By May 8, 2012

Motorcycle Commuting Tactics #1: Surviving a Lane Incursion

This April I started filming my motorcycle commutes to work. I live about 23 miles from work, and have to ride downtown. This can be a bit hairy at times, and I figured my commutes might be able to help other motorcyclists who decide to use their bikes instead of their cars to go to work.

I’m still figuring out the best way to chronicle my rides, but I will start putting up some lessons learned soon.

However, I wanted to get a jump on things and talk about an interesting lane incursion that happened to me last week.

Part of my commute involves a weird mixing bowl. There are three frontage roads that lead into three different on ramps. Traffic approaches this mixing bowl at three different speeds, from 20MPH to 55MPH+. Most of the cars will shift to the right-most lane. This backs traffic up during rush hour, and makes for an interesting dance. Most of the cars are trying to get into the right lane, with the rest of us moving to the other two lanes in fits and starts.

Last week a driver, obviously familiar with cars trying to get over to the right, made his sudden and deliberate move to the left-most lane after perceiving cars changing lanes. He never thought that there would still be a vehicle in the left-most lane. Unfortunately, I was that vehicle.

Here’s what I did to stay out of trouble, and how you might be able to avoid some trouble of your own.

In the summer of 2009 I wrote about the Spring Hypothesis, which is my idea that as a car comes closer to another object they are more likely to react suddenly and often without looking. This definitely happened in this case; the driver never turned to check their blind spot. When I saw the black Audi approach stopped traffic and evaluated the angle of their hood I knew something was going to happen.

I wrote about moving to the opposite portion of your lane when you sense danger. When the Audi moved into the center lane I started moving towards the right third of my lane.

When the Audi’s tires hit the white dividing line between our lanes I started modulating my horn like I discussed in July of 2010. This time it didn’t make a difference, as the Audi kept plowing into my lane. However, this technique has worked for me in the past, and I’ll continue to use it.

Look for additional tips and techniques in my Motorcycle Commuting Tactics section, and keep the shiny side up.

Posted in: motorcycling

8 Comments on "Motorcycle Commuting Tactics #1: Surviving a Lane Incursion"

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  1. bob says:

    My interpretation of your video was that you blew past those two cars, putting yourself in an unexpected and difficult to see position for the third car. If you had simply stayed behind the two cars, in lane, you probably wouldn’t have had a close call.

    Just like the other driver were also obviously familiar with cars trying to get over one way or the other, as you stated, and yet you still put yourself in a dangerous position.

    You will probably go on about how it’s actually safer for bikes to split lanes and the like. Maybe so, when done correctly and safely. But you didn’t do that.

  2. DrFaulken says:

    Hi there — thanks for your comment!

    I think I understand where you’re coming from. You are suggesting that if I’d stayed behind the two cars, the black Audi would have had been able to cross two lanes of traffic without a chance of me being there.

    This is a fair point.

    However, at 0:42 I am even with the green Saturn that is now in the middle lane, where the Audi is. I am the sole occupant of the left most lane. If the driver had looked at this point, it wouldn’t matter if I split/shared a lane, or if I had been the only vehicle on the road.

    I think being two to three seconds slower would have put me further behind the Audi. In this fashion, I agree with you about being further back.

    However, I’m not sure the other two cars have anything to do with this. I think the Audi driver would have reacted the same way regardless if I was the only other vehicle on the highway, as he never looked when crossing two lanes of traffic.

    Let me think about it some more. Thanks again for your comment, and even if we wind up not agreeing on this issue I hope you continue to read and post.

  3. MS says:

    I agree with bob. You and the two preceeding cars were in the left lane of a 2-lane road. The two cars wanted to change one lane right while the Audi wanted to change one lane left. Since the two had not vacated the left lane yet, it was reasonable for the Audi, who was ahead of them, to assume that the lane was clear. To expect that he would notice a half-width vehicle overtaking them (in the Audi’s blind spot) before they had fully vacated the lane is somewhat unreasonable.

  4. DrFaulken says:

    That’s totally fair 🙂

    I thought about it, and I am going to try Bob’s suggestion the rest of the week to see if it makes a difference or not.

  5. EdH says:

    I have to say, there is enough blame here to go around. As a motorcyclist myself, there are several things I wouldn’t have done.

    First, at 0:32, you cut across the blend line. That wasn’t good.
    –1 – it is illegal to cross a white line like that
    –2 – it is unsafe, especially in high traffic situations. I saw you do several headchecks, but you still couldn’t have anticipated someone coming over from lane 4 into lane 5 (the lane you shot into if I counted correctly) which would have been perfectly within their right, only to be surprised by you darting over the blend line
    –3 – it was a split blend line, which means it has more debris than normal, and that means more risk of a tire puncture. A pain in a car, potentially lethal on a bike.

    Second, you were lane splitting at 0:41, which is illegal I believe in 49 states, and you aren’t in California. Even if you were, you were doing it illegally as by then you had come up on a shoulder and you cannot lane split between an outer lane and the shoulder. You were right in the Audi’s assumption – the two cars HAD blocked the lane. Nothing but an emergency vehicle with lights flashing and siren blaring should have come past. The Audi had verified there were no vehicles to its left and was appropriately focusing on the cars it was passing on the right.

    You have to drive defensively, and that doesn’t mean hot-dogging in rush hour. This was irresponsible and I feel sure that if an accident had ensued and this video were watched, you’d be facing fines and would clearly be at fault.

    Slow down, get home 5 minutes later and arrive safe.

  6. DrFaulken says:

    Do any of you drive a black Audi? 😛

    Thanks for the feedback. I did The Bob yesterday and today and despite feeling very exposed to the 55MPH+ traffic coming into the mixing bowl, it didn’t have any significant impact on navigating through the mess.

    On the other hand, traversing the white line is not a concern of mine.

    EdH, I appreciate the comments you’ve made to Gibberish over the years, but this series may not appeal to you. I understand if you don’t return.

  7. Ex Ars Technica Rider says:

    I think you are in the wrong there. You split lanes in a position leaving you few outs in case things went bad.

    Also that Audi had no shot of seeing you in his mirror, or looking over his shoulder.

    Think about what you would have been able to see if you were in a car. That situation could have turned out very ugly.

    Please feel free to reply to my email if you would like to discuss it further.

  8. Dave says:

    Rider is in the wrong here, without a doubt.

    As others have said, I don’t think there’s anywhere you’re allowed to pass in the remaining lane space otherwise occupied normally by a car, to the outside.

    And even if it were, the Audi had every reason to think it was safe. The driver might’ve even shoulder-checked properly, and would only have seen stopped cars.

    What (s)he did was reasonable and appropriate. Rider, not so much. And yes, it’s normally the cage’s fault. 😉

    Be careful out there!