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Most of the information found on this website, other than the road reviews, is designed to enhance your driving or riding experience on your favorite roads. This page is a little different, in that it is designed to help motorcyclists safely make it through urban traffic on the way to their favorite road.
When my wife decided to learn to ride a motorcycle (okay, I decided for her) I wanted to give her as much information as possible to make her a better rider. This page is a direct result of that desire, and hopefully it will be helpful to other riders also.
Already know all these tricks? Great, skip on to the exciting stuff in the Roads section. Better yet, tell your friends who may not yet be expert riders. It is hard enough to ride a motorcycle, knowing how to ride safely can help newer riders become great (and old) riders.
None of this information is new to me, it's just stuff I've seen or heard over the years and felt deserved to be repeated to as many people as possible.
Riding in the blind spot behind a vehicle is bad (yellow bike), but riding in the blind spot next to a vehicle is potentially fatal (green bike).
Just about everyone who drives a vehicle knows that many cars and trucks have "blind spots", or areas where another vehicle may be hidden from both the mirrors and a sideways glance out of the side window. While most people adjust their mirrors improperly and make these blind spots much bigger than they should be, the fact remains that they exists. With motorcycles presenting a much smaller surface area to be seen by motorists, blind spots are even more of a threat.
Any motorcyclist who values their safety soon learns to ride as if they were invisible to other traffic, so blind spots really shouldn't be an issue. However, in crowded urban environments it is not always possible to leave as much room between yourself and another vehicle as you may like.
When riding near a vehicle in an adjacent lane, try and remember to never position yourself past the rear bumper but behind the driver or passenger side window. In the example above the yellow motorcycle is not visible in the car's mirror, but if the driver were to swerve to the right suddenly the bike would not be hit. The green motorcycle, however, is too far forward and risks being hit by an inattentive driver.
By "staggering" the left and right wheel track when riding in a group, each rider has an "out" both in front of and next to their bike for emergency maneuvers.
Most people probably think that motorcycles are supposed to ride side by side in groups; since motorcycle groups are usually composed of Harleys it is understandable where this perception comes from. However, if you are concerned with safety a staggered formation is a better option whenever riding with a group of friends in traffic.
Note that this type of staggered riding formation is primarily used for riding in urban areas or on the freeway. When riding in the canyons or your favorite back-road, lane position and distance between riders will need to be adjusted to suit the type of road and riding conditions.
If you are riding a motorcycle then hopefully you have been taught (or figured out for yourself) to ride in one of the "wheel tracks" in the lane because the center of the lane has more dirt, debris, and oil than the sides. Most riders I see understand this and ride in the left wheel track, which is the normal (but not required) position for motorcycle riders.
Having a fair amount of experience with riding in groups of riders with different skill levels, I have seen a wide variety of group positioning. While not the only method (other countries teach different group riding formations), staggered riding in traffic offers the most safety for all riders involved. When riding in a group of two or more riders, it is important for the bikes to stay close enough to present a visual obstruction to other drivers yet far enough apart that the bikes aren't in danger of colliding with each other.
Freeway Lane Positioning
Most of the time the best position is the left wheel track, but when in the left lanes of the freeway the right wheel track may provide better visibility.
If you live, like I do, in Southern California then riding on the freeway is a fact of life. Some people enjoy lane "splitting" and the challenge of navigating the congested parking lots we pay so much in taxes for, while others hate the stress of constantly dodging mirrors and drivers who refuse to signal.
Regardless of your personal preference, it is very difficult to get around SoCal without using the freeway. And while statistically you are more likely to be involved in an accident on surface streets the freeways can be much more intimidating with their higher speeds and the sheer number of cars surrounding you.
When I was taught to ride, most of the literature I read and advice I was given told me to always right in the left wheel-track of the lane. This allowed oncoming vehicles to see me easier and vice-versa. While this works well on city streets and rural highways, freeways need to be addressed differently.
One piece of advice I found, I believe in Friction Zone, has proven to be very helpful. When riding in the car-pool (or HOV) lane it may actually be safer to ride in the right wheel-track instead of the left. The reason for this is that there are no oncoming vehicles that need to see you, and vehicles in the fast lane (just to the right of the carpool lane) will be able to see you in their side-view mirrors. When you ride in the left wheel-track of the carpool lane any vehicles attempting to merge into your lane may not see you if they don't actually look over their shoulder.
If the freeway doesn't have a carpool lane, this tactic applies to the left-most lane. I will also use the right-wheel track when riding in the left lane directly adjacent to the carpool lane when the two are separated by a double-yellow line. In this situation I am more concerned with cars merging from my right than my left, and so position myself where I can easily be seen by vehicles in that lane.