What is the best lane position?

Lane position automated vehicles tailgater blowout

The answer to what is the best lane position for motorcycle riders is not simple.

Most instructors tell novice motorcyclists to ride in the driver’s side wheel track so they can be seen and where the tyres clean the road of oil, gravel and rainwater.

That’s the simple answer and one that most people use to great advantage.

However, lane position also depends on a lot of other variables such as traffic, location and road conditions.

In heavy traffic, you should frequently switch between left and right wheel tracks to attract the attention of car drivers.

Lane position
Don’t ride in a blind spot

If you sit in the one wheel track, you may become a blind spot, even if you are still visible in one or more mirrors. If you are frequently changing position, you will attract drivers’ attention.

In multi-lane traffic, it can also be advantageous to sit in the passenger wheel track when alongside another vehicle as it provides a bit more of a buffer zone in case they suddenly merge into your lane.

As you approach an intersection where there is a vehicle on a side road waiting to turn into your street, swapping wheel tracks may attract their attention. I usually move to the wheel track furthest away to provide a bigger buffer zone.

Being seen by traffic going the opposite direction is also important if you are out on a country road, following behind other vehicles.

If you sit in the passenger wheel track, vehicles coming the other direction won’t see you and may start overtaking as soon as they’ve passed the vehicle in front of you.

Lane position
Leave a buffer

Sitting in the driver’s wheel track will make opposing traffic aware of your presence.

However, if you are in a bend, it may actually be better to sit in the passenger wheel track for visibility. If you can see approaching traffic, then they should be able to see you.

When riding down a lonely country road, the driver’s wheel track is usually less bumpy and has less stray gravel.

However, as you pass a vehicle going the opposite direction or you crest a hill, it’s a good idea to move to the outer wheel track, just in case the opposing vehicle suddenly weaves across the centre line. This could happen if they are changing a CD, sending a text or falling sleep!

Staying out of the middle of the lane is usually a good idea, because you are only visible in the driver’s centre mirror which is not often checked.

If you ride in the middle of the lane you will cop bumps and sewer covers which are positioned there so most vehicles straddle them.

The centre of the lane also has the least traction as it’s where vehicles drop oil or diesel, and it’s where the road is often painted with turn signals.

Lane position
Staggered riding

If you are in a group and riding in staggered formation, the lead rider should be in the driver’s wheel track.

If you have the choice, so should you.

8 Comments

  1. Excellent article. The vast majority of riders in Wisconsin stay glued in the drivers track, where they are vulnerable to center line drifters.

    I use what I call “Dynamic Lane Management”. I shift between left and right tracks, depending on traffic. I do avoid the middle, especially in urban areas where it is the first area to lose traction, especially in the rain.

    I also use the SMIDSY weave when approaching left hand turners. I never ride in tight formation. Looks cool but leaves you vulnerable to deer, mechanical failure, cage drivers, biker error.

  2. Riders who follow the wheel track rule ignore hazards around them and fail to move to minimise risk.

    To avoid risk the rider should constantly be moving between left middle and right.

    Additionally often the left and right wheel tracks have been worn more than the centre… so if you’re trying to brake the centre is often the best place to be.

    Likewise pot holes typically arise in the wheel tracks… which is why braking or riding in wheel tracks is often a bad idea. The centre of the lane is usually the least affected by wheel tracks.

    The centre of the lane also allows you to move left or right… whereas the left or right wheel tracks often significantly reduce your movement options.

    Most rider trainers seem to agree that moving around on the road to minimise risk is the best idea. I’ve yet to meet one that favours the right hand side wheel track idea.

    The first picture of the rider you have shows the rider in the middle of the lane. If you go out on the road and count the majority of riders will be in the middle of the lane… even the ones that claim they use the right hand side wheel track.

    Despite what the article says, the best place to see a rider is in the middle of the lane. The driver is much more likely to use his rear mirror to check than his left or right mirror. The left hand side mirror is not present on some cars so that’s probably the worst place to be. However a head check would see a rider in the centre position or the left hand wheel track… but not the right hand wheel track.

    You should vary your position to minimise your risk. The risk is defined as whatever is most likely to kill you or injure you. Conversely do whatever presents the least risk of coming off the bike, property damage, injury or death.

  3. Good article. Don’t know if I agree with it all but it serves to make experienced riders review what they do and newer riders to think more about their riding.

  4. What position do you think is better when stopped at a traffic light?

    Turning right I made what felt like a risky mistake of sitting in the left-hand side track of the filter lane with a red arroe, having trucks going straight fly past me to the left. I didn’t feel comfortable to move back and try to wiggle over towards the right, so I sat tight, slightly leaned over to the right. It didn’t feel right at all!

    I now try to plan ahead as I come up to a traffic light.

    And, this also makes me wonder how people plan to be able to quickly move out of the way when someone seems to be approaching too fast from behind and appear to be about to hit you. People say sit in first gear and keep an eye in your mirrors. How do you plan to move? You can’t just drive forward passed the white stop line…
    ++ curious ++

    1. Hi Marc,
      Not really sure what you mean.
      If you’ve filtered through stationary traffic waiting at lights, it might actually be safer to slot in behind the first vehicle, rather than in front.
      Putting yourself in that position you described does seem very vulnerable.
      Yes, always stay in gear and look for an escape route. It won’t hurt the clutch.
      Cheers,
      Mark

  5. Sitting in the driver’s wheel track will make opposing traffic aware of your presence.
    But by not buffering exposes you as a high risk rider ….

    However, if you are in a bend, it may actually be better to sit in the passenger wheel track for visibility. If you can see approaching traffic, then they should be able to see you.
    Safest corner line is : Enter wide, buffer from the head on zone and plan your exit tight….

    When riding down a lonely country road, the driver’s wheel track is usually less bumpy and has less stray gravel.
    Its only the lonely if you’re listening to Roy Orbison 😉

    However, as you pass a vehicle going the opposite direction or you crest a hill, it’s a good idea to move to the outer wheel track, just in case the opposing vehicle suddenly weaves across the centre line. This could happen if they are changing a CD, sending a text or falling sleep!
    Centre lane buffers from oncoming traffic and wild life 😉

    Staying out of the middle of the lane is usually a good idea, because you are only visible in the driver’s centre mirror which is not often checked.
    Due to drivers not maintaining a good crash avoidance space, the rear view mirror is used the most

    If you ride in the middle of the lane you will cop bumps and sewer covers which are positioned there so most vehicles straddle them.
    Pfft! In Australia they put them willy dilly to keep us awake and so we drop our cd’s

    The centre of the lane also has the least traction as it’s where vehicles drop oil or diesel, and it’s where the road is often painted with turn signals.
    The centre is the most slippery in wet conditions but in the dry it is virgin surface, sharp unworn road surface which bites the tyre……

  6. In NSW the official teaching as per both the “handbook” and from HART’s instructors is that your position in your lane should be dictated by the hazards around you. That is, specifically you should “(setup your brakes and) buffer away from hazards” and when faced with conflicting hazards, you should “split the difference” and ride between them.

    E.g. Buffer away from parked cars and left hand side streets into the right hand wheel track, but if there are parked cars and oncoming traffic then ride in the centre of the lane.

    As a new rider we were specifically (and continually) taught to constantly scan for hazards and to continually adjust our position in the lane to maximise our buffer space with the mantra “Look for hazards, setup your brakes and buffer away from the hazard”.

  7. Riding in a staggered formation is crazy. Means everything that happens is dependant on the lead rider and you in the pack, usually too close, have nowhere to go. Ride your own road, and the guidelines above are a good start.

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