Riding Right: Lane Positioning

Knowing where to be and when

by Susan Rzepka Orion

So you know you and your bike belong on the road, but do you know where? A lane designed for trucks and cars gives you lots of room to ride. Where you choose to ride within your lane can make all the difference between being a safe motorcyclist and a sorry one.

Motorcycle lane positioning
Most riders are unclear on what position in the lane works to their advantage.

Experienced motorcyclists divide lanes into three positions Left, Center and Right. No single lane position is best for all traffic and road conditions. You must adjust your position within the lane to accommodate changing situations. Choosing the correct lane position increases your visibility, allows others to see you more readily, and maximizes your space cushion when riding on the street.

Here are some situations that illustrate how proper lane positioning can help minimize your risk while riding in traffic:

Approaching an Intersection
Intersections are dangerous places for motorcyclists, where the greatest potential for conflict between you and other vehicles exists and most accidents take place. The most common accident at intersections (which includes driveways, parking lot entrances and alleys) is the one in which another driver fails to yield the right of way and either turns left in front of you or otherwise enters your path of travel.

One way to minimize risk at intersections is to put as much space around you as possible. If traffic is approaching from the left, or if oncoming traffic is approaching and/or waiting to make a left turn in front of you, you will want to move into the right hand portion of your lane, opening up more space and time to react if the other motorists fail to yield the right of way.

Motorcycle lane positioning right of way
When potential hazards may enter your right of way from the left at intersections, move to the right.

If traffic approaches the intersection from the right, from driveways, parking lots and adjoining streets, move to the left within your lane. When traffic threatens from both sides, youll have no choice but to remain in the center portion of your lane. On multilane roads, try to cross intersections along with other motorists, and avoid following too close behind other vehicles, where you may not be seen by oncoming traffic. Motorists waiting to pull out may not see you behind a car or truck, and pull out prematurely, before you have passed.

Motorcycle lane positioning following distance
Maintain a minimum two-second following distance behind traffic so you can see and be seen, with adequate space to react to potential hazards.

When approaching a curve, slow before you move to the outside edge of the corner, where you can see and be seen more readily. If the curve is to the left, move to the far right (curb) side to enter the corner before you begin to lean to your left. If the curve is to the right, move to the left, close to the centerline, to enter the corner before you begin to lean to your right. In addition to increasing your visibility, these lane positions help “straighten out the curve” requiring less lean angle to negotiate the corner.

Motorcycle lane positioning empty road
Slow, and move to the right side of the lane to enter this corner to the left. This increases your visibility and decreases the angle of the curve.

Cresting a Hill
Hills limit your ability to see the road ahead and a driver coming in the opposite direction might easily cross the yellow line. There might also be road debris, animals, or even a curve. Prepare to crest the hill by slowing down in preparation to react to whatever you might find on the other side. Use both brakes so the driver behind will see you slowing. And move to the right within your lane, away from the centerline and the potential to collide with errant oncoming traffic.

Motorcycle lane positioning hill
Its impossible to know whats on the other side of the hill. Prepare by slowing down and move to the right, away from the center line.

Riding Around Large Trucks
Take notice of the warning signs on the back of some trucks: “If you cant see my mirrors, I cant see you.” Semi tractor-trailer rigs have huge blind spots on all four sides Ð left right front and back. Avoid them at all costs. Check out the No-Zone, a truck drivers blind spots, from the US Department of Transportation.

Motorcycle lane positioning oncoming truck
Oncoming trucks often produce a strong windblast, so be prepared by moving over to the right.

Always choose the lane position that allows you to see, be seen and avoid hazards in changing situations. Stay in view, with a view, and dont forget to enjoy the ride.

Susan Rzepka Orion is a certified MSF RiderCoach and Riders Edge Instructor who loves to ride, write, and help others who want to do the same. You can find her on the road on her BMW F 650 GS or on the web at WritingWays.com.

26 thoughts on Riding Right: Lane Positioning

  1. Just looking here and there and came cross this site. Makes me feel like I now have a new outlook on riding my bike. I ride a 1999 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic 1500. I started on a 800 Vulcan. I ride with an all-female motorcycle club. We have 40 ladies and we ride. I find this site to be very helpful for solo riders and groups. I’m sharing this site with my motorcycle family.

    1. Thank you for spreading the word about Women Riders Now. We sincerely appreciate it when people like yourself share the site with their riding friends.

  2. Thank you for the well thought out article. Safe, alert riding keeps me, my riding gear, and my Ducati great looking and happy every motorcycling day.

  3. I'm a new rider. I'm having trouble with my turns. I could not do a u-turn the other day. Turning the handlebars back to the straight position is very hard for me. What am I doing wrong?

  4. I'm a male soon-to-be rider, and I must say — excellent Web site.

  5. I found this Web site on Google! I'm a new rider and took a course. I found this interesting and informing. Thanks. I'll be reading more. I saved it in my favorites!

  6. This was a very informative piece. Although I often find that “I think I know” how to re-act to a situation, I welcome reminders and insightful pieces as this. Primarily because most times when you “think” you know all there is, you really don't. Receiving reminders are quite refreshing. Awesome information, and I've passed it on to a few friends. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. I am so glad to be receiving your excellent newsletter. I have recently decided to start learning everything there is about riding motorcycles. I want to be a safe motorist someday, but unfortunately in the area where I live, it is almost a hazard to ride because of the lack of respect for riders and limited access to courses. I am thinking of starting out at my local DMV, but if anyone can help in this area, maybe someone from here in Puerto Rico, I would appreciate it.

    1. If anyone can help this writer out, please submit a comment and we'll post it.

      Additionally, the writer is referencing our weekly eNewsletter that is available free to you by subscribing on the link on the left under Extras.

  8. Susan,
    Excellent stuff. Glad to see your extending your knowlege and experience into the motorcycle community, outside of coaching with classes. I am a fellow coach in Florida (mostly Pensacola) and tell students often about this Internet site. I have been coaching since 1999 and love seeing and hearing folks helping others in education and safety in riding. Thanks. Keep up the great work!

  9. Useful and well worth remembering every time you ride. I do…and by doing this for many years has brought me long and far.

  10. I'm 60 years old and just got my first bike. As someone said earlier,you're never too old to learn. I took the MSF Rider's Edge class and got my motorcycle endorsment. I really appreciate all of the riding tips and love to hear about others experiences. Thank you!

  11. I live in a big city with lots of traffic and I ride in it daily. This article gives very good advice, but I'll add a couple of habits of mine that have saved me from disaster.

    When I'm approaching intersections behind big vehicles, I will swerve into the left tire track, to make sure that the oncoming left turners see me, before swerving back into the right tire track to go through. Also, I frequently have my thumb resting on my horn button. At 30mph, on city streets, you may not have the luxury of the second it takes to move your thumb from your grip to your horn when you need to blast someone. At that speed, you travel several yards in one second and if someone suddenly swerves into your lane, it could be too late for you to find your horn in time.

    Also, during a panic situation, a temporary mental confusion often takes place, which means it takes even longer to think and react. But, with your thumb already on your horn, poised to press, your mind and thumb are already there, eliminating the mental confusion that could cost you dearly. Also, don't make just a short beep, make several in quick succession, ending with a long one, as if you are screaming at the motorist who isn't shoulder checking. Though I try, in heavy traffic, it is not always possible to maintain a generous safety cushion of space, but this tactic has stopped several drivers dead in their tracks, and saved my neck!

  12. I am so glad I found your Web site! This article is great. As a new rider, even though this was taught in class, reading it again with a few miles under my belt helps me a lot. Thanks for being there!

  13. Good information, even for us long term riders. It is good to refresh our abilities to ride. Sometimes we get too comfortable with our experience in riding. So thank you for all of the good pointers. Refresher courses are good for us biker chicks. Staying safe should be the first and most important point in riding a motorcycle.

  14. Great advice. Especially the one about the oncoming big rigs. Thanks.

  15. Thank you for these common sense but sometimes forgotten tips! Keep up the great work on the WRN site and newsletter!

  16. Great tips. Safety is first and the more knowledge you have to be seen the better off you are. Though I have been riding for a couple of years a reminder is excellent. Thanks for the article.

  17. I have riden cycles for more than 45+ years and it is always good to re-read good articles on this subject. I have also been a driving instructor, and also done enduro racing while in Alaska, and a rider is nerver too old or too young or too experienced to refresh themself on good safe riding habits. Keep up the great work!

  18. What an excellent article! Very well written and informative. The information contained within it is potentially life-saving. Read it twice and apply it when you're out on the road. Thank you, Susan, for clearly laying out such vital information. I'll be passing it on to all my riding buddies.

  19. Another tip: when you are traveling on an interstate, remember that many drivers, including large trucks, inadvertently drift into your lane as they come up beside you. It seems to me that the best lane position would be the center – or if you see the vehicle approaching, move over to the far right or far left lane position to stay out of their way.

    Once when following a fellow rider (I was in a car trailering a bike), I watched in horror as big trucks came up behind her on her left doing about 75 mph and repeatedly drifting into her lane. She was unaware because she was looking ahead and not using her mirrors very much. Needless to say, I made her aware of the situation when we stopped at a rest area. Nothing happened but it was scary, to say the least.

  20. I would like to add that motor homes have the same blind spots as semi's.

  21. Also, be vigilant about checking your rearview mirror. If a vehicle is pulling a trailer and passing on your left while coming up to a curve, move over. More often than not the trailer will take part of your lane while in the curve!

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