Riding In The Motorcyclist's No-Man's Land
Updated: Mar 14
I got my first vehicle operator license when I was fifteen. It was for a motorcycle with a engine size of 100cc or less. I remember studying the driver license handbook in preparation for getting that license. Getting that driver license meant having the freedom that Jimmie Allen sings about. I eventually took the written test, and passed it, and then the driving test. I rode my new Honda SL-100 motorcycle and my mom followed me in the car with the test administer as a passenger. I passed the driving test.
Fast forward to when I started training to become a motorcycle police officer and one of the basic things that I learned about riding motorcycles on the street from the Texas Department of Public Safety Motorcycle License Handbook was about proper placement in the lane. I have ridden many miles on the street since I got my motorcycle operator license but, I was not surprised to hear the police motorcycle riding instructor have to inform my class of wanna be super troopers where the motorcycle should be in the lane when you’re riding down the street. Here are a few things to consider when you’re riding. Don't ride in or stop in the middle of the traffic lane. There are things there that could ruin your day.
Avoid Stopping in the Middle of the Lane
The handbook states that you should ride in the right or left of the lane. The training officer concurred. You should avoid riding in the middle of the lane, and never position you motorcycle in the middle of the lane when stopping or stopped at a stop sign or traffic light. This is because cars leak slippery liquids like oil and engine coolant, and they can usually be found in the center of the lane at a stop. Sharp items like nails and screws also tend to get pushed into the center of the lane. See Figure 1.
Imagine it’s the first sunny day of the new year. You’ve been holed up in a car or worse the family van or SUV all winter. You just rolled out on your new ride. When you get to the stop light you want to “own the lane”. Hell, you’re making a statement, letting everyone in the cages around you that you are here!
So, you come a stop, plant both feet down and wait for your chance to go. Little did you realize that you just put both of your tires, the rubber that meets the road, in one of the slipperiest places on the road. Oh sure, you did a quick check before stopping and it looked like it was dry. Well, you’ll find out when you take off. Won’t you?
Where I ride, we get occasional light rain. The road dries pretty fast where the car tires are, but those centers are still damp. Add a little oil sheen and you may have some problems keeping the rubber side down.
When you are stopped in the left or right side of the lane you have an escape route if a car comes up behind you too fast.You can go forward to the left or right of the car in front of you.Always have a way out.That brings me to the next lesson the senior motor officer taught.
Ride in the Left or Right Side of the Lane
When cars and trucks drive along a street their tires either pick up items like nails and screws or they move those items to the edge or the center of the lane. The chance of your tires picking up something sharp are much lower when you ride in the same section of the lane where the car and truck tires roll. Also, when something leaks from a car or truck engine like oil or coolant, it usually ends up in the center of the road.
Trucking companies recycle their old tires. The old tires are retreaded and given a new life. Sometimes that tread peels off the base when the tire wears out. Have you ever seen a semi-truck tire carcass? You can find them along most of our major highways. They are large rectangular pieces of rubber that can cause a lot of damage to cars and motorcycles if run over.
Most of the time a car or truck will straddle a piece of garbage in the road like a tire tread rather than let it hit their tire. If you’re riding in the center of the lane behind that car or truck, you may not be able to see what is on the road ahead of that vehicle. Then suddenly, there it is. Now you must react.
Rider 1 in Figure 2 is following a minivan and positioned in the middle of the lane. Up ahead of the minivan are items in the road that could prove problematic for the rider. Rider 2 is positioned in the left side of the lane and similar debris is ahead of the car that is in front of the rider.
One thing that you should always do when riding is look at the road ahead. Pay attention to things like road damage, foreign objects, and fluids on the road. If you tend to ride on the painted surfaces, like the lines, remember they are slippery when wet. The same goes for manhole covers and those giant metal plates that are found in construction areas. Even a little sand or fine gravel on the surface of the road can cause tires to lose grip and slip.
Don’t get me wrong I know it’s a blast to go out on some nice twisty roads and let your ride breath little. However, the best of these roads is usually off the beaten path and far away from quick medical treatment. Take this into consideration before blasting off on the highway to the danger zone and do a slow speed pass to check out the road conditions first. That might save you from a medical emergency.
Keep The Rubber Side Down
I rode for the police for 11 years. I’ve logged many miles on a motorcycle in all types of weather. I now ride for pleasure. I remember what I was taught about rider safety because it has saved me from serious injury and possibly worse. And like I said, my memories go back to the basics that I learned when I got my first motorcycle.
If you’re a seasoned rider then great, you get this. If you’re new to motorcycle riding, then try to get as much training as you can. Look for training that takes place in a closed environment. Check your local motorcycle retailer shops like for information. I know that my local Cycle Gear always has information about free training events in my area. Your local Department of Motor Vehicles will have information on where to get rider training. And of course, there is the America Motorcyclist Association (AMA).
If you do nothing else, before you hit the road for that first long ride of the season, go find an empty parking lot. You can practice the basics like starting, stopping, turning there. You’ll thank yourself later.
There are times when you will use the whole lane. When I’m out on the interstate and I can, as the song says, “See for miles and miles and miles” because there is no one in front of me, then I will use the whole lane. And I enjoy it.
We ride because we love the feeling of freedom that we get. I’m not trying to make you feel restricted, just safer. The cagers don’t care about us. We must take care of ourselves. So, stay safe and keep the rubber side down.
Jimmie Allen, Brad Paisley - Freedom Was A Highway (Official Music Video), Youtube
Truck Photo, https://www.drivingtests.co.nz/resources/road-code-enhanced-complete-guide-to-motorbike-lane-position/
Cycle Gear, https://www.cyclegear.com/
Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).