Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Why I miss lane splitting...

9.13.2010

Why I miss lane splitting...

[For the definition of lane-splitting or lane sharing, click here.]

The motorcycle is one of the most agile motorized vehicles on the planet. In my home state of California I used my motorcycle to get from point A to point B with efficiency – in many cases I didn't have much of a choice thanks to the multitudes of cars at any time of the day that would, literally, sit in front of me with every place to be and no where to go. A commute that would normally take 2.5 hours in a car would be chopped in half thanks to the privilege only allowed by one state in the US: lane sharing or "splitting." It was a ballet, a dance in between lines, in a lane that fit us motorcyclists perfectly. After a year here in Ohio, I long for the opportunity to take that dance again.

Here's the problem. Lane sharing is downright illegal in all parts of the US except for California. I will admit, there aren't as many reasons to utilize this tool in a motorcyclist's kit of skills out here; “Rush Hour” only lasts an hour during the morning and late afternoon. However, the aggressive driving culture here and the occasional disregard for the safety of other motorists makes me wish it was allowed by law.

An Ohio native once told me, “There are four seasons in Ohio: Spring, Summer, Winter, and Road Construction.” At any time of the year there's a closed lane, a road being resurfaced, or a new detour that lengthens the commute significantly. The problems then arise when drivers in “cages” (cars) are forced to adjust their driving to reflect the situation. This is where they fail miserably at merging, right-of-way rules, and speed control. Before you know it traffic is gnarled due to one person trying to merge immediately or not allowing another driver to go ahead of them like it's some sort of race. The “zipper rule” (one car from each lane merging in an alternating sequence) doesn't exist out here. And here I am in the stop-and-go burning up my motorcycle's clutch and my patience. I peek through the lanes, weave in my own, and think to myself, “I could totally split past all this crap.” And then I envision the car that will get in my way to try to crunch me out of spite.

In an ideal situation in CA, my bike will pass between cars for as long as there is at least ½ a car width of an opening. I maintain my speed according to the flow of traffic – CA law calls for no faster than 10MPH above the speed of the surrounding cars. I would not want to try it here; drivers that realize you're smarter than them will try to kill you. For those moments in gridlock and my subtle attempts to squeeze into little spaces, everyone suddenly appears to be trying out for starting linebacker position at Ohio State. Then comes the unnecessary merging, opening of doors (or the threat thereof), cursing and swearing...and only because I've just placed myself a couple cars in front of you. Spiteful bastards.

On the other hand, CA folks have already admitted defeat to the traffic situation in the Golden State. They know the bikes will be the only vehicles to pass through the gridlock. In fact, many cars and buses will facilitate the motorcyclists' journey by nudging themselves over several inches to allow the bikes to squeak through. Of course, there are some bikers that take too many liberties in zooming excessively fast along these “fourth lanes.” If you've ridden outside of CA, you learn that the lane split is a privilege that should be used responsibly and not a right by virtue of a motorcycle's slim profile, at least in 49 of the 50 states and Canada.

Let's face it fellow motorcyclists, Ohio car drivers will never change. Even if lane splitting is legalized in this state, there will still be cagers with homicidal tendencies that will never admit defeat. It is only with a drastic change in motorist culture that we as motorcyclists will be free to use our bikes the way they were designed, taking advantage of their agility, power, and gracefulness in the smallest of drivable lanes. Until then I'll be looking behind me in hopes I don't get rear-ended by some cell-phone texting teenager or trucker.

Thanks to seven years of CA riding, there's always that escape route, the valley that looks like three inches between car to car yet is three feet wide to me, the motorcyclist. Until you take a ride on a bike and relish those advantages, you'll never understand.