So, I figure its high time for a non technical post. I commute via motorcycle on a 26km stretch of highway every day (N1 and M1, Johannesburg) and thought that I might post some of the wisdoms I’ve picked up during my 6 odd years of commuting. In South Africa, it is legal (please lets not argue the semantics of this on this post) to lanesplit between vehicles in traffic, meaning you ride in-between two lanes of cars. Here are my top 10 handy hints for doing so safely, in no particular order;
1. Passing Trucks
This one is something that can catch you by surprise, always think ahead! If you are passing a truck, either on the left or the right, bear in mind that there is probably someone in front of the truck who cannot see you due to the width of the truck, or there is a gap in front of the truck as it moves slower than the rest of the traffic. Should there be someone who cannot see you, they are probably not going to hesitate to get out of the trucks way (I know I prefer not to be in front of a few tons of metal) and may well cut you off or worse, knock you off. The opposite applies to when there is a gap in front of the truck, invariably someone from the adjacent lane would like to take that gap, and then the same applies. GO WITH CAUTION!
2. Splitting Around Bends
During my commute, there are two gradual bends which I take with great care. One inside the Buccleugh interchange, and the other just past the Woodmead on and off ramps. That said, when you are splitting through a gradual bend, always bear in mind that the angle of people’s mirrors are completely different to what they would be should they be moving in a straight line. If you take a left bend as an example, the people in the lane to your left will most likely be looking at the doors of the vehicles on the right, and the vehicles on the right, are most likely looking at the left headlight of the vehicle behind them. It is for this reason that you should be extra careful, or alternatively wait in the traffic for the duration of the bend.
3. Showing Courtesy
This goes both ways, showing courtesy to cars and trucks, as well as showing courtesy to fellow riders. If a vehicle moves out of your way, give them a gesture of thanks, be it a wave with your clutch hand, a flash of your hazards (if your bike is so equipped) or my personal choice, a tilt of the head. Be careful the first time you tilt your head, it may be the most convenient, but target fixation can occur (you follow the lines of your eyes and if you are tilting your head, you may in fact turn the bike slightly)! Do not extend a foot out on either side, a. this looks aggressive to motorists, and b. this is often used in pack riding to indicate a road hazard on either side! When you are nice to motorists, they will be nice to you, and often someone who has been thanked for moving over will feel a warm fuzzy feeling and be willing to do it again. On the other side of the coin, be aware of your mirrors and of riders wishing to pass you. If you see a motorcyclist behind you, acknowledge him/her in some way, should there be no gaps, and when there is a gap, slow down accordingly and let him/her past. Do not move immediately back into the lane, as often there will be multiple riders behind the one who just passed you! Keep a look out, and move back into the lane when it is safe to do so.
4. Avoid Temptation
Following on from point 3, when someone passes you, resist the temptation to match their speed and stay behind them. For one, this will irritate the rider ahead of you, and two, this is probably removing you from your comfort zone. If you are no longer in your comfort zone, you will no longer be able to pull emergency maneuvers as quickly or as well rehearsed as you would when riding at YOUR comfortable speed. Should the rider ahead of you have to brake suddenly, there is a good chance you will go directly into the back of him/her, which is a situation that I can guarantee neither of you would like.
5. Avoid The “Suicide Lane”
This is referred to (on a 3-lane road) as the piece of road between the slow and middle lane. People generally split between the middle and fast lane, and as such, that is where motorists are expecting you to be. Often a motorist in the middle lane will see you coming and move out of your way in the only direction he can go, left. If you are splitting on the left of that vehicle, you can imagine what could happen next. The converse applies to this as well, if you are splitting in the “suicide lane”, you may well be endangering any riders on the other side for the exact same reasons. Bear in mind, that should a motorist knock a biker down, this could be an end to their life as they know it as well. Which leads me to my next point;
6. Not All Cagers are Evil
If I take my daily commute, between Grayston and Marlboro there is normally very slow moving traffic, often just above standstill. I have counted (don’t try this at home) and have found that in the space of 1km I will pass roughly 72 slow moving vehicles in the fast lane (so more for standstill traffic). I can then multiply this by 2, for the middle lane, giving me 144 vehicles that I have passed in the space of 1km. Multiply that by the 26km’s of highway that I travel (taking into account the same amount of standstill traffic as moving traffic) and you have 3,744 vehicles that I pass on average. That’s a lot of vehicles, and I hardly ever have a problem in a week, so make that 18,720 vehicles per week that do not give me a problem. Should I have one issue a week, that would be 0.005% if the vehicles on that road. Think about it (yes its flawed, but you get my drift).
7. Take Note Of The Sun
This one is very simple to explain, but not often thought of. Be very very careful should the rising or setting sun be directly behind you and the flow of traffic (this is a major problem on the N12 / R24)! If the sun is behind you, you will not be looking in your mirrors as chances are they are blinding you, so bear in mind that this applies to every other vehicle moving in the same direction as you!
8. Splitting At Night
This is a bad idea. A bad bad idea. A very very bad idea. Yes, there are lens covers for your headlight to make you more visible, but in a lot of cases, the same “sun” rules apply. If you are coming up through traffic where all the headlights are on, you WILL NOT BE VISIBLE. In standstill or slow moving traffic, ALL vehicles have only one headlight in a rearview mirror, and you WILL look like every other four wheeled vehicle on that road.
9. Don’t Look Down
Ok, look down a little, but do not fixate on the bike in front of you, and do not look directly at the road in front of you. Look ahead, and look up as well. It is not uncommon for vehicles to have something strapped to the roof rack that is leaning over the side or sticking out the back. Most people have seen the picture of the two gentlemen impaled on a steel pole, if not, you now have an idea of it. Keep looking, often people do not carry red flags or reflective triangles, and figure that they won’t get pulled over in peak hour traffic. The same naive people, probably also don’t figure that another vehicle will be passing between them and the adjacent lane. Arm yourself with forethought when looking ahead. If you see a vehicle towing a caravan, they may well have an extended mirror on the side of the vehicle, avoid these, aside from damage to property, these leave a nice mark in the morning.
10. Chill Out / Don’t Panic
Like attracts like, if you are riding rigid and panicky, chances are you are going to bump into something. The best advice I can give for lanesplitting is to start out slow over short stretches, and don’t get onto the highway until you are absolutely comfortable with splitting. There are plenty of double-lane roads where you can practice by making your way up to a red light when all the traffic comes to a stop. Take things as they come, should you bump someone’s vehicle, it happens. Stop, apologise to the driver, and 90% of the time they will be OK with it (provided you weren’t tearing down the road like a bat out of hell), the other 10% of the time, something can be done about it. If you do get cut off, don’t get even by breaking off the mirror of the vehicle or kicking the door in, as tempting as it may be. Practice as I do in the morning, and try to memorise at least one numberplate a day. This will train your memory so that when something does happen, you can head down to the nearest police station and lay a charge of reckless driving against the owner of the plate number that you have in your head. This may not have an immediate effect, but should something happen down the line and their record is pulled, you will have the upper hand, and not an assault/property damage charge.
There are plenty more points that I could go through, and I’m sure I will add more in another post one day. Please leave your wisdoms and comments on this post below, as I would love this to benefit fellow riders.
If you would like more info on rider safety etc, there is plenty of info over at Think Bike.