Riding a motorcycle in the city

Most motorcycle riders will eventually find themselves riding through a city at some point in their adventures. Regardless of whether a motorbike rider is strictly a weekend adventurer or commutes everyday through the city streets, there are some key facts to improve your skills and lower your risk of an accident while riding through a city.

The key points for riding a motorcycle in the city are:

  • The laws in your country/state that apply to you
  • Been seen and heard by other motorists and pedestrians
  • Navigating traffic, usually heavy traffic
  • Risks and things to look out for
  • Lane splitting

The laws in your country/state

Each and every country/state has different road rules and laws specific to motorcycles. Obtaining a motorcycle licence is a very different process depending on where your located around the world, so make sure you do your research and secure your licence before riding on the roads.

Motorcycle registration and insurance – Sort these out before riding your motorcycle anywhere. Decide on 3rd party or full comprehensive insurance depending on your financial situation and the value of your motorcycle.

Know/learn the road laws specific to your location, making sure you’re aware of what can and can’t be done in your area. A big grey area is lane splitting. This is illegal in some places, but will usually make you safer if done correctly, especially at traffic lights. The purpose of lane splitting is to make sure the motorcycle is at the front of the traffic stopped at the lights or in a traffic jam. This saves road space for other motorists and protects the rider from a rear end collision. If lane splitting is banned, be very aware of a rear end collision in slow or stopped traffic.

Be aware of specific rules for motorcycles when heading into major cities. Some cites have hook right turns and crazy little rules like this so be careful. These could be motorcycle specific lanes or using bus lanes at certain times. Some cities will allow motorcycles to park on footpaths or have motorcycle specific parking. 

Being seen and heard

First off, to make a motorcycle noticed without vision on the roads the exhaust needs to be loud enough to be heard from inside a vehicle. To be seen a rider needs to be wearing gear that can be seen easily and/or have a colorful stand out paint job on the motorcycle. This may include wearing high-vis gear or just wearing bright colors. A black motorcycle with a rider wearing black leathers will be harder for other drivers to spot easily, especially in their mirrors. If your thinking of commuting on a super sport give this article a read. Be visible to other drivers while riding, this means staying out of blind spots and positioning the motorcycle a safe distance from other road users. Use the motorcycle engine to be heard when needed, sometimes its a good idea to rev the motorcycle while lane splitting. A good rule of thumb is to pretend that no other motorists can see or hear you at all. Many people out there on the roads are looking for other cars, not motorbikes, making you invisible to some. 

Navigating traffic

Always try and surround yourself with space. Space is what protects the rider and gives the rider time in case of an emergency. Finding space while riding is just a matter of speeding up or slowing down to avoid having vehicles too close behind, in front, or beside you. Pay attention to all vehicles around your immediate area and how they are driving. 

Its usually easy to spot a distracted or bad driver by the way they control their vehicle, so make a mental note and stay away from them. Try to predict what drivers are going to do by their behaviour. Drivers actions can be predicted most of the time by the way they are driving. Thinking for other drivers is a must as many struggle to think for themselves. Drivers who can’t make smooth movements with their vehicle like braking and accelerating is usually another sign that they either inexperienced, distracted or just flat out suck.

This becomes easier to predict drivers actions with experience, for example:

  • Vehicle slowing down – Driver thinking about turning, looking for a street or anticipating danger
  • Vehicle having trouble staying in their lane – Distracted or impaired driver
  • Driving too fast or too slow – Dangerous or impaired driver. Could be lost looking for a street or on the phone
  • Vehicle following too close – in a hurry, ignorant and not worried about your safety. Getting hit from behind is super bad for motorcyclists

Lane position is important while riding in any traffic. Ride on the left or right side of the lane rather than the middle and position yourself as far away from other cars as possible. When stopped sit to one side of the lane to minimise being crushed between 2 cars in a rear end collision.

Be wary of trams and tram tracks. There are different rules for trams in different cities. Pedestrians getting off trams can be a danger, especially if they cross the road after leaving a tram. Tram tracks can be dangerous to motorcycles because its a slippery piece of metal inserted in the road. Be careful when crossing over these especially in the rain. Don’t use throttle or brake when crossing over them to avoid loss of traction. While crossing over tram tracks try to increase the angle between your tyre and the metal track – the least amount of time your tyre is on the metal is the goal.

If lane splitting is legal, try to split to the front of traffic where appropriate or at least have stopped cars behind you for protection. Getting hit from behind is a death sentence so don’t put yourself in that position. Give yourself an exit strategy while navigating busy and congested traffic by leaving plenty of space and not speeding or riding too aggressively. Be careful of other vehicles suddenly cutting across lanes to try to get ahead, most drivers in stationary or slow moving traffic will not see you lane splitting. A loud and bright bike should help with this. Look out for pedestrians crossing the street illegally in-between stopped cars. Lane split at a slow to moderate speed, fast lane splitting is super dangerous and gives the rider no time to react to any of these risks. If changing lanes in stationary traffic to get to the front of the line, check for other motorbike riders who may also be lane splitting.

Potential parking and motorcycle security

Things to look out for

  • Road surface changes – Pot holes, gravel or debris, wet roads and slippery painted lines
  • Pedestrians – Walking between stopped cars, walking on the road from behind blind spots
  • Distracted and bad drivers
  • Other motorcycle riders
  • Cyclists
  • Pedestrian lights, walkways and crossings
  • Taxi and über drivers
  • delivery drivers
  • Trams and trains
Riding through any city in the world takes patience, care and awareness. Other vehicle presence is usually very high, there’s not much space between vehicles and everybody is in a hurry. This is usually a disaster waiting to happen, especially for motorbikes which are harder to see than cars and trucks. As long as you follow these tips and stay alert, your safety will be drastically increased while navigating the city streets.