Lane Split Like A Pro
After much thought about my next article and wanting to deliver some actual valuable content rather than recycling memes, I have decided to write a series of articles on lane splitting. Part of the reason I will do a series is because our generation has a short attention span and therefore short articles are the best way to drum in knowledge.
A bit about me first and why you should maybe listen to me. I started riding 3 years ago and got my first bike (GSX250) to commute in rush hour traffic into uni from the North Shore. This eventually went on and I now commute every-bloody-day from the shore to East Tamaki for work, so I rack up around 350KM per week of pure lane splitting. I commute during peak rush hour traffic and to be honest I love it most of the time, it makes me feel ALIVE. I’ve lane split when the days are sunny, I’ve lane split when the motorway has flooded to your boots. I’ve also lane split between cars over the harbour bridge during a storm as my bike was leaning very much sideways whilst going straight (I will explain the reason for this in a later article). I’m yet to be hit off (but it will happen eventually). However, I have had plenty of close calls. I like to think this experience makes me at least mildly qualified to give some instruction on lane splitting and how to stay upright in traffic.
Working with gaps
Our first lesson will be about identifying and working with “Gaps”. By gaps I mean spaces left by vehicles for whatever reason that are large enough to fit at least two cars.
One of the first tips I’ll give is, to be able to work with available gaps, you should not lane split faster than you can see and process about 3-4 cars ahead. By process I mean, you need to be able to quickly tell what each of the 3-4 cars may do, or is doing. This actually works well if you don’t go 30kph faster than the average speed of traffic. Meaning, if cars are doing 20kph, don’t go faster than 50kph. It is also ALWAYS a good idea to SLOW DOWN when you identify a gap up ahead, this gives you time to react in case a car does move into the gap. There isn’t really much need to worry about gaps where only one car may fit. The chances of a car moving into that gap are quite low and you can easily avoid it if you are going at a reasonable speed.
For my teaching material, I went and found a youtube video from a guy lane splitting in NZ and decided to use it for this lesson: Lane Splitting Video
Disclaimer: This person in the video seems to be doing just fine, I’m not going to rip into their riding, I’m just going to tell you what I’d do in their situation. The video is also obviously sped-up.
You may have noticed after watching their video, they seemed to stick to the centre line the whole time regardless of whether there was space in either lane or not. This, to me, is a huge no-no for a few reasons:
- When you’re close to the centreline, your chances of riding and braking on the white line or over cats-eyes increases dramatically. This is partly due to the fact that in a panic situation, your initial reaction will be to move over to one side or another and you may well cross the centreline to do that. In wet conditions, riding over or braking on white lines or cats-eyes may cause you to lock up your front suddenly and go down like an amateur.
- The closer you are to another vehicle, the less time you have to react for any given situation. This is obvious, yet we ride so close to other cars all the time. Forget about trying to stay out of their blind spot, ride as though they’ll never check their mirrors and keep your distance instead.
- As you weave into each gap, the movement you make will also follow any movement a car that is changing lanes into that gap may make. This means that in the worst case where they do change lanes, you’re already moving with the flow. It sounds crazy but I’ve been saved twice now because I have done exactly that. My knee was against the door of the car each time and both my bike and the car were moving on an angle to the right hand lane. If I had been travelling straight past the car rather than moving on an angle into the gap, I would have hit their front fender and probably come off.
Here are some examples below to show you what you should be looking for as you lane split and the reasoning behind why you should move into gaps. I’ve put 2 pictures in each scenario because I wanted to show the original situation without any annotations so you get the full effect as though you’re there. Apologies for the blurry pictures, the video was sped up:
In situation #1 we see the possibility of two cars on the right that may fill the gap on the left. I know it may seem like neither car on the right could make the move, but you’ll be amazed what someone stuck in an hour of traffic would do if they think one lane is moving faster than theirs. If you apply my suggestion of moving into the gap, you will be able to move with the motion car #1 will make if they were to make such a stupid lane change or avoid car 1 altogether as you’re already far over to the left as you pass their front fender. If you make the move into the gap, you’ll also be alongside car #2 in case they decide to move into the gap. The chances of the driver seeing you even if they don’t check their mirrors is quite high as you’ll be right next to them. In case they do make a move, you’ll be far over enough that you’ll have time to react in case #2 does move into the gap. If however you do decide to stick to the centre line and continue, you’ll reduce your time for reaction if either car did make a move, but at least if they do hit you, you’ll have a gap in traffic to fall onto the road rather than against a truck!
NOTE: When I say move into an open gap, it does not mean you necessarily have to move right into it and fill the entire gap and be in the centre of the lane before moving back out to lane split. Most times just a gentle weave so you’re further into the gap side than closer to the centre line is enough to buy yourself that breathing room and pre-empt the chances of a car moving into such a gap. The diagram below shows this, stay in the green striped area.
In scenario 2 above, we see an opportunity to move into a gap on the right. There is a very high chance that if the blue car was not there, the silver car may try and move into the gap on the right. This can be attributed to the psychology that a lane which looks less clogged must be moving faster than their own and so they must get into it to get home quicker! It is in situations like these which I highly recommend you move into the gap which is available. The driver of the silver car will try make a quick lane change and really force their way in, which will knock you right off your bike. In the worst case, like the position the rider is in, in the above picture, if the car starts moving to the right, you’ll be following their movement already by attempting to move into the gap. You’ll be able to easily get into the breakdown lane in the worst case and worm your way through. Another situation right after the silver car in scenario 2 is the gap on the left hand side of the blue car (the gap in front of the silver car). The best thing you can do is to make your way into the left hand side of the centreline as soon as your front wheel passes the front wheel of the silver car. This will ensure that you’re safe if the blue car does decide to move into the gap for whatever reason.
One of the worst things that can happen is when one lane comes to a grinding halt and the other lane next to it keeps moving. You can almost guarantee that the last person or even the last couple of cars in the halted lane will make an attempt to move into the flowing lane. Scenario 3 is representative of this situation. This is why it’s always a good idea to keep track of what is happening in front of you at least 3-4 cars ahead so you can make the call as to whether they will try pull such a stunt. To buy yourself more time again, move to the left lane in this case. HOWEVER, you need to be extremely careful that there are no cars behind you in the lane you are about to move into. The cars in the left lane will be moving extremely quick relative to you and the cars on the right, this leaves very little margin for error if you do change lanes suddenly. Make sure to check your mirrors and even look over your shoulder to ensure you merge safely. Even if you realise a bit late that the right lane is slowing down and you start moving to the left, at least you’ll be moving with the cars that do decide to make the lane change and your chances of staying upright are a lot higher when you move in a parallel motion to the car than if you were to run perpendicularly into its side. Sounds morbid, but these things happen.
Finally, scenario 4. By now you may be thinking it really does make sense to get into the left lane, buy yourself space and time, before making the plunge back into lane splitting. That is exactly what you should do. The chances of the first two cars on your right making a move into the gap are pretty damn high. You should move to the left as soon as possible. Yet many riders never do that and leave their fates down to chance. Reduce the risk and make the move I say. One last thing to worry about is a vehicle from the far left lane making a a move into the gap. The car in the far left lane or even the truck could make a manoeuvre at the same time as you’re moving too. This will leave you both fighting for space, guess who will win? This is why it isn’t necessary to move completely into the middle of the lane, but instead stay in the right hand third, more closer to the centre rather than the white lines an cats-eyes on the right (as shown on the gap positioning diagram above).
So finally in conclusion, assuming you’re still reading and haven’t fallen asleep. Your best bet to stay upright while lane splitting is…
- Plan/look ahead 3-4 cars, look for the gaps. Drivers WILL try move into them even if the gap seems impossible to you. They may stick just their nose in and “reserve” their spot. Even if they can’t fit completely. I’ve noticed this a lot on rainy days for some reason.
- You don’t need to put your full bike in the centre of the empty gap, refer to the gap positioning diagram. The idea is to weave within traffic but not erratically. Keep it smooth, subtle and controlled.
- Large empty gaps greatly increase the chance of a driver moving into the gap. Slow down, stay alert and prepare to move.
- When traffic comes to a slow down/halt in one lane and the lane next to it keeps moving, the chances of a driver changing into the moving lane are extremely high. Again, slow down and prepare for this. Moving into the fast moving lane can be extremely hazardous due to faster moving cars in that lane relative to you and the halted lane. Check your mirrors and even over your shoulder to make sure you’re not going to cause someone to run up the back of your bike!
- On 3 lane sections, large gaps in the middle lane can be a free-for-all. Make sure you not only look out for vehicles in the right hand lane moving into the gap, but also for vehicles from the furthest left hand lane moving into the centre lane. Again, it’s not too much of a worry if you position yourself correctly in the available gap as shown by the gap positioning diagram above. I’ve shared lanes with a car that suddenly made the move, plenty of times. It would have been a different story had I been much further over to the left. These drivers never seem to worry about anyone else around them. They see a gap and move into it!
As you can see, a lot of lane splitting comes down to prediction of other drivers and making sure you’re positioned well regardless of whether they see you or not. Your main survival technique should be prediction of other drivers’ behaviour. I will teach you more about this in future articles.