How To Ride In Heavy Traffic
There are few pleasures on the road equal to riding a motorcycle. The idea of being out on the open, scenic roads alone or even with a group of like-minded riders conjures up images of perfection. But with every good thing on a motorcycle there always tends to be an opposite danger involved.
Getting to those lonesome roads in the middle of nowhere (if that is even possible) usually means having to endure a bit congestion first. That is, fleeing the urban matrix for a bit of respite. Heavy traffic is an extra hindrance for motorcyclists and presents dangers and obstacles that require premium skills and hyper-awareness.
Control the Situation
You can never expect other drivers to be on the lookout for you on a motorcycle. That is not the way it works, and if you expect those insulated in their mammoth SUVs to be on the watch for two-wheeled speedsters, then you may be in line for an accident. You need to be in complete control, not only of your bike, but also of the street (through keen observation and prediction), and of your mental state.
Thus, if you just saddled up and hit the road after an argument with your spouse or boss, you can bet you will not be at your best emotionally. Your emotional state has a direct affect on your overall mental processing.
So you are automatically creating a hazardous condition because you are sacrificing an element of control. The stakes are high in heavy traffic and you have to use your size and vision to compensate. They are your allies, and hindering them by not being as sharp as you should only means you increase the possibilities of making a mistake.
Distance is Your Friend
The best way to assume control riding on the motorcycle is to create space. Much like a football running back attempts to find gaps that increase the field of vision, you will have much more success maneuvering in traffic if you have some breathing room. These gaps may be essential for quick reaction and narrow escapes, but they are also key to observing the whole road in front of you. The more you see, the more you can predict.
If you are riding two feet off the bumper of a Hummer with tinted windows, odds are you will not see much besides the license plate and paint job dings. If the driver of the Hummer slams on the breaks your options will be completely cut off. Because you could not predict what was happening up the road (or even see it), the consequences will not be good even with the swiftest reaction.
Thus, even in the heaviest traffic (think L.A. or D.C.), try to keep around two to four seconds of length between you and the car in front. How do you measure time? Just base it on your speeds and guess. If you are in a slog and only moving around 10 miles per hour (mph), then a car length or two will suffice. But if you are pushing upwards of 50 mph then you should considering sitting back four or more car lengths.
A single lane is divided into three riding areas: right side, center, and left side. Obviously a road can have all sorts of lanes and a rider's positioning will essentially depend on that. For example, if there is only one lane in your direction (i.e., two-lane road) and you are in traffic, odds are you will not want to be in the left portion of the lane, especially if there is a curb.
This is because you have just reduced your options almost to nil if a situation arises. Not that you necessarily want to be hovering over in the right side of the lane, either, with oncoming vehicles barreling toward you. Here is a good instance where riding in the center, with distance applied, can be your best bet.
However, if you are on a major highway with four to six lanes in one direction, the center is most likely the last place you want to be in traffic. Most riders are taught to slice and dice to the far left lane (minimize obstructions to one side completely) and then ride in the right side of that lane. Some riders will stay one lane from the left, but ride in the far left of said lane.
Of course, if you are in city traffic, the left lane may be a real hindrance because of left turning vehicles, so opting for the center lane may be the best option. It really just depends where you feel comfortable, while at the same time keeping control and maintaining good distance.
Although lane splitting (the act of moving between cars to the front of traffic) sparks all types of ire from motorists, it is legal in many states. And considering motorcycles are extremely vulnerable on the road, it is not a bad idea to get in the clear.
That is what the tactic is designed to do in the first place―remove obstacles from riders, not get them to a place any quicker than one of their four-wheeled brethren. Of course, you will want to use extra caution moving to the front of the pack.
The best thing you can possibly do to improve your traffic skills is to sign up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. They offer classes in each state for both the novice and experienced rider.