Let’s face it, the highway isn’t always our first choice when it comes to roads we want to ride, but sometimes, it’s our only choice. Whether you are using your bike to commute, need to cover a lot of distance, or it’s simply the only option from point A to point B, interstate riding is sometimes necessary; we hope this guide will help you feel more confident to get on that on ramp and go for it in a safe manner.
1) Visibility. This is broken down into two parts: Being seen and being aware of your surroundings are the two most critical habits you need to be in to ride on the highway. While these are generally very important for all types of riding, they become critical at highway speeds. You can’t guarantee that other drivers will pay enough attention to spot you, but there are a few things that can help. Wearing high visibility gear, having plenty of reflective material on yourself and your bike, and making sure all of your lights are working and highly visible. If you need to slow down, tap your brakes a few times to flash your tail light, don’t just roll off the throttle – the car behind you may not notice. Never ride in someone’s blind spots! Sometimes called the “Danger Zone,” you always want to avoid riding where other drivers can’t see you.
Scanning is the other side of the equation – be aware of what is around you at all times and react as appropriate. This means always scanning ahead for road conditions and what traffic is doing. It also means being aware of what is behind and beside you. Always leave plenty of cushion between you and other cars on the road. 2 seconds is generally regarded as the minimum safe following distance in ideal conditions. If it’s raining or dark, increasing this to 4 or 5 seconds is a good habit to be in. Beware of following tall vehicles and trucks that completely block your view of the road ahead. Change to another lane that allows you to have a better view of what traffic is doing.
2). Lane Choice. As a general rule, the right most lane (slow lane) is the most dangerous place to ride, since cars are often attempting to merge onto and exit the highway. Last minute lane changes to make their exit can be very ugly if the driver doesn’t notice you there. We would recommend only using this lane when you are entering or leaving the highway, or if you are on a more desolate stretch of highway with little traffic. On that same note, the left most lane, or fast lane, can be an attractive one, but make sure there is ample room to your left for an escape route. If there is a nice large shoulder that is one thing, but a dividing wall right next to you can leave you with nowhere to go if things get ugly to your right. Obviously on a highway with two lanes in your direction of travel the left lane is preferred, but anytime there are 3 or more lanes I prefer to use one of the middle lanes–it just leaves you with the most options available.
3). Lane Position. Where you ride within your lane should also be considered. The center of the lane is usually the worst place to ride for a few reasons. Oils and other fluids from cars collect in this area. Also, cars will often straddle debris or obstacles in the roadway, riding behind a car in the center of the lane can leave you with a big surprise when a hazard suddenly appears from beneath their vehicle. Staying in the tire tracks of the car in front of you is usually the best practice – if it’s raining they will be clearing the way for you, and if there is any debris or other hazards on the road hopefully they’ll have been knocked out of the way by other cars, or at the very least the car in front of you will react, giving you a heads up that something’s coming up.
Riding on the highway certainly poses its own unique set of challenges, but armed with the right defenses and riding strategies, you can safely get down the road. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to ask away. Don’t forget to check out all of the high-vis motorcycle gear that we offer at Competition Accessories!