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?
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.
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.