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Highway Riding: When You Just Need to Hit the "Slab"
Sometimes you just can't get where you're going by nice curvy country roads. You have to get from point A to point B, where the curvy roads begin. You need to travel a distance on the highway, interstate or autobahn, at high speeds to get where the real adventure motorcycle riding begins.
In the beginning, when I first started riding, I hated highway riding - hated it. I felt as though the wind would blow me off the bike, or the wind would blow the bike off the road. I lacked the confidence that I had total control of the motorcycle, and that I could outsmart and outrun the vehicles with whom I was sharing the highway. To me, speed, wind and distance were dangerous.
Time and experience changed my mind with respect to the danger involved, but I still don't really think that highway riding is fun. It's not fun, but it is sometimes very necessary. If you want to get from the Midwest to the east coast, or to the west, and you are not going to trailer your motorcycles, then you're going to have to do some highway riding. You are going to be doing some long distance motorcycle travel. So make the best of it. Look over at those people in cars, and feel sorry for them. You're on a motorcycle!
High Speed Riding, Ignore the Idiot Drivers
When riding a motorcycle on a high speed road, you're traveling with 4 wheel vehicles of all sizes and varieties, and with trucks - great BIG trucks. On a motorcycle, you may be the smallest vehicle, but unless you are riding a 250 cc motorcycle, you are probably the fastest vehicle on the road. So, you've got the power, and also the vulnerability of being the smallest on the road. You need to be smart in order to be safe, and to make it to your destination ready to ride the fun roads.
The First Rule: Not all drivers like motorcycle riders. Hard to believe, but true.
You will encounter drivers who seem to have attitudes against motorcycles. Even if you are wearing a helmet, wearing protective apparel and totally obeying the speed limit, there will be drivers of other vehicles who will show you, in various ways, that they do not like motorcycles, PERIOD. Yes, you will encounter road rage.
You will meet drivers who will drive very, very, very slowly in the right lane, and when you pass them on the left, and then re-enter the right lane, they will speed up, and then drive right behind your rear tail light, honk, and then pass you. Then, once again in the right lane, they will resume the same below-the-speed-limit speed, forcing you to pass them again. (Repeat this sequence until one of the vehicles, 2 or 4 wheeled, needs to exit).
You will meet drivers who believe that they belong in the passing lane, at whatever speed they choose to drive. This means that if you attempt to pass a slower vehicle in the right lane, this "I-belong-in-the-passing-lane" vehicle will speed up, right up to your tail light, honk and force you into the right lane, quickly.
You will meet drivers who don't see you. You will meet drivers who don't want to see you.
You will meet drivers who would really like to be riding a motorcycle, but instead are driving in a vehicle with a spouse or significant other, who will not allow them to be a motorcycle rider.
You will meet drivers who will accelerate and obstruct your entry onto the highway, and drivers who speed up to obstruct your exit from the highway.
There is only one rule to observe when dealing with these highway drivers - IGNORE them. Don't even turn your head to make eye contact. You have the ability to accelerate through any of these situations. Or slow down and let them pass. Either way, do not engage with the drivers who have "issues" with motorcycle riders.
If you are planning to cover a lot of highway miles, it might be a good idea to have a travel guide showing where you can expect to find rest stops.
Highway Riding: Obey the Rules of the Road
Rule Number 2: If you are going to be sharing the highway with other vehicles, sometimes vehicles being driven by drivers who are not particularly fond of motorcycles, make sure that you obey the rules of the road.
Tips for Highway Riding
- Always pass on the right (except in the UK).
- Don't ride consistently in the left lane.
- Try to stay within 12 mph of the speed limit.
- Use your signals when passing, exiting or changing lanes.
- Be visible - wear appropriate clothing.
- Don't taunt other drivers.
- Avoid the use of hand and finger signals (remember that you are more vulnerable than 4 wheeled vehicles).
Lane Splitting: It May be Legal, but Not Recommended
In some states, California in particular, motorcycles can legally ride between lanes, a practice known as lane splitting. I first learned about lane splitting when riding in Spain, where motorcycles are well-tolerated by the driving public. If traffic is congested, motorcyclists are frequently seen passing by riding on the shoulder, or between lanes of traffic - both on highways and urban thorough-ways. If done slowly and with due care and caution, riding between vehicles can a great way to get through traffic, but be sure that you know what you're doing before attempting it.
In my opinion, lane splitting is rarely done safely in the States. I have seen motorcyclists without helmets and protective outerwear, whip through congested highway traffic at high speed, frequently changing lanes. Not recommended - for a variety of reasons.
The Inherent Dangers of Lane Splitting
- It is easy to misjudge the width of your motorcycle.
- Vehicles in your path may decide quickly to change lanes.
- A motorcycle in between lanes may easily be outside of the line of vision of surrounding vehicles.
- Quickly moving ahead of congested traffic can provoke road rage.
Understand more about the dangers of lane splitting, read this article.
Highway Riding: Know Your Limits
If you have a distance to ride, make sure that you know when you need to stop. Pull off regularly, and have some water or coffee. Stretch, move your legs and knees. Relax, you need to be alert at all times, especially on the highway.
You might also want to check out some gel palm padded motorcycle gloves for long days of highway riding - end the itch and numbness from vibration.
Highway Riding: Remember the Elements
Rule number 3 - remember that the weather is more intense in high-speed travel. Warm feels warmer, cold is colder, wet is wetter. Wear appropriate clothing. Layer in cold weather, ventilate in warm weather and remember to drink enough liquids. Dehydration will result in confusion and delayed response times.
And, when you arrive at your destination, REST before you start on your adventure.
And have fun!