On Ramps and the Dummy Lane

Last week on Tuesday’s Tip we talked about the safety hazzards of approaching an off ramp on the highway. This week we follow up with the dreaded on ramp hazzard.

Lane selection is a key element in safe motorcycling; especially on the highway. The middle lane offers the most escape options but often times you are going to find yourself on a two lane expressway. When traveling the two lane expressway you have to choose between the hammer lane and the merge lane. In the hammer lane some jerk is going to come up on you like there is no tomorrow. Technically the left lane is for passing only and you shouldn’t be cruising in it. It feels uncomfortable for some people to travel in this lane. In the slow lane, or the merge lane, you have people getting on and off the highway. One of our most experienced Road Captains calls this the “Dummy Lane” due to the hazzard of merging traffic. You have to decide for yourself which is the worse of two evils.

It’s quite obvious a vehicle could come charging down the on ramp and merge at the least opportune time. I hope you are all checking the on ramp as you pass to make sure no one is coming. Better yet I hope you aren’t in the right hand lane when passing the on ramp (assuming the on ramps are on the right).

When leading a large group lane selection becomes even more important as multiple lives are at stake. The larger the group, the longer it takes to clear the off and on ramps. No one may be coming down the on ramp as the lead riders in the group are passing, but by the time the end of your pack is passing… a car may have entered the ramp. The left lane may be the better place to be if there are only two lanes. If you are leading a group in the slow lane and you see a car merging you have four options:

  1. Slow down so the car enters in front of you.
  2. Speed up so the whole pack can clear the car before it merges.
  3. Change lanes to avoid the car.
  4. If options one through three are not available, then pray that your group is versatile enough to create space for the car to slide in.

I have seen some nice folks in cars ride up the shoulder of the road rather than break up the pack. I have also pulled out of formation to shift to the left lane and then pulled back into the pack after clearing a car trying to merge. It is times like these when communication devices like CB radio really help out in managing a group ride.

Dan, aka Irondad, brought up the overpass issue last week. Due to going under an overpass or some other obstruction such as tree’s you will not have a clear view of the on ramp. In these cases I often times change over to the middle or hammer lane knowing that there is an on ramp that I can not see. After passing the on ramp and checking to see if the right lane is clear I return to the right lane if that is where I was. I have done this riding with two bikes and riding with twenty bikes. It’s the safe thing to do. You don’t know what could be coming down that on ramp.

12 Responses to “On Ramps and the Dummy Lane”

  1. A few thoughts on this subject…a) Lane selection is one of the main reasons I pre-ride any unfamiliar routes I plan to run. b) I normally prefer the left lane on a two-lane highway, and to offset that I have radio comm to my sweep rider and he lets me know if there are impatient speeders that want to pass. c) In the pre-ride breifings for highway rides I always stress that the pack riders need to pay attention at on/off ramps and allow cars to merge in and out of the pack.

  2. Point c is an excellent point! I’ll have to get in the habit of adding that to my pre-ride speech. I like the term “pack riders” in describing everyone between the lead and the sweep or all non RC’s

  3. Just thought of something else. If I’m leading a large (-ish) group I always make sure to place an RC or two (or at least a rider with good judgement) in the middle of the pack. I count on them to take it upon themselves to change lanes and break up the pack if necessary. Always remember that the integrity of the pack is not your goal. Survival is.

  4. Good point. I didn’t quite get it the first time I read the comment, but I get it now. You are counting on the middle RC to take over from his point back and make a lane change if needed.

  5. Hmm…Interesting stuff. I stay in the fast lane most of the time when there is traffic around. My chances of being hit are cut by 25%, in theory anyway. This includes pack rides. I only have to worry about my front, rear and right, rather than left, front, rear and right. I never understood why riders in packs get so bent about being split by a cager. What’s the big deal? Let the car in. Splitting the pack is the least dangerous option in my opinion. That 30 feet of asphalt ain’t worth dying over for the sake of looking cool. F’ that. If the riders in the group can’t figure this one out…then they ain’t riding with me, period. The cager will get out of the group as soon as possible usually because it’s “uncomfortable”.

    Just my thought here. Everything is an option. I guess just taking each situation as it comes…AND…discussing this, bringing to people’s attention, like you are doing here is really the key to being prepared to deal with it when it does happen. Good info.

  6. We have touched on this topic before Dave during my “Learning To Ride Sweep” post. It’s like deja vu! Riding with people who know what to do in most situations is the smart way to go. That is a major attraction to join an exclusive RC or MC (or ride by yourself). Doorman and myself on the other hand ride with an organization that prides itself on welcoming in new riders. We break in a lot of newbies. That’s part of why we spend so much time trying to think these details out in order to protect the weakest link.

  7. I think the most important thing is to know the road you’re riding on when you’re on the left-front. Taking the guess work out of the equation makes for a far less stressful experience leading the pack. I do tend to avoid merge situations whenever possible. With several thousand highway miles behind me, I really believe more in ACTION than in REACTION.

    But, as it’s already been mentioned, there’s a limit to what any of can do up front, no matter how skilled or dilligent we may be. That’s why my Chapter always emphasizes the “ride your own ride” concept. If you can handle an on-ramp merge riding by yourself, you have to be prepared to do it in the pack too. We do it all the time (without radios) with 20 to 40 bikes and have never had the slightest problem.

    Newbies? Either at the very front or the very back. That’s RC discretion. Some think it should be the front so the pace is set to the new rider. Others think the new rider is better off just in front of the sweep so he/she can observe how the pack rides, uses signals, etc. I take it case by case. Some new riders dont want to be up front, which also has to be considered.

    I also totally agree wtih Dave. Although I hate it when a cage driver cuts in, sometimes it is unavoidable. In my experience it is as he says, safer, and not for long. I’ve never seen one yet that didn’t change lanes to get out of the pack as soon as they could. Since we’re not allowed to shoot them, I think that’s the best we can do for now.

  8. I appreciate the discussion and awareness. There’s an overlap between taking care of new riders and having them ride their own ride. New riders need help and feedback even though they are ultimately, responsible for themselves. Sounds like a nice balanced approach here. Not that I’m any sor of guru pronouncing judgement, mind you. I just really respect those who actually think about riding safely and help others do the same.

  9. Amen!

  10. most of this refers to riding on “super slab” roads like interstates and expressways. my problem with cagers is that they never think ahead about where the turn is in relation to their position. no need to think, just run up and push the bikes out of the way. right exit, left exit, no matter, they’ll move. other cagers are not immune either. we had a million mile ride this year and we almost bit it near solomons island with a cut thru stupid bitch. what is a couple more seconds to these people? no courtesy, no common sense.

  11. I do agree that the vast majority of the time cagers who find themselves amidst a pack of bikes generally tend to get out of the lane as soon as the opportunity arises. But I was actually stuck behind a car once that insisted on sitting in a crawling right lane for 5 minutes while a large line of bikes crept up the 2 blocks until we turned into the dealership. why? I have no idea! It was a stupid little orange & black car…maybe he was trying to pretend that he was on a Harley too! LOL

  12. My point in last weeks tip about being careful on the superslap near the exits is to expect the cagers to go for the exit even if you are there. And don’t be surprised if the stupidity bug comes on two wheels also. On the same million mile ride Glimmerman refers to we got cut through by a V-Rod who darted through the staggered bike formation to catch an exit. it’s pretty hairy out there. If it wasn’t I guess we would have to find something else to keep us awake.

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