Riding through heavy city traffic is a chore for some, a god-send for others. Even if your usual riding is on country roads, knowing how best to ride in heavy traffic will come in useful some day. Urban riding can be fun, so long as you stay super alert and wary of other vehicles.
When does filtering become lane splitting? What are the rules on getting through traffic? Well, you could say it was a grey area. Technically, you are not allowed to ‘share a lane’ with another vehicle. But defining that could be a job for a keen lawyer. You could also be fined for overtaking on the left.
In the cut and thrust of urban riding, the simple fact is you will want to move though queues of vehicles, get to the front at traffic lights and generally make progress through traffic. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much point in riding a motorbike and you’d just contribute to congestion.
The equally simple fact is that riding in such close proximity to other vehicles is fraught with danger.
Typical scenario: ahead, two lanes of traffic are stopped for the lights. You want to get to the front and make a quick getaway using the bike’s acceleration, so you’re looking at the gap up the middle or using the opposite carriageway to overtake. Problem: what if the lights change to green before you complete the manoeuvre? You could be on the wrong side of the road with oncoming traffic. Or someone in your carriageway decides to turn right. Or you could be stuck between two lanes of vehicles moving off from the lights.
The golden rule is make sure you have time to get to the front at a safe speed, say 20 km/h. That means knowing where the lights are in their phase and how long until they change. Easy on your regular route home but harder in a new part of town. So hang back and learn. Don’t be tempted to barrel into danger.
And even when you know the light phasing, someone still might open a car door. Move slowly and let your vision pick up any sign of danger.
Moving through the middle of moving traffic is where the local constabulary might take a dim view. And with good reason. Stationary cars can’t chop lanes suddenly, moving vehicles can. Overtaking, using a clear opposite carriageway, is one option, but you’re still going to need somewhere to pull back in.
Moving up the middle isn’t just frowned upon, it puts you in danger of a vehicle changing lanes just as you come alongside.
If the queues are moving very slowly and you do decide to filter through, keep the speed differential down to a manageable 20 km/h. Watch for any clues of sudden lane changes - looking at mirrors (don’t believe they’ll spot you); a slight shift in direction; hands changing position on the steering wheel, even a fractional movement of a front wheel.
Move around so your headlight can catch drivers’ attention and always have an escape route. Be ready for an instantaneous dab of rear brake to scrub off speed - it’s fractionally faster than pulling on the front lever.