Advanced Riding

How to filter more safely

Filtering through traffic is one of the many ways a motorcycle can save you time on your morning commute. But are you doing it safely?

WITH their slim profile and nimble base, motorcycles make ideal vehicles to slip through stationary or slow-moving traffic. Sometimes it can gain you a few places on up the road, in other cases it could see you scything through mile after mile of stationary traffic on a motorway, saving you hours off your journey.

But could you be doing it in a safer, more controlled manner? Here is how you stand legally if you filter, and how to do it more safely.

Is filtering legal?

Yes, totally legal to filter between traffic in the UK. The Highway code even states: “When filtering in slow-moving traffic, take care and keep your speed low”. And the key phrase there is ‘low’! Filtering through stationary traffic at 10-15mph will raise very few raised eyebrows from the assembled commuters. Slamming through the gap at 30mph when everyone else is stationary will seem like a much more dangerous and worrying manoeuvre to Doris in her Daewoo!

The problem is you may be 100% confident of making that gap, even travelling at that speed in such close proximity to other vehicles. But what if a vehicle switches lane, a person opens the car door, or a small child runs between two cars – are you still confident you can stop?

And if something like that did happen causing you to have an accident, it’s going to be Doris’ account of what went on that day that the court hear. And they won’t care about how great your eyesight is or how often you ride that road and in that manner – they’ll just be thinking how dangerous 30mph between tightly packed cars sounds to a non-motorcyclist.

How can I improve my filtering?

It sounds strange to say it, as filtering is something that saves time but, take your time. There is no point filtering through traffic to save 20-minutes on your commute if you’re going to end up under a bus in 100-yards time.

Keep a calm head and don’t feel pressured to filter at a certain speed because Invincible Ian the last living motorcycle courier in London comes past you on one wheel. You need to assess the risk; you know the width of your bike and only you can make those decisions.

Be hyper-alert

One thing I find that helps me stay on track is to talk to myself about what’s going on in front of me. Giving an in-helmet running commentary on what’s happening up front stops my mind wandering off and thinking about what’s for tea or what I should have said in that meeting before I left work.

Keep an eye on vehicles leaving big gaps in front of them, they may be just slow on the uptake, or there could be a junction a pedestrian, cyclist or driver about to emerge and fill the gap. They’ll only be worried about the traffic to their left and won’t have a clue you are buzzing along the outside of the queue. This scenario is probably the most common filtering accident, and when it comes to the crunch – it almost always goes down as the biker’s fault.

Keeping your speed down not only allows you more time to brake if an unexpected event does unfold in front of you, but it also means your eyes have more time to dart around the assembled jumble of rectangular shapes blocking your way. Keeping your closing speed to the traffic around you below 15mph is a fairly safe bet and I tend to start falling in line with the traffic at about 45mph – unless the lanes are extremely wide.

Get in gear

It sounds like torture on the bike but filtering in a low gear is a good idea, first or second ideally. Yes, I know the bikes screaming but here are three reasons that’s a very good thing!

Warning

The audible shriek of a bike coming from behind will make even the most road-hardened truckers checking their mirrors. It should also be enough to make Eddie the Emo-kid up there take a glance left before stepping off the kerb!

Engine braking

With the engine in a low gear, the effect of the engine braking is increased meaning that vital split second as you switch from engine brake to hydraulic powered ones will be more effectively used.

Acceleration

Filtering is not just about spotting problems before they happen – you might also have to get out of a problem. And the best way to do that is quickly and smoothly, with the bike already in the sweet-spot of the torque curve. The last thing you need is a bike that bogs down or to start stamping the thing up and down the box as you gently soil your new textiles!

Don’t react, respond

It may sound like some zen-state of wokeness but it’s a well-known phrase used by people who must make split second, life and death decisions every couple of seconds – fighter pilots.

There is a famous story about two RAF Tornado fighter pilots who impact a seagull at 500mph. This doesn’t end well for the seagull or the jet’s engines but what’s interesting is what the pilots do after the strike. They don’t initially react, in their minds a reaction is a knee-jerk response, caused by primal fight or flight instincts. Instead, they respond, as a response is a measured and thought out answer to a situation, made after weighing up the options.

Granted, on our morning commute the time we have to make these split-second decisions is tiny, much less then those pilots had when they were figuring out where to land, but the same can be said for riding. An ill thought out reaction to a hazard could see you and your bike scooting headlong into another problem, that you either didn’t foresee or take into account – a response made after evaluating just one or two more escape routes might save your life.

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