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Filtering on your motorbike

Can motorcycles filter through traffic?

With our road networks becoming ever more congested and rail fares increasing year on year, many riders turn to their bikes for their daily commute and face the dilemma “to filter, or not to filter?”. This isn’t unique to London but all cities and towns by nature have increased traffic at certain times of the day, which means hundreds if not thousands of bikers each day face this dilemma.

Lane splitting image credit fourbyfourblazer on flickr

Lane splitting image credit fourbyfourblazer on flickr

So, what’s advanced instructor Mick’s take on filtering?

“I always ask the riders what their goals are at the start of the training day and often it is to have a better understanding of the grey area of filtering or what others may call undertaking or lane splitting.  Advanced riding is all about trying to maintain good safety margins, so any manoeuvre that brings you into such close proximity of other road users needs to be carefully managed.

Whilst it is entirely legal in the UK to filter as long as it is done safely in queuing traffic, the minute the traffic speed is increased to a point where it is reasonable to affirm it’s no longer queuing, it could then be judged as undertaking.  If it’s the latter this could result in police prosecutions and seriously negate claims resulting from an accident. Many countries have a zero tolerance of filtering or lane splitting as it is often called, which is rigorously enforced by the Police.

The interpretation of what is safe and legal is subjective and I have met many riders who push this to the limit, often suggesting their ability is greater than the average rider, which is their justification.  Although there may be some validation to individual assessment and reaction being better than others, I don’t think either can be reasonably put forward in mitigation, although as I say, many riders do.”

Lane splitting on the bridge image credit Nathan Bittinger on flickr

Lane splitting on the bridge image credit Nathan Bittinger on flickr

Is it necessary to filter? 

So as a motorcyclist who enjoys the freedom and maneuverability of a bike, I do take full advantage of this and filter where necessary.  I choose the word carefully as when approaching queuing traffic the first decision has to be ‘do I need to filter and is it necessary?’.

Whilst riders have to be constantly aware of dangers around us we really need to ‘up our game’ when filtering. The ‘rights or wrongs’ are immaterial, as we shouldn’t be approaching this with a blame culture that ‘he turned without looking’, but an overriding desire to avoid any contact or any unscheduled dismounts! It is for good reason that one civil court has previously described the manoeuvre ‘as an activity fraught with danger’.

So, what factors do we need to consider when filtering?

  • Speed of queuing traffic
  • My speed
  • Plan ahead and have an escape route
  • Width of the road
  • Compliance of solid white lines and keep left bollards
  • Junctions
  • LH drive vehicles
  • Wider HGV’s
  • Large vehicles turning left
  • Vehicles changing lanes
  • Pedestrians and pedestrian crossings
  • Awareness of other two wheelers in front and behind
  • Maintaining the low gear
  • Avoid target fixation

I always ride trying to make myself as visible as possible by presenting myself to other road users and being aware of blind spots in the vehicles mirrors.  I’m always nervous of developing gaps because if I can see it, others will also and may move without looking.

Sometimes its difficult, but I always try and remain courteous, don’t harass or ride aggressively as drivers will respect this and will subsequently be more aware and helpful to other bikers filtering, which could be you, the very next day.

The video below from Hants Police demonstrates how to safely filter through traffic…

When does filtering become undertaking?

In summary filtering is legal if it’s safe and not undertaking. The grey area is therefore at what point is that transition made.  There are too many variables to give a straight answer, but it’s these that will need to be taken into consideration when making this judgement.  Remember not to base this on your ability, but the average person and that of a police officer who may be observing you at that point.

Mick Jones is the Chief Instructor for Total Advanced Training, a Bike Safe Assessor and a Rospa Motorcycle Examiner. He was a former Bike magazines resident expert for 4 years on their column ‘the riding clinic’ and ex Police Surveillance Motorcyclist in London.

To find out more information about Mick & Total Advanced why not visit the Total Advanced website, email or phone 07813167749.

You can also follow Total Advanced on Twitter and Facebook.