How to ride a motorcycle on the highway

When you’re out and about on your motorcycle, eventually you will need ride on the highway or freeway to reach your destination regardless of skill level and experience. Riding on the highway can be a daunting task, especially if your new to riding. Where entering the highway get up to speed, do a quick head check and merge into an open space, using your indicator to signal the merge. Ride at the speed limit travelling with or faster than the traffic and keep a nice safety bubble of space around yourself. Position yourself in the correct lane to exit the highway when ready. You will need to prepare yourself and your motorcycle for highway riding, especially if it’s your first time. The aim is to keep yourself and others safe at all times which ultimately will make for a much more enjoyable riding experience. It’s always a good idea to pick a less popular highway, or a time with less traffic around for your first time.

Riding a motorcycle on the highway isn’t harder or easier than riding on normal roads, it just presents different challenges to deal with and requires a few different skills and knowledge. Below is a more in-depth description of each different part of riding on the highway from entering, to cruising and lane changes, to exiting when required. 

Preparation

Prepare your motorcycle – Before riding on the highway your motorcycle needs to be in good condition and have plenty of fuel. Do a quick pre-ride check of your motorcycle before the ride. This helps avoid something going wrong and running out of fuel when you’re riding at high speeds surrounded by other road users and lots of concrete.

Prepare yourself – Only ride on the highway once you have good basic motorcycle skills and have a general plan of what to do (reading this article is a great start). Always know where you are going navigation wise to eliminate the stress of getting lost or not preparing properly for the right highway exit. If you miss your highway exit, or are unprepared for the exit or stuck in the wrong lane, don’t panic and try to cut across traffic…simply prepare for the next exit. You can always pull over once off the highway and figure out a way back, there’s no need to risk your safety and others just to make an exit. Make sure you have and wear the correct gear for riding on the highway at higher speeds (preferably leather gear). Don’t forget your earplugs. Riding at higher speeds on the highway generates lots more wind noise and resistance. You will need to take weather conditions into account also. If it’s your first time using the highway, best to avoid riding in the rain or at night.

Expect to be a little nervous or have some anxiety when entering and riding on a highway for the first time. Here’s a quick list of what to expect:

  • You will need to get up to speed and merge into fast moving traffic
  • You will encounter a range of different vehicles all travelling at high speeds around you.
  • You will need to ride at the speed limit to help keep a safety bubble of space around yourself.
  • You will be travelling at a higher speed than your used to, with lots more wind resistance and reduced reaction time for potential hazards.
  • You will need to make decisions on lane choice and lane position depending on your surroundings and give yourself plenty of time to change lanes in preparation for your exit

This list may be a little intimidating for your first time on a highway, but with good preparation and some general motorcycle riding experience under your belt, you will be fine. If you find yourself a little too intimidated to attempt to ride on the highway, even after gaining a solid amount of experience on your machine, try it in a car first as the driver or passenger. This will help you to understand how the traffic moves and how to fit in with other vehicles around. Develop a quiet route that your familiar with in the car to help build confidence up for your motorcycle so you know what to expect.

Entering a highway

Once you have planned your route and prepared yourself and your motorcycle for the highway, its go time. You will need to locate the on-ramp which will take you from normal roads to entering the highway. The on-ramp is a section of road that leads you onto the highway, giving you plenty of time to get up to speed. Entering a highway is the hardest part as you will likely need to merge into traffic. Get up to speed then prepare yourself to merge by using your indicator and doing a quick head check to make sure there’s enough space for you to merge. Any vehicles travelling in the lane you are about to merge into are required to give way to you and let you merge by slowing down or moving out of the way but this isn’t always the case. If there is a vehicle in the way when you are about to merge, you will need to adjust your speed accordingly to either get in front or behind the imposing vehicle. On-ramps are designed to help you get up to speed and merge into traffic, they are not designed for you to stop and wait for a gap to enter. Don’t panic if a vehicle is in your way when merging, just get in front or behind it by simply speeding up or slowing down, do not stop on the on-ramp as this is much more dangerous. Doing a head check when travelling at highway speeds can be difficult because of the high wind resistance, but it is always safer than just relying on mirrors to look beside and behind yourself. When doing a head check make sure to keep your motorcycle travelling straight, it’s natural for your motorcycle to follow where you look.

Lane choice and position

Once merged onto the highway, it’s time to choose what lane to ride in depending on how many lanes there are and the traffic surrounding you. Highways are designed to reduce travel time, therefore there are always at least 2 lanes of one way travel, with one being for slower traffic and merging vehicles and the other for faster moving traffic overtaking slower traffic. This being said there are some highways with up to 4 or 5 different lanes to ride in, with the merging side of the highway being for slower traffic, and the other side for faster travelling traffic. It is advisable to ride at the speed limit or make sure you are travelling at the same speed or a little faster than the traffic surrounding you. This helps keep you out of other vehicles blind spots, and makes sure you are aware of all traffic around you, and minimal traffic can sneak up into your blind spots or put you in danger by getting too close. Personally I like keeping ahead of the traffic where I do the overtaking rather than other vehicles overtaking me. This gives me more control of the space around myself and avoids other vehicles sneaking up and surprising me.

Lane position is where you decide to ride within your current lane. This may be the left, right or middle of the lane. It’s advisable to ride on the left or right side of the lane avoiding the middle of the lane where possible, this is to avoid riding on the build up of oil or road gunk that collects in the middle of the lane (follow the tyre tracks of other vehicles). Always make lane choices that keep a safety bubble of space around yourself, never ride close to other vehicles for long periods of time and avoid other vehicles blind spots. Always assume other vehicles have not seen you and are stupid. When changing lanes it’s advisable to do a quick head check for extra safety and to always use your indicators to let other road users know what you’re doing.

Once you’re on the highway and cruising along in your choice of lane, select a speed close to, or right on the speed limit and try to keep it consistent. Constantly slowing down and speeding up is dangerous for other road users when travelling at higher speeds as it creates uncertainty and affects traffic flow in a negative way. Keeping at a consistent speed helps eliminate the risk of other drivers sneaking up on you.

Exiting a highway

Each highway exit will be clearly marked with large signs and will give you plenty of warning via a distance marker. This gives you plenty of time to safely change lanes over to the exit side of the highway. Once in the correct lane, there will be an exit lane to merge into that will become the off ramp which will take you off the highway. The off ramp will give you plenty of time and warning to reduce speed before coming to some kind of intersection, turn or merging onto another road. The biggest risk with exiting a highway is not giving yourself enough time to position into the correct lane for  the exit. If this happens it’s ok to miss your exit, the next exit isn’t far away and its much safer to miss the exit than cut across traffic quickly.  

Visibility

Always make sure you are as visible as possible to other road users. This is done by wearing the appropriate gear and choosing the correct lanes and lane position to ride in. It doesn’t hurt to wear some more colourful gear to help with being seen. Take in as much information as possible with your vision at all times.

Always keep a close eye on your immediate surroundings but also look as far ahead as possible to give yourself a bigger reaction time if something goes wrong or there is a hazard ahead. The earlier you can see a potential hazard the more time you give to yourself to react. This may be in the form of braking, accelerating, changing lanes or preparing to do one or more of these things. Be on the lookout for brake lights as this is the indication of other vehicles slowing down. Also look out for vehicles indicating to change lanes. Some vehicles will change lanes without indicating, you will get better at predicting these vehicles with the more road experience you gain. Be extra cautious if your vision is impaired for any reason, such as weather or other vehicles blocking it.  

Potential hazards

There are many potential hazards that can occur when riding a motorcycle in many different scenarios. Here is a list of potential hazards when highway riding and a quick suggestion on how to avoid them

  • Traffic coming to a sudden stop – be on the lookout for brake lights and pay attention to traffic flow. Look as far ahead as possible to give you time. Be careful of a rear end collision when braking.
  • Debris on the road at any point – Look far ahead, pay attention to traffic movement and don’t follow traffic too closely.
  • Vehicles not keeping a steady speed – Avoid these vehicles as they are not paying attention or are bad drivers.
  • Vehicles doing unpredictable things like suddenly changing lanes or breaking for no reason – Avoid these vehicles as well.
  • Speed cameras and police – Will interrupt traffic flow as other drivers will slow down, be on high alert
  • Trucks and larger vehicles using the highway – can create extra wind resistance, lack visibility and have less control over the vehicle, try to avoid these vehicles.
  • Cars stopped in the emergency lane – Can affect traffic flow, move away from the potential hazard by changing lanes.

Lane filtering

If there’s a traffic jam ahead or cars have slowed down to a crawl for whatever reason, it may be possible to lane split – only if its legal in your area. If you don’t have a liquid cooled motorcycle, it may be necessary to lane filter as sitting still in a traffic jam can overheat your machine. Lane splitting traffic in a traffic jam can be dangerous, as many drivers will become impatient and try to pick faster lanes to be in. They can suddenly and violently merge to try gain an advantage. To avoid this risk lane filter at a slower speed to allow yourself time to stop of swerve in the event someone suddenly pulls out in front of you. This risk becomes greater if the traffic is slowly moving so be on high alert. Never lane filter at higher speeds on the highway.  

Riding a motorcycle on the highway is not harder or easier than the type of riding you usually partake in, it’s just different and requires some different skills and a little experience. Here we have covered what to do when entering, exiting and cruising on a highway, the potential hazards and what you can do to keep as safe as possible when on the highway. As you can never fully predict other road users actions, you need to stay mentally focused and prepared for the unknown, especially when travelling at higher speeds on a highway. Always keep as much distance as possible between yourself and other road users (the safety bubble) when riding on the highway and enjoy the experience.