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Old 03-21-2019, 07:57 AM   #1
DataDan
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Safer Splitting: A Guide for Noobs

We're lucky to be able to split lanes in California. Commuting on a motorcycle, you might shave 10, 20, even 30 minutes off your ride to work by splitting, improving your disposition and adding free time to your day. In addition, splitting can reduce stress, and it even helps other commuters by taking a car off the road.

If you're new to motorcycling, or if you're an experienced rider new to California, you may want to start commuting on your bike to take advantage of splitting. While motorcycle commuting isn't for everyone, you may find that it's a great option for you. However, as it saves time and reduces some traffic dangers, it adds others that you may not be expecting. In training, you learned about many of the risks of riding on the street--left-turning cars, for example--but not about lane-splitting. That's a need I hope to fill here

Over the next week or so in this thread, I will try to give novice splitters some short lessons that will not quite add up to an education, but should help you get started more safely. I will talk about attitudes to deal with the reality of traffic when splitting, the particular dangers that come with it, strategy to take advantage of its benefits, and practices that can reduce risk. Note that this will be my personal view, not that of BARF.

While the thread is aimed at those with no or limited experience splitting, it could use some help from BARF's veteran splitters, some of whom have been riding the freeways daily for decades. I invite OGs to add your $0.02, whether it is to emphasize a point you agree with or object if you disagree. And, especially, I invite BARFers with videos that illustrate a particular point about splitting to post them up.

Whether you're a new rider or just new to lane splitting, I'm glad you're here. Welcome to BARF, and welcome to this thread.
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Old 03-21-2019, 08:00 AM   #2
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Attitude

Safer, lower stress lane splitting starts with a good attitude. The right frame of mind will synchronize your expectations, perceptions, and reactions with reality, so you can better anticipate problems and not be there when they happen.

The first element of good lane-splitting attitude is accepting that it can be dangerous. The fact that it is legal in California may suggest that it's safe. It isn't. And following a few simple rules doesn't make it safe. Some riders will tell you that splitting makes you safer, and indeed, in some situations it can, but in other situations it puts you in greater danger. When splitting, you save time and reduce some risks, but you also increase others.

Second, accept that other motorists aren't as committed to driving as you are to riding. You may think they should be fully involved with their task at all times, but they just want to get to and from work quickly and safely with minimal effort and drama. Their vehicles provide comfortable space isolated from traffic around them, and the roadway environment assists them with lines, signs, and signals that tell them when, where, and how to drive. They like it that way because it frees up attention for diversions to pass the time like talking on the phone, listening to music, or sipping a latte. However, their detachment can lead to mistakes when a motorcycle comes by. This is something we talk about a lot, but more in wishing it weren't so than adapting to it. If it outrages you, get over it, because it isn't going to change in your lifetime. Expect inattention and be prepared to react to carelessness.

Third, understand that because of your speed and position while splitting, sometimes you won't be seen by other motorists--even if they are driving attentively. You're traveling faster than the prevailing flow, you emerge from spots where drivers don't expect other traffic, and you can be hidden by other vehicles. Moreover, when you are in view, it may be for only a brief time due to the limited coverage of their mirrors. Don't expect to be seen, and don't put yourself in a position where your safety depends on being seen.

The choice to ride a motorcycle--a more demanding mode of transportation--is yours, and your choice to split lanes increases that demand. Accept 100% of the responsibility for your own safety.
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Old 03-22-2019, 07:20 AM   #3
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The Dangers of Splitting

Lane splitting saves time and decreases some risks of riding in heavy traffic, but it increases other risks. Because you're faster than the flow of traffic and in places drivers aren't looking for other vehicles, it can contribute to certain crashes. To reduce overall risk while splitting, you need to know what the added dangers are and how to counteract them.

Over 12 months in 2012 and 2013, CHP and other law enforcement agencies in the state collected information on motorcycle crashes in addition to that on the standard collision form, including data on lane splitting. This study of nearly 8000 incidents offers unique insight into motorcycle crashes. Contrary to some reporting, it did not demonstrate that lane splitting is safer than occupying a lane. It did show, however, that crashes while splitting at moderate speed produced less severe injuries than non-splitting crashes, which range from a low-speed tipover to getting T-boned by a red-light runner. The report is available here on BARF (PDF).

Splitting accounted for an unexpectedly high number of crashes in the study. Of those reported by CHP--including all freeway crashes but excluding those on city streets--17%, one in six, occurred while the motorcyclist was splitting lanes. On the other hand, an important benefit was confirmed: Rear-endEE crashes, where the motorcycle was rear-ended by another vehicle, comprised only 2.7% of lane-splitting crashes but 4.6% of non-splitting crashes. The flip side of the rear-endEE reduction was an increase in rear-endER crashes, where the motorcycle struck the vehicle ahead: from 15% of non-splitting crashes to 36% of splitting crashes.

A rear-endER can occur in the most common lane-splitting crash scenario, the cut-off, in which a vehicle changes lanes across the lane-splitting corridor to reach a vacant space in the opposite lane. In my collection of dozens of first-person lane-splitting crash stories from California motorcycle forums, the cut-off is by far the most common. These often occur in slowing traffic, near a merge, and at HOV lane entry/exit points. Drivers looking for a faster lane, trying to get to an exit, or merging into the flow make hurried maneuvers in dense traffic, so they may not check mirrors for splitters or even signal the lane change.

The deadliest lane-splitting crashes involve large trucks. While splitting alongside a truck, the corridor narrows, there is contact, and the rider goes down under its unforgiving wheels. A truck of full legal width is 8.5 feet wide, compared to 6 feet for a typical car. In a normal 12-foot lane, this leaves only 21 inches between the truck and the lane line--IF it is centered. But if the lane narrows or the truck swerves to avoid a hazard, space cushion can disappear in an instant. And in a construction zone, lanes might narrow to 11 feet, reducing normal clearance to just 15 inches. More than half of the lane splitting deaths reported in California in the past 15 years have involved large trucks, buses, and trailers, and some occurred while splitting between two large trucks or next to a truck in a construction zone with narrow lanes.

In the concealed crossing, a splitter enters an intersection into unseen cross-traffic. For example, a lane splitter emerges from between lanes of traffic stopped at an intersection marked KEEP CLEAR, and collides with a vehicle taking advantage of the accommodation. This kind of crash can also occur at a crosswalk when vehicles have stopped for a pedestrian the lane splitter doesn't see.

Other kinds of crashes can occur, too. In the squeeze, a splitter misjudges the width of the splitting corridor or it narrows, he is sideswiped, and goes down. In the hidden splitter, a rider pulls into a lane in front of a large truck, hidden from the driver's view. When traffic begins to move, the driver, unable to see the motorcyclist, accelerates, and the rider, slow to react, gets flattened. A rider can be doored when an occupant of a stopped vehicle opens the door in front of a splitter. And there's the bike-vs.-bike rear-ender. Followed closely by another splitter, a rider brakes, but the rider behind fails to react and rear-ends the lead rider.

Keep these crash scenarios in mind. In later posts I will lay out a strategy that minimizes your exposure to them, and I will recommend observations to recognize them and responses to avoid them.
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Old 03-22-2019, 07:29 AM   #4
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The Dangers of Splitting--Examples

I was motivated to dust off this 10-year-old, previously unposted lane-splitting guide for the start of riding season this year mainly by the death last August of 30-year-old Vanessa Rodriguez, a friend of Budman's wife and daughter. Vanessa, on her new Honda Rebel, was splitting lanes 3-4 on 101 in Morgan Hill when she collided with a big rig and fell under its wheels. The crash was discussed in the BARF thread RIP rider in Morgan Hill, 8/17/2018. We don't do a very good job of teaching lane splitting noobs about its inherent dangers, and this thread is my small way of filling that gap. RIP, Vanessa.


Unlike truck crashes, cut-offs are seldom deadly, but they are often preventable when you know what to look for. Many first-person accounts of these can be found in the thread Lane-splitting crashes and close calls. Flying Hun posted an excellent description of his in the thread Today is a Good Day - A Cautionary Tale.

A non-contact cut-off and crash under braking is seen in video discussed in the thread Incident: 11/27/18 05:47 PM : Redwood City : Us101 N / Holly St Ofr:


youtu.be/6n4l2Tj5PkQ


Here's another cut-off from the Crash Analysis thread A different type of thread for Crash Analysis: Lane Splitting. Fast forward to 1:00 in the video or click the link below:


youtu.be/-x1pib4NIko?t=60


A rider who got doored describes his experience in the thread Lady on the passenger side opened the door.

Here's a concealed crossing crash that narrowly missed a pedestrian but dropped the rider: FFFFUUUU.

Ten years ago a rider died in a squeeze witnessed by a non-motorcyclist who joined BARF and posted a description in the thread RIP Light blue BMW tourer down on 880s near San Leandro.

Though bike-vs-bike rear-enders are rare, they do happen. From a news story about a 2012 San Diego crash in which the lead rider was killed:
According to California Highway Patrol officials, two separate motorcyclists riding a Hyosung and Harley Davidson were splitting traffic in the third and fourth lanes on northbound SR-15 just before 8 p.m. Wednesday.

As the riders approached a semi-truck in the third lane and a Honda SUV in the fourth lane, the rider on the Harley Davidson slowed down.

The rider of the Hyosung struck the rear of the Harley and both riders were ejected from their bikes.

The rider of the Harley landed in the third lane, in front of the semi-truck, and was ran over by the truck.

Also rare is the hidden splitter, but we may have had one, fatal, this week in San Lorenzo (Google street view link). From the Mercury News:
Investigators later found that the big rig’s driver, a 21-year-old man, had stopped in the left-turn lane and was waiting for the green light to enter the ramp to southbound Highway 238. [The rider] pulled his motorcycle alongside before slipping into a space directly in front of the truck. When the signal turned green, the truck pulled forward and struck the Harley.
It is not reported whether the motorcyclist had split to the front of the left-turn lane or had been fully in the thru lane before moving in front of the truck. Either way, the result is tragic.
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Old 03-23-2019, 11:09 AM   #5
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Great info! Thanks for putting in the time. I know personally I USED to split between big rigs, and been riding since 5 years old and over 3 decades on the road. I no longer do this since reading of some of these deaths and items you and others have posted. Still split and keep the mph difference lower and do not split if traffic is doing 45 or above...no need or worth the risk IMO.
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Old 03-23-2019, 11:24 AM   #6
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Dan... thank for putting this together.

Really well done

You are bonafide sir.

I am sure my wife would really appreciate your effort too.
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Old 03-25-2019, 08:38 AM   #7
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Strategy

A sense of where lane splitting is riskier combined with a sense of its advantages suggests a strategy for how to use it. Remember that splitting saves time and reduces some risks, but at the same time increases others.


Prefer splitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The relative safety of splitting comes from riding between two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, where you're protected from lane changes, cross traffic, and vehicles pulling off the road or turning. You don't have to rely on other drivers seeing you because the solid line of vehicles in the other lane restricts their movement. Between a traffic lane and the shoulder or centerline or turn lane, or between vehicles in one lane and a gap in the other that invites a lane change, you lose that protection and must hope that drivers will look carefully enough to see you. You will often split in less dense traffic, but when you do, risk is higher.

Prefer splitting in slow traffic.
In traffic that is moving along well, splitting has little advantage and risk increases. As this graph shows, time savings is most significant when it is slow.



When the freeway is poking along at 15mph and you're splitting at 25, you'll save a minute-and-a-half per mile or 15 minutes over 10 miles. But when it is at 50 and you're doing 60, time savings is only 12 seconds per mile or 2 minutes over 10. That minor gain doesn't justify the increased risk that comes at higher speed. You will sometimes want to split in faster traffic to improve your view or separate yourself from a knot of vehicles, but move back to the lane when you find a good spot.

Take advantage of splitting in stop-and-go traffic to avoid rear-enders.
Splitting can reduce exposure to a rear-end crash from behind, one that's difficult to anticipate and even harder to prevent. By splitting in stop-and-go traffic, you take yourself out of the impact zone and make riding in those conditions less stressful.

Take advantage of splitting to improve your view.
Behind a large vehicle, you can't see far enough ahead to anticipate events. And with the popularity today of SUVs, vans, and full-size pickups, you're often behind something you can't see over, around, or through. To prevent a rear-ender in case of a sudden slowdown, you need the recommended 2-second following distance, but in heavy traffic, that kind of gap would quickly be filled by a space-cushion thief. To improve your view and reduce stress, split past the obstructions and find a spot behind a Prius.

Show drivers the same courtesy you would like them to show you.
Finally, your strategy should help foster a harmonious road environment. Be respectful of other drivers and appreciate that they're generally not antagonistic toward you, they just want to commute with minimum hassle. If you're naturally inclined to be courteous, this is an end in itself. But even if you're hostile to them, civility has advantages. Motorists who have good experience with lane splitters may reciprocate. And, longer term, goodwill among drivers will help us keep splitting safe and legal.


With this overall approach in mind, tomorrow I'll get into specific practices that will make splitting safer.
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Old 03-25-2019, 12:34 PM   #8
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Thanks for this thread.

I experienced the joy of splitting for the first time on Saturday in a horrendous line of traffic backed up from road works on Hwy. 1 in Pacifica.

However as a noob I appreciate your insights and knowledge. I'd already done a more primitive calculation of the likely time per mile saving myself and more or less concluded that splitting is not worth the risk unless traffic is stopped or very slow moving. Also it seems like a really disrespectful thing to just hop to the front of the line at lights and stops if traffic is flowing in a normal way so I avoid that.

Will definitely keep reading this thread. Thanks!

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Old 03-25-2019, 01:27 PM   #9
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This was great Data Dan.

I don't split trucks. I'll wait. They give me the willies. TFB -- Too Big. If they're stopped, and staying stopped, then, maybe, but since I typically just split 1 and 2, trucks are rarely there anyway.

But large box vans show up over there, and they're just as bad. Back in the day when Dualies were the Flavor of the Month, I'd give them wide berth as well. Their fat tires and monster "you don't really mind ducking, do you?" mirror configurations warrant caution.

As always watch the gaps. I try to be an active participant. If I see someone wanting to merge, it's not untoward for me to grab the gap in the lane they want to merge in to, and slow down traffic behind me so that they can, then, after they're done I dive back in.

Selfish, but beats the alternative.
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Old 03-26-2019, 07:06 AM   #10
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Best Practices (part 1)

I've covered lane-splitting attitude, the unique dangers it presents, and an overall strategy. Now let's get down to specifics. What practices can you adopt that will make splitting safer? This section will be divided into four posts, starting with habits for controlling the motorcycle and observations to make.


Controlling the motorcycle

Two skills essential for all riding, and especially important when splitting lanes, are emergency braking and swerving. You don't need MotoGP braking skill, but you do need to be able to apply the brakes quickly, smoothly, and confidently. When your only evasion option is to slow down, braking skills are critical. In other situations, you may need to make a quick swerve to avoid a crash, and effective countersteering is what you'll need.

Beyond basic skills, here are some habits that will improve your ability to control the motorcycle while splitting:
  • Cover the front brake at all times. The few tenths of a second it saves can make a difference.

  • Ride in a gear that gives you good speed control with the throttle alone. In a gear that's too high, you'll lack the acceleration and deceleration you need. Too low, and throttle sensitivity will make speed adjustments jerky, and you'll need to upshift if traffic speeds up. In the right gear, you'll be able to adjust speed smoothly as the situation demands.

  • Stay off the line and reflectors. You'll have to cross the lane line occasionally, but the line itself has poor grip, so avoid it.

Observations

Because you can't count on being seen, you have to spot developing situations early, when you have time and space to take action. To see what you need to see, ride with your head and eyes up, field of view centered 3-4 car-lengths ahead, with good peripheral awareness nearer and farther in the corridor and to the lanes on either side. And while your main focus is forward, don't forget to glance occasionally in your mirrors.

The following list consists mainly of items you are well aware of and notice every day, whether on a motorcycle or in a car. But they have a slightly different meaning while splitting. For example, the upcoming 680/580 interchange is familiar, but when you're splitting, it becomes a cue to watch for the guy who forgot he has a meeting in Livermore this morning and needs to get to the southbound-eastbound exit ramp right NOW, and right across your path.
  • Gap in traffic in one lane that invites a lane change from the other.

  • Large speed differential between lanes.

  • Junction/convergence/divergence where freeways meet, split, or join.

  • HOV entry/exit points. Mainly an LA thing, but worth remembering.

  • Problem drivers weaving or making multiple lane changes.

  • Drivers searching for a lane change opportunity.

  • Slowing traffic. Scan far enough ahead that you will see a slowdown before it affects you.

  • Narrow lanes. Common in construction zones, on city streets, and on old freeways with an extra lane squeezed in.

  • Wide trailers.

  • Extended mirrors on campers and vehicles towing trailers.

  • Sudden lane change by multiple vehicles suggesting debris or a stalled vehicle ahead.

  • Clear intersection or crosswalk. A vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian may cross the corridor as you emerge into the opening.

  • Splitter behind. When you see another rider approaching from behind, get out of the way as soon as possible.

  • Splitter ahead. Follow at least two seconds behind. If you want to split faster, find a way around. Don't endanger yourself and the other rider by tailgating.

Coming up tomorrow, part 2 of Best Practices, speed while splitting.
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Old 03-27-2019, 09:25 AM   #11
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Best Practices (part 2)

Speed

Limiting your speed relative to traffic (sometimes called "delta" here on BARF) reduces vulnerability to a cutoff in two ways. First, you're more likely to be seen. Even an attentive driver will take only a brief look in his mirror before changing lanes, and the slower you're splitting, the better your chances of being there when he does.

Second, if you aren't seen, lower speed gives you more time and space to slow down and avoid a crash. This graph shows how the distance you need to slow to traffic speed increases with speed differential:



At 10mph faster than traffic, you're vulnerable within 1.5 car-lengths. If a car farther ahead begins to move into the corridor, you'll have enough space to avoid it by braking. At 30mph faster than traffic, however, you're vulnerable out to 6 car lengths. A collision with lane changer within that distance is probably unavoidable.

Split no faster than 10mph over the flow of traffic. At that speed, you will pass a car (not a truck) in one second. Approaching an Accord or Camry, count out loud starting at the rear bumper: one-thousand one. If you reach the front bumper as you finish the last syllable, you're doing +10mph.

Another concern is speed of the traffic you're splitting through. A sudden slowdown, maybe due to an accident or debris, becomes a bigger problem at higher speed. If you're splitting at 60mph through 50mph traffic that comes to a screeching halt, you'll suddenly be doing 60mph through stopped traffic, alongside drivers desperate to escape the mayhem.

Don't split when the flow of traffic is faster than 30mph. As speed picks up, find a spot with enough space and a good forward view, and rejoin a lane.


It's easy to let speed get away from you on a motorcycle. Don't let that happen when splitting. Know your speed, know your differential. KazMan's video shows what speed differential looks like (notice how the 1-second count works at 10mph):



While KazMan recommends a 15mph differential, stick with 10mph when starting out and exceed that only after you better understand the risks.


Coming up next, part 3 of Best Practices, where and when to split.
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Old 03-27-2019, 09:44 AM   #12
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Well done,
I'm going to pass this on to a friend of mine that moved to Utah.
Since they just approved of the lane splitting there, it could be helpful to her...
Thanks for putting this together!
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Old 03-28-2019, 07:21 AM   #13
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Best Practices (part 3)

Where and when to split

Lane-splitting reduces some risks but adds others. To minimize the added risks, know where they are and avoid them.
  • Prefer splitting lanes 1-2. You're further from entering and exiting traffic, so you'll encounter fewer lane-changers.

  • Avoid narrow spaces. Standard freeway lane width is 12ft, so between cars centered in their lanes, the splitting corridor is about 6ft wide. But in some places, lanes narrow to 11ft, and city street lanes can be 10ft or less. A 1ft loss of lane width is a 1ft loss of lane splitting space.

  • Avoid splitting next to large trucks and buses. They are 8.5ft wide compared to a typical 6ft car, occupying an additional 15 inches of lane-splitting space. In full-width lanes, that loss can be uncomfortable. In narrow lanes, or between two trucks, maneuvering space is extremely limited. If you lose those few inches of space cushion, you may go down under the truck's wheels and never get up. Don't do it.

  • Don't enter an open intersection until you have a good view to potential threats. Approach slowly until you can see if there are crossing vehicles, pedestrians, or oncoming left-turners. If so, yield.

  • Don't split outside of traffic lanes. To the right of the rightmost lane or the left of the leftmost lane, you're vulnerable to a vehicle turning or pulling off the road.

  • Don't split between a vehicle and an off-ramp, merge lane, or turn lane. These are likely spots for an unexpected lane change.

  • Enter the corridor only after you have checked ahead AND behind. A hasty entry to escape slowing traffic could end badly if your path is blocked or if another splitter is approaching.

  • When exiting the corridor and re-occupying a lane, don't get stuck behind a vehicle that would block your view. Better to slip in behind a Miata than a FedEx van.

  • At a signal, split to the front only when the light is still red. The jockeying for position at launch sometimes produces careless lane changes. Better to be stopped at the limit line, visible and with open roadway ahead.
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Old 03-28-2019, 07:24 AM   #14
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Best Practices (part 4)

Avoiding cutoffs

Many of the recommendations so far in Best Practices will help prevent cutoffs, but this kind of crash is so common that preventive measures deserve their own post.
  • Stay visually ahead of your situation. Know when you're approaching a gap in one lane that invites a lane change from the other. This is a likely spot for a cutoff.

  • Slow down as you near the gap. Reduced speed gives you two advantages: You spend more time in the driver's mirror field, so you're more likely to be seen, and braking distance is reduced if an incursion does occur.

  • Don't expect a signal, don't rely on head movement. A driver could jump into the gap without warning.

  • Approaching the gap, try to put yourself where they can't get you. If possible, time your passage so you're "out of phase" with the occupied lane. Accelerate to pass ahead of a vehicle that could cut you off, or slow down and let it pass the gap before you.

  • When you reach the gap, move away from the occupied lane. Additional space cushion can protect you if a vehicle begins to change lanes.

  • Don't forget about the other side of the gap. If you're splitting 1-2, and the gap is in the #2, you must also watch for threats coming from the #3.

Tomorrow: One more Best Practices post and a wrap-up.
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:16 AM   #15
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Luis Obispo
Motorcycles: Yamaha FJR1300
Name: Dan
Best Practices (part 5)

Courtesy

Commuting is a cheerless grind for everyone. With some small courtesies while splitting, you can make it easier on your fellow motorists--even if a few of them make it harder for you.
  • Thank drivers who make room.

  • Ignore drivers who don't make room. They have no obligation to give up their lane space.

  • Don't use the engine to make noise. Use your horn if you need to warn a driver.

  • Signal when you re-enter a lane.

  • After filtering up to a red light, leave quickly on the green. Get out of the way so you don't obstruct lane changes. But don't race. If a driver wants to race, let him win. You're trying to avoid congestion, and if he wants to help by blazing off into the distance, all the better.

  • Respect fellow splitters. Check your mirrors often, and if a rider comes up behind you going faster, get out of the way when you safely can. If you come up behind a rider going slower, give him time to see you. Use the horn to get his attention if you must, but DON'T TAILGATE. You don't see what he sees, so you can't react to a situation where he needs to brake.
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
--Richard Feynman

Last edited by DataDan; 03-29-2019 at 09:34 AM..
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