Steering Through Sticky Situations : Freeway Riding !

Although it might not seem likely, limited-access multilane freeways are statistically much safer than city streets and highways with intersections. There are two reasons for this :

1. Traffic moves in only one direction on freeways.

2. Freeways remove your number-one hazard : vehicles in oncoming lanes turning left in front of you.

Freeway Riding Tips

But riding on a freeway presents a new set of challenges. Traffic moves faster on freeways, meaning that things happen faster. You have to look even farther ahead on a freeway to give yourself more time to react to an emergency. The faster traffic moves, the farther ahead you need to look.

On a freeway, you have to be careful not to ride too fast. Motorcycles can cut through freeway traffic more quickly than cars, making it easier to speed on a bike. But riding much faster than traffic puts you at risk, because if you’re riding too fast, you won’t be able to react if a car moves into your lane. And even though you don’t have intersections on a freeway, you have on ramps and off ramps, both of which create challenges for a motorcyclist.

When you ride as far away from on and off ramps as possible, this places you in what is usually the fastest lane of traffic. This can be the safest lane to ride in, since you only have to worry about traffic moving on one side of your motorcycle. But it can also be a more dangerous lane, if traffic is moving so fast that you don’t have enough time to react if someone moves into your lane. Like everything else, the key here is awareness of your surroundings. Take into account such factors as the amount of traffic and how fast traffic is moving when selecting the safest lane.

On ramps are especially tricky on a bike. These often consist of tight turns, forcing you to lean hard to turn your motorcycle. This in itself wouldn’t be that problematic, but on ramps usually have extra-slippery surfaces, forcing you to negotiate the ramp more slowly than you would in a car. The cars, of course, won’t slow down for you, and will tailgate you or even try to pass you.

Having to negotiate the curve on an on ramp is the first challenge; the second challenge is to adjust your speed once you have negotiated the curve so that you can enter traffic safely. This is where a motorcycle’s capability to accelerate quickly comes into play.

As you round the curve of an on ramp, monitor the traffic in the lane you will merge in and locate a safe space to enter that lane. Once you have finished negotiating the curve and the motorcycle is upright, accelerate toward the safe spot you’ve identified, adjusting your speed so that you can safely merge with traffic.

When passing an on ramp where other traffic is merging onto the freeway, move over to a lane as far away from the on ramp as possible. Drivers merging into your lane may not see your motorcycle and may mistake the space you’re occupying as a free spot to enter traffic. And other drivers in your lane may be watching the merging traffic and not see you. If they move over to let the merging traffic enter, they may hit you.

This is also a problem at off ramps. If you are driving in the lane closest to the off ramp, you risk getting cut off by a driver who doesn’t see you and thinks he or she has a clear shot at the off ramp. Slow down as you approach an off ramp. As with an on ramp, your safest location is as far away from the ramp as possible.

Lane Positioning

You can do a lot to increase your safety on crowded multilane roads by always being conscious of your lane positioning. Always think of where your bike is in relation to the other vehicles on the road. Try not to ride in people’s blind spots, and try not to ride beside vehicles. If you position yourself so that there are no people driving along side you, no one can make a sudden lane change that will cause him or her to hit your motorcycle.

It’s especially important to keep a safe distance between your motorcycle and trucks. Remember, the larger the vehicle, the larger its blind spot. Sport utility vehicles are especially bad. If you find yourself beside any vehicle, especially a truck, speed up if you have room, until you are well in front of the vehicle. If you don’t have room to speed up, you are probably following the vehicle in front of you too closely. If that is the case, you should slow down just a bit, until the vehicle in the lane beside you is clearly in your field of vision, then wait until there is adequate room ahead of you to pass.

Changing Lanes

Because traffic moves so quickly on a freeway, changing lanes requires extra caution on your part, especially on freeways with more than two lanes of traffic. On such multiple-lane freeways, not only do you need to check to make certain the lane is clear before you enter it, but you need to check to see if someone from another lane is moving into the free spot you have identified.

The speed of traffic also makes the vehicles behind you more of a threat when changing lanes on a freeway. You always need to let the vehicles behind you know what you intend to do. Once you have made certain that a lane is clear, slow down and use your turning signal early. Do everything possible to communicate your intentions to other drivers. Watch to make certain the car behind you is slowing down.

Getting cut off by the vehicle behind you while you change lanes on a freeway illustrates the importance of avoiding tailgaters. When other vehicles follow you too closely, carefully get out of their way and let them pass. Remember to signal early and make definite moves so that the driver behind you is aware of what you are doing.

And remember not to trust that the other driver sees you, just because he or she slows down. Even if the other driver sees you slow down, he or she might not see your turning signal, since motorcycle turning signals aren’t very bright and can be hard for other drivers to see, especially in bright sunlight. Before you change lanes, make certain the driver behind you isn’t planning to change lanes, too.

When you change lanes, don’t do so in other drivers’ blind spots. This is another situation where the speed of your motorcycle comes in handy. You can use that speed to accelerate out of other drivers’ blind spots, moving into a position where they can see you.

Always make sure you’re riding in the correct gear for a given speed. To accelerate quickly, you need to keep your revs in the powerband. Remember, your motorcycle was designed to operate most efficiently at certain RPMs; when you ride with your tachometer in the most efficient rev zone, you can instantly accelerate if you need to.

Rain Grooves

Some roads have grooves cut into their surface to facilitate the removal of water in a rainstorm. These rain grooves are especially common on freeways. They can cause your bike to feel unstable—a disconcerting experience, even for expert motorcyclists. But don’t worry; even though your bike may feel like it is moving all over the place, it is a relatively harmless situation. That is, unless you panic.

Rain grooves are channels cut into a road’s surface to help water run off the road in a rainstorm. These can make your bike feel squirrelly when you ride over them, but if you relax and don’t fight it, you’ll be fine.

When you hit rain grooves, the best thing to do is relax your grip on the bars and just ride it out. If you tense up and try to fight it, your bike will only move around more.