Motorcycles could be considered the supermodels of the highway, they’re slim, sexy and for the sake of this article, the small profile means riders take up a fraction of lanes designed to accommodate larger vehicles. While other, more aggressive road users may feel otherwise, a motorcyclist has a right to use the entire width of the lane they’re riding in.
Before bikers wallow in the luxurious room afforded by the average lane, motorcycle safety experts note there are specific areas they should ride in, not only while in motion but also when stopped.
There are several reasons why there are right and wrong parts of a lane, or as we’ll call it for this article, lane positioning. First and foremost is safety with several factors playing into what’s right and wrong, choosing the correct lane position gives bikers the upper hand and a safer ride. Another reason would fall under the categories of consideration and sharing the road with other riders.
To help visualize the following tips, Clutch and Chrome’s art department has taken a road from Anytown, USA and divided it into the three areas or lane-positions. The diagram above shows lane-position ‘A’ as being nearest oncoming traffic, ‘B’ is the middle of the lane enjoyed by the rider and ‘C’, set against the shoulder.
First, looking at where a rider should position themselves while riding in traffic. The following advice and tips assumes riders are maintaining safe distances from surrounding traffic.
Everyone wants an ‘A’
For most of the time spent on the road, riders should consider position ‘A’ as the place to be. It’s hip, happening and makes the most motorcycle safety sense.
With ‘I didn’t see the motorcycle’ the most common statement given after an accident, being seen is a crucial part of any type of riding safety tip. Besides, we riders love our motorcycles, why wouldn’t we want the world to see it?
Lane-position ‘A’ allows drivers looking up and down the lanes to know there’s a motorcycle in the traffic-mix, including drivers coming from behind as well as those in oncoming traffic. This is important for drivers considering what room is available on the road when planning to overtake other vehicles.
In a few words, hanging out in this lane position should stop any vehicles from pulling into your lane as they’re moving up the flow of slow-moving traffic when overtaking.
This lane position also allows for a motorcycle’s headlights to be seen by the driver-side mirror of the vehicle ahead. Regardless if the vehicle immediately in front is a large bus, truck or even a car, when positioned correctly at a safe distance, the motorcycle’s headlights will always be seen.
Just as important, lane-position ‘A’ allows riders to look beyond the vehicle directly in front as well a distance behind, both of which allow a rider to read the road.
‘B’ is not good
The most common advice given to riders is to avoid the center lane-position, designated as ‘B’ in our diagram, because it tends to have oil deposits from heavy automobile traffic. While the advice of avoiding ‘B’ is correct, the reason given is more wives tale than fact. Oil deposits may be heavier at intersections where vehicles stop for periods of time, however, on the highway with fast moving traffic it’s harder for these leaks to collect at any quantity.
Better reasons to stay out of this area of the lane comes down to the position more or less hiding the motorcycle to anyone other than the vehicle’s directly in front and behind the rider. It also limits the rider’s view of what’s happening further down the road in either direction, leaving them unable to ‘read the road’.
One of the few highlights of this lane position are the motorcycle’s headlights shining directly into the rearview mirror of the vehicle, letting the driver know the rider is there. However, this only applies to cars and other vehicles of a lower height. If a vehicle doesn’t have a rear window such as vans or larger trucks, this advantage is lost.
As mentioned earlier, lane position ‘A’ ensures a motorcycle’s headlights are seen by any vehicle driving in front of the rider and the same can be said for the final lane position, ‘C’.
‘C’ you occasionally
Lane position ‘C’ could be compared to the boring friend with a truck. He’s needed occasionally to help move things but otherwise tends to be forgotten. But in an emergency, he’s good to have!
The main advantage ‘C’ has over the middle of the lane is the motorcycle’s headlights will be seen by the vehicle in front, regardless of its size. Although in a much more limited fashion than lane position ‘A’, this area does allow for reading the road ahead and behind.
If riding on a smaller two lane road, ‘C’ can be used to avoid the large drafting caused by oncoming large trucks. Similarly, if riding on city streets which have a lot of people turning into a rider’s lane, living in lane-position ‘C’ allows merging drivers know a motorcycle is there.
Unfortunately, no one else on the road will know the rider is there and is the reason many stay out of this lane position. It also puts the motorcycle closer to the shoulder which limits the available room to maneuver if something happens.
While the above discussion around lane positions are good to know, they shouldn’t be taken as golden rules in any measure. Every traffic situation will be different and each road will bring its own challenges. Rather than memorize the advice as hard and fast advice, riders would be better to understand why each lane enjoys the advantages it does and what limitations the different lane positions have.
The final stop in this article
What could be considered as a rule set in stone are lane positions when at a stop. Riders can chose either ‘A’ or ‘C’, it doesn’t really matter which. What does matter and causes experienced riders to roll their eyes are riders who position themselves in the middle, ‘B’ for those playing along, at a stop.
Most likely rooted in group riding where bikers stagger their positions from ‘A’ to ‘C’, by stopping on the left or right side of a lane riders allow those motorcycles behind to stop alongside them. Some may choose to stop in a staggered fashion while others will pull up level with the first motorcycle.
Not only does this allow more motorcycles to fit into a smaller area as well as offering both motorcycles a better, collective presence, it also gives more riders the opportunity to negotiate the traffic signal. Simply put, more riders can make it through the intersection before the light turns red. As readers can see in the image below, when parked in the center, the second motorcycle is a bike's length further back with less of an opportunity to make the light.
Looking to motorcycle safety, the middle area of a lane at an intersection could have heavy deposits of oil and other leaked vehicle fluids making the road slippery and hard to maintain footing. Slippery aside, all those leaked fluids get stuck to the bottom of a rider’s boots or shoes ending up on motorcycle footpegs and wherever the biker wanders on foot.
Besides, the best biker conversations are enjoyed at lights between two riding strangers, if no room is given, these can never happen.