Dear MOby,

I finally took the plunge after years of watching motorcycles pass me on the 405 every commute to and from my office. Took MO’s advice and got myself a Honda NC700X with DCT transmission. I’ve been riding it around not-so-busy surface streets (as not-busy as they get in L.A., at least), and loving it, and I’m ready to start using it for my daily ride from Long Beach to Irvine.

In my Corolla, I’d usually drive in the right or middle lanes, which usually seem to flow a little faster when traffic flows at all, to avoid the crazies in the Lexuses whipping in and out of the fast lanes. My question is, when traffic’s moving too fast to lane-split between the left lanes, is it safer for me on my Honda to keep keeping right among the trucks and merging traffic? In other words, should I continue trying to drive “defensively” like I do in my car? Or do I need to ride differently than I drive?

Signed,
NC Freely
Long Beach, CA


Another excellent MOronic question we’re glad you asked. When researchers research motorcycle “accidents,” one of the biggies involves motorcycles being rear-ended. It’s not just motorcycles that get rear-ended, which happens frequently when car drivers get distracted as their cars accordion along. The problem is if you’re on a bike being rear-ended, the damage can be far worse than what happens to a car. Avoiding the ass-pack, then, is the single biggest reason why most riders who’ve been around the block a few times – even ones who are more mild-mannered behind the wheel – tend to adopt a more offensive than defensive style on their motorcycles, in an attempt to keep themselves from being vulnerable to attack from the rear. On a motorcycle as in modern warfare, the static defensive line invites the enemy to whip around behind you.

As you begin commuting in heavy freeway traffic, it’s probably wise to start out doing as you’ve always done in your Toyota, whilst being sure your mirrors are adjusted and checked constantly. I bet you’ll quickly become aware that things which didn’t bother you in your Corolla mirrors will seem more threatening when viewed from your bike, and your natural survival instincts will probably encourage you to do what’s required to make objects in your mirrors grow smaller.

Photo by roza/Bigstock.com

Photo by roza/Bigstock.com

Reminds me of going through new rider’s school years ago at Willow Springs, and being taught that race bikes don’t have mirrors because it’s the things in front of you that need paying attention to. Trouble, lead instructor Danny Farnsworth said, will always come from the front. (Unless Dani Pedrosa or Andrea Iannone are behind you.) Most of the MO staff and most of the experienced riders we ride with tend to go just fast enough to make that philosophy also apply to the street, as in fast enough that they can’t rear-end you. Not stupid dangerous fast, just a bit faster than most of the cars. Few cops in L.A. will write you a ticket for that. In general, it’s a defensive way of riding that’s actually a bit more offensive, more proactive than reactive.

What that means is staying mostly in the left two lanes on the highway, which lets you split them when traffic slows down enough to safely do so without having to cut across lanes. Meanwhile, you’re keeping your eyes on your mirrors for rare but dangerous Fast & Furious maniacs, which you can move well over to let by. I’ve sat behind oblivious cars for miles in my car, waiting in vain for them to move out of the left lane and let me by. I’ve never sat behind another motorcycle, on my motorcycle, for more than about 20 seconds before the guy moves over and lets me past usually with a friendly wave. That’s because motorcycles, the smart ones anyway, practice constant 360-degree situational awareness.

It’s a small price to pay for greatly enhanced mobility, and even a Zen-like feeling of total awareness that many moto-denizens of the big city only ever achieve on their motorcycles. Enjoy your NC and your commute!


Send your moto-related questions to AskMOAnything@motorcycle.com. If we can’t answer them, well, ahhh, hey, nobody’s perfect.

Recent Ask MOs:
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  • John B.

    Good advice all.

    It’s odd that with all the intellectual talent in California, it still has a traffic problem. America’s greatest minds gave us space travel, smart phones, autonomous vehicles, and Crispy Creme Donuts. Surely they could solve a simple queuing theory equation. During rush hour vehicles (other than motorcycles) carrying fewer than 4 people should be banned from highways and major arteries. Problem solved.

    • Old MOron

      I like your thinking, John. But unless the rush hour window was broadly defined, people would just go to and leave work outside of “rush hour,” and the congestion would be shifted to other times.

      Even if people made the effort to travel in groups of four, that would have unintended consequences, for example: people in Hell A tend to commute from all different directions. It’s not likely that your office mates happen to live in your neighborhood. This means twice a day people would have to do extra driving, not on major highways or arteries, just to collect three passengers. We’d shift the congestion from highways to surface streets.

      Then again, I suppose someone could come up with an app to help you find people who live nearby and who work nearby, too. That might work if your place of employment is close to other employers.

      • John B.

        I’m sure the simple solution I proposed would not work, however, with all the advances in technology it surprises me someone has not thought of a better way to move people from A to B. I mean, a 1-person per car solution is terribly inefficient. Surely, some eager young mind will solve this age-old problem.

        • Old MOron

          Yes, and then the automobile-petroleum industry will suppress the solution. I have a feeling that’s what’s going on already. (sorry to be so cynical)

        • john burns

          I always liked what Peter Egan said was his reason for moving back to Wisconsin: California’s a great place but not enough condoms. The only solution to all its problems, it looks like to me, is less people. Must’ve been lovely in the `60s. I mean, sorry about the rampant racism, sexism, and other isms of the day, but population, housing, and drivingwise, it must’ve been nice. I was watching The Loved One I think the other night, ca 1963. They hopped on the freeway and drove 70 all the time!

          • Gruf Rude

            It was already awful when I went through boot camp at MCRD San Diego in 1970. You and Eagan are exactly right, and not just about California – the whole world is way over-populated and some sort of Malthusian calamity is the inevitable ‘solution’.

          • Goose

            Sorry John/ Peter but try finding a native Californian. The problem ain’t condoms, it is open borders. Look at the MO staff, how many born in the golden state?

            Yup, I’m a fifth generation Californian, on my mother’s side. Pop’s people were Johny come latelys, only been here a little over a hundred years.

          • blansky

            Yes but wasn’t LA famous for massive smog back in the 70s. This is due to the fact that it’s a basin and often the air never moves much. I lived in LA in the late 80s and it was said air quality was much better then, than previously.

          • John B.

            i first visited California in the late 70s as a Freshman college student. I met a beautiful young women there and swooned over the girl and everything California in the way only young men can swoon. Now, I’m romanticizing those experiences the way only older men can. That is to say, I thought California was amazing when I first visited. Now when I visit so-cal it looks dingy and tired to me. I imagine if I ran into my old girlfriend she might say the same thing about me. Yea, too many people.

        • Gruf Rude

          Mass transit helps a lot in the really dense urban areas but LA sprawl may be beyond salvage.

      • Barry_Allen

        They tried that a couple of decades ago with push pins and cork boards in supermarkets. The authorities, in full panty wad mode, deemed that taking 5 bucks a week for gas money from a ride sharer made an “illegal taxi service.”

        • Old MOron

          Very interesting. Thank you.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Cars with less than two or three people are already banned from carpool lanes. More motorcycle riding should be encouraged to reduce congestion and pollution. The traffic problem is only in big metropolitan areas like the LA Basin and San Francisco Bay Area. Autonomous vehicles will reduce congestion because they will move at high speed in the autonomous vehicle lane (formerly the carpool lane). More telecommuting, teleconferencing and flexible work hours will help too. So solutions are coming, just not here yet.

  • Old MOron

    Good advice, JB. This is pretty standard practice in Hell A, I think. Go a little faster than the flow of traffic and watch your six. But you said it much better.

    Hey, Danny Farnsworth initiated me into WSMC, too. I think it was called New Racer School, not New Rider School.

    • Gruf Rude

      And if traffic allows, ride in the empty space between accordion clots of cars. Probably not common in the LA basin but spaces like that still exist on the Interstates on the Front Range.
      As JB says, situational awareness is essential. When things slow to a crawl, watch your mirrors and lane split out of the way of the texting idiots who will slam into the last few cars in line . . .
      Hell, my wife dove into the median a few months ago in her Subaru when a mirror check showed that the guy behind wasn’t slowing. Her quick reaction saved us; three of the six cars/trucks involved were totaled.

    • Born to Ride

      I always say stay ahead of traffic and ride just inside the lines. Moving through traffic makes you less susceptible to rear end collisions and staying to the edge of the lane gives you more escape routes if evasive maneuvers are required.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I have been commuting 35 miles each way on the freeway every working day for 10 years for a total of 175,000 miles. Luckily there is a car pool lane most of the way which is quite empty during the morning rush hour. CHP recommends staying in between the left most lane and the lane next to it when lane sharing. There are a lot more vehicles in the carpool lane in the evening rush hour, especially on Fridays. You have to stay alert while lane sharing and pass each pair of vehicles on a individual basis instead of making a bee line since vehicles shift left and right and some even change lanes. Keep your high beam on (recommended by CHP) so vehicles can see you in their rearview mirrors. People make fun of “Loud Pipes Save Lives” but it helps if they can hear you above their stereo and traffic noise. It helps to be dressed in proper motorcycle attire. Makes you look more like a motor officer. If vehicles move out of their way for you, always thank them with a wave of the hand. The whole point of lane sharing is to go faster than the cars, but if traffic is moving freely, there is no need to lane share. Do not cross multiple lanes like some sport bike riders weaving in and out between cars. They give motorcycle riders a bad name. Lane sharing as defined by the CHP is between lane 1 (left most lane) and lane 2 (the one next to it) going no more than 10 mph faster than the traffic which is moving at 30 mph or below. Multiple lane changes are frowned upon and will get you a ticket. Needless to say, it is better if you don’t have panniers or saddlebags on your bike while lane sharing. Gives your bike more room to move and less chance of hitting a car. Use a tank bag, tail bag, top case or even a backpack instead. Also not good to have a big windshield that can hit car mirrors. A small sport windshield is better.

  • BDan75

    Something I rarely see mentioned (maybe because it’s wrong in some way I don’t understand?) is generally staying in the left third of the lane when you have cars following you and can’t get away from them (ah, lane splitting…)

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m driving a car I find it much more natural to visually acquire and track nearby obstacles that are directly in front of me, i.e., in the left portion of the lane. Following in trail behind motorcycles in the center, and especially the right third, of the lane always makes me nervous…I think because my brain isn’t as “primed” to detect existing obstructions in that lane position, so it requires more CPU cycles. Or something.

    Anyway, I’ve had decent results thus far. The other thing I always try to do is tap my rear brake repeatedly while slowing, even if I don’t need to use brakes….this especially when there’s a car following 50 or 100 yards back.

  • Larry Kahn

    Some bits of advice not mentioned so far are having a hi-vis helmet (mine’s day-glo orange) gives the drivers a clue you’re there since your head will be above most of the cars and visible, and before any lane change or splitting, regardless of what you see in your mirrors, turn your head and check over your shoulder. We do have blind spots and in England this glance is called a “lifesaver”. Only has to save your ass once to be worth the thousands of other times you look. I also like to give a quick hand motion that I’m moving over with or without turn signals, subconsciously gets the car drivers to see you as another human being connecting with them rather than just a machine with a blinking light. And yeah, go a little faster than the general flow for sure. Pay attention!!

  • SRMark

    Bless you souls who live in urban areas. Many good ideas have been exchanged here for staying alive in the sardine can. My best wishes for you all.

  • Auphliam

    I saw a sticker that said Loud Pipes Save Lives, so I stuck one of those on my beany. I’m good to go 🙂

  • Michael Emmons

    Love my Honda CTX700DCT (dual clutch transmission)

  • JMDGT

    I purposely avoid rush hour and the freeway like the plague. I ride it if I have to but as little as possible. It is almost impossible to maintain a safe following distance. I try to make sure I have somewhere to go if need be.

  • Uncommon Sense

    I like freeway riding. I find it safer than urban streets in Chicago because everyone is flowing the same direction at generally the same speed. Much less chance of someone doing something like turning left or merging into you or abruptly stopping. Once you get used to the higher speed, freeway riding is far more relaxing imho.

    Also, I think having a bike that can comfortably cruise at 75-85mph with plenty of power left is key. Being able out accelerate cars always keeps you in control.

    I generally get over into the left lane as soon as possible. I never ever ride in middle lanes unless I am coming up on an exit. I find the left lane to be the safest as I only have one lane to worry about some idiot merging over. You also have an escape lane (emergency median) in case you need to make an aggressive avoidance manuever.

    Middle lanes are the worst because if for some reason you have a getoff or other issue, you are screwed on both left and right sides. Far more likelihood of tangling with a car.

    The slow right lane also isn’t bad but you have to worry about people merging on to the highway and idiots who make a last minute dash for an exit.

  • Anderson F. Octer

    Nice Article!
    Always go faster than cars and lane splitting.
    you have more vision and know what is going on.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    The 405 is a tough one, but commuting on bike per JB’s guidance is far better than being trapped in a car going nowhere fast. But be very watchful while you are taking exits or interchanges to other freeways, especially if there’s any construction. And stay the hell away from Trucks – that’s another very good reason to be in the left two lanes (or the carpool lane) – trucks aren’t allowed there!

  • symun buuntw

    Plenty gap for bike on lane split.overhere we allow on lanesplit ride on just nice easy speed limit through..will get ticket if over speed limit on lanesplit..we all riding . safety is on yorself.