As I slipped the clutch and rolled on the throttle, the big GSXR1100 bucked and growled like a wild beast between my knees. I took the little wiggle and the bucking in stride and cracked the throttle even wider to shift the bike’s weight onto the rear tire. The bike responded instantly, the sound of its anger pouring out the back as a prolonged shriek of pure rage. The toll plaza fell quickly away as I hit third gear and leaned into the gentle, sweeping left hander that would bring me up onto the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway and there, in the final few meters before the merge, I drove the tachometer towards redline and shot past a pair of slow moving cars before shifting into the higher gears and settling onto the highway ahead of them.
The road was wide and smooth and the south bound traffic moved quickly along above the posted speed limit. I ran along slightly faster than the traffic and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun on what was an otherwise cool October day. I was here, where I wanted to be, atop what had been for one brief shining moment a bike that had been on the very sharpest part of the cutting edge of technology. Fifteen years on that time was well past, but the bike’s power and attitude remained and I felt every intoxicating bit of it through the steady thrum of the engine. The power lurked there, under my right hand, waiting – demanding – to be put down onto the street and I was in the right mood to indulge it.
Ahead was my chance, two cars rumbling along side by side in a painfully protracted pass, neither willing to do what it took to clear the lane of travel for the faster vehicles stacking up behind them. I checked my six in the rearview mirror, rolled onto the white line that divided the two lanes of the freeway, dropped two gears and opened the throttle. The bike shot forward into the gap and in an instant I was out ahead of the traffic accelerating away in brazen display of sheer power. It was glorious.
Right about now, those of you who have never thrown a leg over a bike are thinking I am nuts. I’m not going to disagree with that. There was a time I didn’t have much at stake and I was willing to push right to the edge, but the truth is lane splitting, even at high speeds on the freeway, isn’t a big deal. Bikes can go all sorts of places that cars can’t and understanding that is more important than most people realize. Besides allowing you to act like Top Gun on some Japanese freeway, it can actually keep you safe when the shit hits the fan. What’s more, it’s a skill that you can use in your car.
To most of us, our place on the road is inviolate and the lines on the road might as well be two feet tall and made out of granite. Safe inside in our metal boxes, we are secure in our right to a place on the road and our confidence in the rules, and the fact that the vast majority of people will obey those rules almost all the time, means that we don’t have to think about things like exit strategies. Beginning motorcyclists need to snap out of this mentality in a big hurry if they are going to enjoy a long, injury free career in the saddle. Because bikes are smaller than cars they are often overlooked by drivers and having someone merge into their place on the road is a common occurrence. Without a steel crash cage to protect their soft flesh, a rider’s inviolate legal right to a place on the road the same as any car offers scant real-world protection and so the best answer is often to flee from trouble.
A good rider constantly scans the road for trouble and takes special note of possible escape routes. A beginner often thinks in terms of where a car can fit and so exit routes tend to be few and far between. More experienced riders think in broader terms and soon any space you can reasonably expect to fit into becomes a possible egress. The space between cars running the same direction is surprisingly wide as is, believe it or not, the space on the yellow line between opposite lanes of traffic. Motorcyclists can also go onto sidewalks, up paths and even into spaces between parked cars if necessary. If shoving your bike through some small rat hole stops you from getting squished like a bug then, when the situation calls for it, do what it takes to live.
As a driver, you should be thinking along similar lines. If you can’t stop to avoid a collision, you should seek to avoid it by going around it. Cars are bigger than bikes, of course, but they don’t require an entire lane worth of space in an emergency. They can, if the situation is right, run between cars, go up the shoulder, into a median or up onto a sidewalk as long as there are no pedestrians. No place is off limits in an emergency so long as you aren’t putting anyone else’s life in danger. So maybe you have to rebuild someone’s fence or reseed a lawn, but the cost pales in comparison to extensive repairs and a lengthy hospital stay.
Not everyone can be Top Gun, but all of us should be ready to act when our lives are at stake. Understanding that there are other options outside the norm is a trick that every driver needs to add to their bag. Sometimes the unorthodox solution is the best one, and knowing that it is there waiting to be used might just save your life one day. I’m not asking you to split lanes on your way home tonight, but just think about the possibility. Criticize my antics that sunny October day now if you like, but remember them because one day they might just save your life.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.