Lane splitting, lane sharing, traffic filtering, white-lining—whatever you call the practice, it’s one of the huge advantages motorcycles offer over cars in traffic. Basically, it’s about riding between lanes of slow or stopped traffic. It’s legal in most of Europe and much of Asia. In the United States, it’s legal only in California (and we can only hope some other states will eventually get a clue). Here’s how to do it safely.
BE AWARE Consider the total environment where you’re splitting. Lanes too narrow? If you can't fit, don't split. Don’t split next to large trucks or other high vehicles—the danger of being knocked under their wheels is too great. As you roll up on a car, take a second to see if the driver is on the phone or texting.
BE SMART Split lanes only if traffic is moving slower than 30 miles per hour (48 kph). You won’t have much room to maneuver, so time is your primary cushion. And higher speeds mean you cover more ground, and consequently have less time to react and brake.
PICK A LANE Typically, it is safer to split between the fast lane and the next-fastest. Look ahead, but not too far ahead. The car that’s going to get you is the one next to you, or two or three cars up in front.
DON’T SPEED Never ride more than 10 miles per hour (16 kph) faster than the moving traffic. The greater the speed differential, the less time you have to identify and react to a hazard. Consider running your bike a gear lower than normal to take advantage of instant compression braking, and more responsive acceleration if necessary.
AVOID EXITS You’ve all seen a distracted driver spot his exit at the last minute and swerve over four lanes of traffic—you don’t want to be in his way.
STAY SOLO Don’t split lanes when there's another motorcycle rider doing so between adjacent lanes. Sometimes, when drivers see a bike moving their way, they move over as a courtesy. If they see the other bike first, they may move over into your space.
BE READY Always cover your (front) brake lever and (rear) brake pedal when splitting.
BE NICE If someone moves over to give you room, it’s OK to give him a courtesy wave. If someone doesn’t move over, it’s not OK to make an obscene gesture. Who knows what he’s going to do to the next biker he sees if you make him angry?