There you are, singing the song of the open road, cruise control activated (so you can drive in Lotus Position), and lost in admiration of the dimensional hamburger billboard on your right, when suddenly, out of nowhere, comes The Lane Splitter.
The California Vehicle Code allows — sorta, kinda — motorcyclists to ride the left lane dividing line. At least the CVC doesn’t dis-allow it. In any case, all the motorcyclists here breeze along the line between the leftmost lanes (and sometimes others) as though it were their own private Autobahn, making lane-changes for those of us rolling upon four or more tires a somewhat dicier operation than in more civilized parts of the nation.
Moving the traffic along is a noble goal, we all agree. And when the traffic has stopped dead — as in the moments when I snapped these authentic photos of authentic Lane Splitters — why shouldn’t the Narrow Riders sieze the advantage of their lesser width to hurry along to Sturgis?
Because it bodes ill for the all-but-naked cyclists, that’s why. Bodes ill as well as the more formally encased drivers who are apt to crush them. The traffic, after all, is sometimes on the move in SoCal — admittedly not often — and when on-the-go, these cars achieve high speed.
Dust off your high school physics and recall what happens when you multiply MASS times VELOCITY. As velocity approaches light speed the amount of energy released by the sudden fusion of motorized vehicles can reach the level of a NUCLEAR EXPLOSION. Good-bye dimensional hamburger billboard, and all else for miles around. Even at more normal traffic rates the effect on drivers and riders can provide first quality Gapers’ Block material.
Yes, drivers are supposed to be vigilant at all times. Granted. But the sudden appearance of an overweight, tattooed, Nazi-helmeted, hog-mounted, weekend warrior (or more daintily mounted Kawazaki scootboy) can take the most watchful motorist by surprise. I read this in an article about Lane Splitting in the Thousand Oak Acorn:
A motorcycle traveling just 25 mph faster than slowmoving traffic will pass more than two car lengths of the slower moving cars every second. If a driver checks his mirrors and doesn’t see a motorcycle that’s perhaps almost three cars back, one second later the motorcyclist will be alongside that car.
My experience bears this out. You can check the side mirror all you want, but the Hell’s Dingbats still pop into view as suddenly and unexpectedly as though Scotty beamed them down. If you needed another reason to keep your arms and head in the vehicle at all times, you’ve just found one. And if you needed another reason to loathe motorcyclists, you’ve got that, too.