved for describing moving to the front of stopped cars at a red light. Some places take a more forgiving stance against filtering than they do for lane sharing. Right now lane sharing is only legal in California (and most of the rest of the world) and for the most part it’s pretty painless. Cars generally ignore bikes as they do it, and bikes generally treat cars as an obstacle to get around.
Is it safe?
Look, motorcycling is inherently less safe than driving a car. Is lane sharing safe? Well just like riding at all, lane sharing is safe when it’s done safely. If you drive or ride unsafely, you’re going to get in a wreck. If you lane share unsafely, you’re going to get in a wreck there too.
That said – is it safer than sitting in traffic? I would say absolutely. What’s less safe – getting sideswiped by someone changing lanes, or getting rear-ended because you’re sitting in stop and go traffic?
What are the benefits?
Lane sharing gets you there quicker, that part’s obvious. When I drive my car to work my afternoon commute (20 miles) is usually 60-70 minutes. And that’s no matter what route I take, highway or side streets. If things are shitty because of accidents or weather, it can take longer but generally fits in that 10 minute window. When I ride my bike, that afternoon drive takes 40-45 minutes. Even with severe traffic or stoppages, I get to keep cruising along at 30-40mph where in my car I’d be going 10-20 miles an hour.
But beyond the selfish personal benefits, lane sharing decreases congestion and commute time for everyone. A Belgian study a few years ago found when 10% of cars were swapped with motorcycles, commute time decreased for everyone by 40%. Bump that number to 25%, and the congestion goes away. More parking density and smaller parking lots means we are paving less land, leaving more open space, reducing urban runoff into our waterways, the list goes on. Motorcycling and lane sharing are good for the community and the planet.
Before we start I want to emphasize – lane sharing is a choice. If it’s legal, that doesn’t mean you have to do it. No one saying you must lane share. If you think it’s unsafe, you think it’s stupid, you think your life isn’t worth saving a few minutes – that’s cool, friend. Ride with the cars, do your thing. Even I don’t lane share everywhere. Sometimes the lanes are too narrow and I’m not comfortable doing it. Maybe traffic is hectic, or it’s raining, or the sun is in a weird spot and I can’t see well – it’s all good. You make your choice, I’ll make mine.
How should I do it?
If you’re a new(er) rider you shouldn’t immediately jump on the highway and start lane sharing. Before doing anything you should be comfortable at highway speed, comfortable around other unpredictable meat bags in sound proof, 4,000 pound metal boxes going 60mph, and comfortable with your bike. You should be familiar with your route, the general traffic patterns, and where you need to exit or transition to another highway. If you tick all those check marks, then you’re ready.
The biggest problem most people encounter is carrying too much speed. The CHP doesn’t give specific guidelines on speed, but used to recommend keeping to no more than 10 over the flow of traffic, and to not lane share over 30mph. The speed differential I can get on board with, but I consistently lane share in the 60-70 range and haven’t had a problem. Some drivers and just clueless and if they’re going 50 in the carpool lane, and there’s clear road to the horizon, I’m sure as hell going to lane share by them. The important takeaway here is the differential between your speed and the cars around you. If you’re going 20-30 over the flow, driver won’t have time to see you as you approach and they’ll come into your space. But if they’re going 60, and I’m lane sharing at 65, I’m creeping by them and they have plenty of time to see me.
You can’t force drivers to see you, but you can mitigate the risk and increase your chances of being seen more quickly and easily. This usually keeps you from getting run over or worse.
Yeah, it’s considered nerdy, but it works. I started wearing a hi viz vest and the difference was surprising. I changed nothing else; pace, positioning, route, behavior, nothing, but suddenly people were shifting in their lane to give me space. It was weird.
White helmets tend to stick out of traffic, it’s high up from the rest of our bike so possibly it escapes the visual confusion of a motorcycles; it may or may not look like a police officer. Whatever the real reason is, it’s another difference I noticed when I changed to a white helmet. Some scientific reports indicate white helmets are underrepresented in crash data (~20% decrease in crash risk). I wouldn’t say to replace a good helmet with a white one, but if you’re in the market, consider a white one.
Motorcycles are difficult to see, during lane sharing this is more problematic. Some data indicates a triangular white light arrangement helps with conspicuity and drivers can judge speed and distance better than a single headlight, or two headlights very close together. I haven’t made this update yet, but I’ve been considering it. I just don’t have a lot of space on my bike to stick extra lighting. I’ve been considering these nice little marker lights, but again, nowhere to attach them so I still haven’t made the change.
Something they don’t really tell you is you’re going to get more punctured tires when you lane share. Learn to use and carry a tire plug kit. I like the glue coated sticky rope type plugs. They’re a little more challenging to install than say a mushroom plug but I’ve never had good luck with mushroom plugs lasting more than a day’s riding. They’re pretty much all the same, and you can find them at AutoZone or your local auto parts store.
So you’re ready to start lane sharing? A couple other things to remember
- Use your mirrors. Nothing is more frustrating than lane sharing and getting stuck behind someone going slower than you. If you spot a biker coming up fast, pull into the first gap in traffic and let the bike go by. They may wave – they may not. Whatever. Check your mirrors again before you start lane sharing again; even i get surprised sometimes by bikes coming up faster than I expect.
- Be smart with speed. Keep it sensible with your differential from the cars around you. Drivers hate bikers enough already. Here in Orange County they’re pretty good with giving bikes space, Los Angeles area also, but the lanes on LA freeways feel more narrow. San Diego drivers fucking HATE bikers for some reason so don’t expect them to give you an inch.
- Acknowledge kindness. It takes you 2 seconds to flash someone a thumbs up or a peace sign if they give you space. Sometimes I find i just stick my hand out for a long row of cars who are all giving me space. I make sure I acknowledge commercial drivers especially because they’re on the road a lot more than a normal driver, so it’s in our best interest to have these drivers on our side.
Stay cool. In 10 years of lane sharing I can count the number of cars who blocked me on one hand. Most of the time people are lost, distracted, or just clueless and they do dumb shit. Yes, that dumb shit can get us killed, but if you’re still on two wheels when it ends, let it go. Give drivers time to see you. If something happens – Don’t engage. Don’t escalate. Ride away. Every month I read about some road rage incident that unnecessarily gets escalated and someone ends up going to the hospital or worse. It’s not worth it. Ride away. Those people will always be dicks, and you will be a cool motorcyclist, enjoying a beer at home while they’re still stuck in traffic.