Why Do Motorcyclists Do That?!


Motorcyclists get a bad rap from the car-driving public a lot of the time. Especially here in Canada where we only ride four months a year and cars are just not used to having us in their midst.

Motorcycling is baffling to most people already, what with the exposed body and high speeds and the danger and the injury rate and all.

That makes some of the things we do seem even more bizarre to drivers, who don’t always understand that there is a lot of method to our madness.

So I often hear questions like, “Yeah, but why do bikers do this?!” from my friends and family. Well, here’s why:

Why do motorcyclists move around in their lane?

This one regularly perplexes my non-rider friends. Why is that guy on the bike shifting wheel tracks and moving around in his lane? There are multiple reasons, but two main ones.

The first? Vision.

That rider is making sure he or she fills as much of your vision as they possibly can. They’re actively looking for your face in the mirror, so they can tell you can see them.

The other reason is lane protection, especially in merging situations. If I’m riding in the right-hand lane but know traffic is diving into this lane so they can exit, I will sit in the left side of the lane. This means I’m visible to all the cars who are slashing across last-minute to get to their ramp. If I’m in the right-side wheel track, I’m obstructed by the car behind me; Reckless Kelly comes flying up, assumes there’s a car-size gap between those cars and – BOOM – drives into the side of me and I die.

On some transfers I need to move from the left to the right to make sure I’m making myself visible to both sides as people might be trying to get on to the highway from my right or off it from my left. I’m not just mucking about weaving for fun – I’m riding defensively.

2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S

Why don’t motorcycle riders ride in the centre of their lane?

The centre of most lanes on most roads is a no-man’s land for bikers. It’s where the oil, fuel and coolant from all the cars, trucks and buses drops and congeals. It’s slippery, and dangerous. The wheel tracks offer much more grip.

Why don’t motorcycle riders stop directly behind me?

You’ve probably noticed that bikers often stop just to the outside of your rear quarter panel at traffic lights. It might look like they’re about to filter (we’ll get to filtering later) but they don’t move. Why? The motorcyclist has set up an escape path for themselves. Bikers are rear-ended far more often than car drivers: this allows us to watch our mirrors and get out of the way.

Why do motorcycle riders rev their engine at stop lights?

Boredom. Mostly. Or because they like the noise it makes. Or to get attention. But mostly boredom. Or as I found out during my test of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster – to stop my teeth rattling with the engine vibration at idle.

Lane Splitting in Bangkok, Thailand

Why do motorcycle riders lane-filter/lane-split?

Well, first of all, lane filtering is illegal in Canada and riders shouldn’t do it. Personally, I believe lane splitting or filtering should be legalized but for now it is not legal and I don’t recommend it. Some people think this law is wrong and so enact civil disobedience – they filter anyway.

The reasons for this are many. It is proven safer (which is why it is now legal in California and some states in Australia), it is more convenient and it is faster. It also helps traffic. Counter-intuitively, a motorcyclist is less likely to be sideswiped while filtering than not filtering – mostly because drivers are more attentive of their lane position when next to other cars. They’re also less likely to be hit because they get out of the flow of traffic and ahead at each stop light.

So riders do this for safety reasons, and personal reasons, but it is illegal.

Why do motorcycle riders accelerate so fast from traffic lights?

Because we can. Seriously, it’s fun; and if you back off before the speed limit it’s still legal.
Also, to get away from you. The faster we clear ourselves away from cars, the safer we are. Accelerating gets us out of the way.

Why do groups of bikers ride staggered?

You’ve probably seen groups of bikes riding around in a zig-zag formation in their lane, one bike in the left wheel track, one in the right and so on down the line. This gives riders lane protection, good visibility, an escape path, and more room to stop/avoid each other in the event of a crash all while taking up less space on the road.

You might also see less experienced riders riding in groups side-by-side and not staggered. There is no reason for this. It’s stupid.

The chopper hit pop-culture pay dirt in 1969 with Easy Rider. Peter Fonda's bike, called Captain America, became a star in its own right, and suddenly, everybody had to have their own chopper. So far none have matched, let alone exceeded, this definitive bike. To this day, nearly a half-century later, fans still customize their own bikes to mimic the most famous chopper of all.

Why do motorbikes make wide right turns?

If you’ve ever seen a rider turning right – especially off a major road onto a side road you might notice they do it from the left wheel track. This is for a few reasons. It opens up the corner visually, making the rider more visible to people on the side road and making possible obstructions on the side road more visible to the rider.

It opens up the corner physically too, a wider arc is smoother and therefore faster. It also avoids the build-up of muck and rubbish frequently found near the curb.

Lastly, it protects the rider’s lane and stops cars grazing by as we’re slowing for a turn. Many a rider has been clipped from behind by an impatient driver while trying to turn onto a side road.

Why do riders close and open the gap to the car in front?

Like moving around in the lane, this behaviour can seem odd to many drivers – but it’s about visibility. Only this time we’re trying to make sure we can be seen clearly by drivers alongside us. By moving back and forth in relationship to them we make sure we’re not sitting in a blind spot.

Why do motorcyclists wave to each other?

This one is about camaraderie. Once you’re a motorcyclist, you rightly feel like you’re in on a big secret. Your fellow riders are your brethren, you guys understand each other. For that moment, you’re pals. In other countries the wave is replaced by a more subtle, and in my opinion much better, nod of the head.

The new engine model is good for 199 hp – six more than previous – and 83 lb-ft of torque. Enough to hike the front wheel skywards if you turn off the sophisticated anti-wheelie and traction control systems.

Why do motorbikes always have a headlight out?

This one is not about riding, but more a quirk of motorcycles that many people don’t understand. Many a driver has told me one of my lights is out – it’s not. It used to be that motorbikes with dual headlights had both lit all the time. But at night, two headlights close together resemble a car that’s far away. Drivers would assume they had lots of room, pull out and boom: big crash. After a spate of crashes, manufacturers shifted to one headlight on low beam, to better differentiate closing distances at night.

So motorcyclists actually think about what they’re doing?!

Yes! Shocking, isn’t it. It’s probably because our phones are impossible to get out of our pockets with our gloves on…

Really, there are three main reasons bikers ride the way they do: visibility, lane protection and escape planning. What might seem like irresponsible or bizarre behaviour is just part of a motorcyclist’s toolkit of safe riding techniques.

The more you know….

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Jacob Black

Jacob Black

Jacob is a writer and a journalist who enjoys cars, driving and jokes. Sometimes he writes a series of jokes and loosely connects them to a car he was driving. Jacob Black is not a werewolf.
  • Kurt Fadrny

    So that’s why I do all this stuff while on my bike. Huh I never knew!

  • D Laurier Beaulieu

    Yes indeed. And also to impress the ladies.

  • Michael Kirney

    I blip my motor at lights to keep it from stalling and cause I like the sound. I move around in my lane to improve my view of the road ahead, and also to avoid spray or wind from rigs passing me in the opposite direction. I take some corners wide but others I take on the inside. Largely depends on my speed and the sharpness of the turn. Also, aside from filtering, I do most of these things when I drive my car or truck too, so I would ask why some motorists have to ask these questions.

  • Isabelle Sauve

    Which section of which act makes lane filtering illegal?

  • XaqFixx

    “Jacob Black is not a werewolf.” – Which is exactly what a werewolf would say.

  • Newsblaster

    Great article Jason. I wonder how many car drivers will read it and understand. They can’t stop ploughing into each other, so I don’t see them improving their behavior around motorcycles soon. Remember, we also have to ride like we’re invisible, maybe that goes to our heads sometimes.

  • Darek M

    “Why do motorcycle riders accelerate so fast from traffic lights?”

    Bikes weigh 1/10th what cars weigh, with often just as much power. To flip that question around, why do 4 wheel cars accelerate so fast in relation to how fast an 18 wheeler accelerates?

  • Bryan McLaren Bulmer

    I’m not going to look up the specific act but it says somewhere that you may not share a lane with another motor vehicle as in ride beside them. Even motorcycles I believe aren’t suppose to share the lane side by side but they can stagger and often do share a lane at lights and are generally left alone if they do.

  • orangedesperado

    As a “lady” I am repulsed not impressed. Sorry, dude.

    I do notice a stylish, well kept bike that rides smoothly and quietly, with a driver who isn’t showing off, though.

  • JammerMan79

    Why do you sometimes see bikers drive up the shoulder during traffic jams?
    One… many bikes are air cooled
    If we’re stuck in bumper to bumper or stopped traffic for a long period of time we can overheat the bike causing damage or traffic/safety problems
    Two… we can overheat due to our safety gear when we’re not moving
    Three… why stay stuck in traffic and increase the lineup?

  • Lambert Mulder

    Why do some motorcycle riders think there is a lane between the parked cars and the one lane for driving?

  • Rab Simpson

    …and quietly

    Cagers fail to see bikes in many cases, and you’d rather they couldn’t hear us on top of that? Loud pipes get bikes noticed, therefore in many cases they can mean the difference between getting home and getting taken to the morgue.

  • orangedesperado

    Well that’s quite an excuse.

  • Rab Simpson

    Wanting to remain alive because most people driving cars shouldn’t be on the road in the first place is an excuse in your eyes? You’re bloody moron.

  • orangedesperado

    If your bike has to rattle windows and wake babies sleeping behind closed doors to for you to consider it safe, then there is something seriously wrong with your lights, reflectors and protective gear, dude.

    Also – I’m not clear how some exhibitionistic throttling while stopped at a light is a safety application…

  • thiefhands

    Enjoy your Starbucks on your way to work, while playing music and tweeting about how mad you are that bush isn’t president in your soccer mom suv. It’s people like you we have to avoid. You’d probably try to block a lane splitter and kill them because you think you’re the mighty ruler of the traffic jam. I’m repulsed by bad haircuts, does that mean we can tell you to tone down the layers? Loud pipes save lives. Get over it.

  • Rab Simpson

    Are you trying to imply that windows not rattling and the sleep of children who wake up and scream at their parents all the time anyway is somehow more important than someones life?

    With every new comment, you’re demonstrating that the last statement in my last comment accurately reflects reality. You’re a bloody moron.

  • Blair Stewart

    It is called filtering/lane-splitting, and is covered in the article under the header:
    “Why do motorcycle riders lane-filter/lane-split?”

    Source: I am not a motorcyclist, I just read the article.. sigh.

  • TheINternetTroll

    yes, its sad people have to go through such extremes to make sure you dont slam into them with your cage while texting.

  • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

    “…Especially here in Canada where we only ride four months a year…” Speak for yourself. I live in (around) Vancouver – I ride 12 months of the year. 🙂

    “It also helps traffic.” You don’t explain this and it’s something a lot of people don’t grasp – a bike takes up (generally) the same amount of space as a car. If the bike filters forward, it allows a car to move up to claim that space. So lane filtering can help to ease traffic congestion.

    “Because we can.” LOL Yeah, pretty much but I also like your other remark: “The faster we clear ourselves away from cars, the safer we are.” Exactly. I’ll accelerate quickly (WHEE!) and then slow to a speed that keeps me ahead of the cars behind but not catching up to the cars ahead. Keeps a nice buffer around me.

    “Why do motorbikes always have a headlight out?” I didn’t know this. I always thought it was just a Hi Beam/Low beam thing.

  • Jason Lysyk

    That is a garbage excuse. Drivers in cars do not hear noisy mufflers on bikes until they are already beside you and passing you. Recall exhaust pipes are pointed to the rear of the bike…Hence the noise goes back behind the bike. That is why I hear it as the bike passes. You put noisy pipes on a bike for the same reason you put ‘glass packs’ on a muscle car or those stupid coffee can mufflers on a ‘ricer’ the driver is a pompous a$$ that wants everyone to look at them…and maybe for a couple extra horse power.

  • Rab Simpson

    Physics isn’t your strong suit, is it? When you go to a concert, do you think the band can’t hear the PA system because it’s facing the audience? Also, sound travels at 340m/s in air. The last time I checked, there weren’t any motorcycles capable of that kind of speed, therefore the sound of the exhaust will always arrive before the bike does.

  • poolman501

    I don’t buy the idea that loud pipes save lives. Has there ever been a study to show that? The only people who can hear loud pipes are the pedestrians and the cars in your vicinity at a light. I really think it’s for vanity and personal gratification and I don’t think that makes it okay to annoy 40,000 people on a typical trip through downtown. Lastly, I was always taught to ride like I’m invisible and that people are trying to kill me. I can only see it as a potential negative if a rider believes that they’re going to be heard by any other motorist. Oh and bands have speakers pointed in their direction too. Sorry but 13 years living downtown and hearing loud motorcycles was a real irritation once the nice weather came. I left downtown and this is one of the reasons, but in this day and age many people don’t have a choice.

  • Rab Simpson

    I don’t buy the idea that loud pipes save lives.


    Has there ever been a study to show that?

    Take a bike with silencers in the cans and one without, with everything else the same. Which one do you think you’re going to notice more? Everyone with working ears living in places where there’s a biker culture takes part in a ‘study’ of it every day.

    The only people who can hear loud pipes are the pedestrians and the cars in your vicinity at a light.

    Oh look, nonsense.

    I really think it’s for vanity and personal gratification and I don’t think that makes it okay to annoy 40,000 people on a typical trip through downtown.

    Opinions are like anuses, everyone has one and most of them stink. Who cares what you ‘really think’?

    Lastly, I was always taught to ride like I’m invisible and that people are trying to kill me.

    So you’ll want to do everything to make sure you’re noticed, right? Every little bit helps, right?

    I can only see it as a potential negative if a rider believes that they’re going to be heard by any other motorist.

    We don’t believe that we’re going to be heard, we’re doing everything we can in order to get noticed. We know that people turn their radios up and have loud engines of their own, but that’s not an argument against trying to get their attention when in all likeliness they’re not fucking looking for us in the first place.

    Oh and bands have speakers pointed in their direction too.

    Irrelevant. Stage monitors being present don’t mean that the bands can’t hear the PA system. The twisted ‘logic’ that Jason tried to employ would say that if I’m standing in the street and a bike 100 yards away which is facing me (and thus the pipes are facing away from me) would be effectively silent from my perspective. It’s utter fucking nonsense.

    Sorry but 13 years living downtown and hearing loud motorcycles was a real irritation once the nice weather came.

    Well boo fucking hoo for you. Give me a minute to find my Planck length violin.

    I left downtown and this is one of the reasons, but in this day and age many people don’t have a choice.

    People don’t have a choice when it comes to a lot of things. It’s a sad motherfucking fact of life. When it comes to my pipes, I do have a choice, and I’m choosing to do everything I can to make sure the dipshit in the cage notices me. My staying alive trumps your temporary inconvenience.

  • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

    “we’re doing everything we can in order to get noticed.” Sorry but that’s demonstrably false. The *vast* majority of riders do no such thing. If they did, the majority of bikes and gear wouldn’t be dark/black and the vast majority of riders would wear High-Viz yellow gear. Instead, the vast majority of riders mock those wearing that gear.

    Use whatever justification you’d like for loud pipes but don’t say “it’s for safety” without also doing all the other things you can do for safety. How many of us have seen/heard a bike with loud pipes and the rider wearing the absolute minimal gear the law requires? Conversely, how many times have we’ve seen guys who wear ATGATT and High-Viz Yellow with *quiet* pipes?

  • Ethan

    I had three bikes together go past me this morning. I originally thought there was only one because it was a Yamaha R1 with an aftermarket pipe and the other two were little 500’s with stock pipes. The whole ” can’t hear bikes til they pass you” is bollocks I’m often in the passenger seat looking backwards jealously because I can hear a bike a way behind me

  • Scott Thomson

    Let me tell you a story. I owned a 150 and a 250 and a 696 ducatti.
    The ratio of cars merging me on the 150 >250 > 300 is DIRECTLY proportional to the sound level they produce. Rarely now if ever does someone merge on me.

  • Andrew Maxwell Moody

    I have personally used my loud exhaust around cars, and it is loud enough to get the cager’s attention, its stock cans… You can hear bikes coming, I’ve heard them coming before I could see them.

    My horn is quiet and weak, my engine is loud and angry… Bouncing off the rev limiter is a good way to get attention from car drivers not paying attention.

  • Andrew Maxwell Moody

    I always assumed I moved around in my lane because I was bored… Take corners wide just for speed. blip the throttle because it makes my peepee hard.

  • poolman501

    Thanks for your reply. I can see that would help when you’re very close and/or beside a car driver. I will say though that I rode for 10 years on relatively quiet Hondas and a BMW on the West Coast and in Europe and never experienced a merging conflict that worried me. I’m sure luck plays a part in that, but I’m also sure that assuming they are going to merge into me helped avoid the situation from the outset. I would love to see statistics on this; you’d think someone has compiled data comparing something quiet like Honda Goldwings and something loud like Harleys. I don’t mind loud bikes on the highway but it’s in the city that it becomes infuriating to everyone except the guy on the bike.

  • Brian Blank

    Great article. Hopefully it helps some folks understand, and others be safe.

  • ArtBell

    One nice advantage with a bike he didn’t touch on is when a road is blocked due to an accident. With a bike you can drive around it by going through the ditch or pull a U turn easily.

  • daven13

    I bought my loud pipes after a car almost clipped my front wheel merging into my lane. 2nd day I had my motorcycle. Since then I’ve ridden thousands of miles without that happening again. Make your own opinion but for me, it was pretty clear. When I drive a car and I hear a loud bike coming up behind me I don’t even lane change until they zoom past me. Just easier that way, I don’t have to worry about it.
    I don’t rev my motor at lights though, never found the need other than if I’m the only one and I’ve been waiting a while for the light to change I think maybe I’m helping to trigger the weight plate. I don;t even know if that’s a thing, but if its been over a few minutes I’m bored anyway 🙂

  • moon arabesque

    It’s also useful when you find yourself stopping at a light with another rider and don’t feel like shouting out the helmet — the engine makes the small talk.

  • moon arabesque

    Poolman is the type who’d live downtown and complain about traffic noise, if that doesn’t tell you all.

  • thiefhands

    You obviously don’t ride and are a complete fucktard

  • Andrew English

    Riders have become more dangerous over the years. I rode a few bikes from 2002 till 2006. I still think lane splitting should remain illegal in Canada. I have dash cam footage showing riders lane splitting when their is a lot of traffic on the DVP and in other situations where the traffic is moving slowly, I have even started seeing riders using both left and right soft shoulders to pass the traffic, some have even used the GO Bus HOV lane on the DVP. Most of the riders I see don’t care about the road rules or they would indicate the drivers around them what their plans are, lane changing, etc. If they want to get in front of you instead of lane sharing or cutting off drivers they either need to signal or point in the lane with their hand were they want to go; vehicles will let them in and the drivers will be less annoyed.

  • Infadel Macgee

    4 months of the year ? I ride all year round . I was out on new years day . And I’m in BC Canada

  • gookiefish293 .

    I appreciate this information…it helps me understand and be a better driver. I have many friends who ride bikes and I want them and my family to be safe. What I didn’t appreciate was the many cracks made about drivers in your article. If you want car drivers to read and take in what you say, it might be easier if they didn’t feel insulted and belittled. I, for one, have NEVER used my cell phone while driving and I do not engage in distracting behaviours. If you want us to assume the most bikers are careful and conscientious, maybe do drivers the same courtesy?

  • celticcj

    Thank you…your article was right on and I think it should be part of the MTO’s Handbook for beginner drivers about to get their first driver’s license. A lot of drivers do not know the proper way to pass a motorcycle or what tailgaiting a bike (or car for that matter), can result in, because it’s still done far too much. DEFENSIVE DRIVING is key on a motorcycle….it also applies to a car! It will save your life!

  • andypanda

    I have been driving scooters for 35 years. I drive the same way I fly. I do a walk round before I get on it. Drive like I got eyes in the back of my head. Expect the unexpected. Look behind me before I stop. Constantly scanning for possible dangerous situations. Look behind me before I stop or slow down. Lead and control the traffic behind me when I have to slow down or stop. Move around a bit to increase my visibility to other drivers when I need to. Most my bikes are carbed , so if she hasn’t been on the highway in a while I’ll gun the engine a little, in neutral sometimes when I stop to blow the carbon out of the pipes. I use to race, so I have learned not to speed and cut in on public roads. That behavior should be saved for the track. I don’t take my machines out on the street in the spring till the sweepers have been out because of all the sanding that was used in the winter. You can go to pretty much any dealership before may 24 in Canada and there is allways a handful of brand new bikes in for repairs mostly from kids with more money than brains who lost it on loose gravel. It takes a transport truck as much as 1/4 mile to stop when fully loaded. don’t pull right in front of them after passing. Give yourself a good long distance before you pull back in. There is such a thing as being dead wrong, even if you did nothing illegal. The physics of the situation don’t lie 2 solids cannot occupy the same space. move to the outside lane when passing an on ramp so you don’t get creamed by merging vehicles. Always find or create a space so you got somewhere to go in case you end up in someones blind spot. Hope this helps too.

  • thiefhands

    Right there with ya!


    On the loud pipe issue here is another reason for having them. Some of us live in the country and the extra noise from them helps us avoid being hit or running into DEER ( especially during the rut or hunting season ) or other wee critters. In our area deer cause most of the vehicle accidents that the police need to respond to.

  • Michael

    Don’t agree with the comment that inexperienced riders ride side by side my buddy and I do that all the time on out harley”s and we both have been riding for over 20 years…

  • rhrrs45

    I drive a 1,000 km a week across the GTA for work (not on the bike). I beg to differ…9 of 10 drivers I see on a daily basis are on cell phones and 2 of 10 are breaking the law with illegal lane changes, tailgating, cutting off other drivers, passing on the right, on hills etc.. etc.. The cracks are well founded.

  • Glenn

    That doesn’t make it any less dangerous….

  • Michael Kirney

    There was. I fixed it.

  • dukeofgibbon

    For headlights, I like the fork lights because they provide the distance estimation function of cat headlights moving apart with a distinctly motorcycle scale. The first time I saw a rider with them, I realized he was moving faster than I otherwise would have estimated and didn’t turn in front of him.

  • Martin Buck

    There’s this. I was stopped at a roundabout, and waited to be sure a car to my right (I’m in NZ) was doing as indicated. A car behind me didn’t wait and barged into the back of me. I wasn’t knocked off, just pushed forward a few feet. But the car made a mess of the back end of my bike. The driver stopped, asked it I was alright (I was fine) and told me he would pay for the repairs and gave me his details. He lived up to his word, the bike was fixed and he paid immediately.

  • Martin Buck

    Bands have monitor speakers that point their sound in their direction. Lately they also use expensive in ear phones to help hear their voices more clearly. They don’t rely on the PA system

  • Rab Simpson

    Who said anything about relying on the PA system? I asked him if he thought the band couldn’t hear the PA system. Monitors are there so the band can hear what’s going out without having to rely on a distorted version of the sound being reflected back from the audience and the rest of the room to know how they’re sounding, but they can still hear the sound coming out of the PA regardless of their position behind it.

  • Just Me

    Answer this one, why do black motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic? Pass between cars?

  • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

    “black motorcyclists”? Sorry? Not sure what you mean by “black motorcyclists”…I’m hoping that’s not a racial comment. Most motorcyclists (regardless of their color) do it where it’s legal. It’s covered under “Why do motorcycle riders lane-filter/lane-split?” part of the article.

  • Just Me

    No it’s not legal in the state of Virginia to lane split, maybe do some research. Very dangerous to weave in and out of traffic like that doing over 80 mph. I respect motorcyclists when they respect me. When I see motorcyclists on “crouch” rockets driving like that I just hope to see em eat asphalt. You play you pay right?

  • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

    No one said anything about Virginia. It’s legal in California and in many places around the world. I have done my research. And hoping people get hurt is a very nice thing to do, is it now?

  • Just Me

    Nice is not driving like a jackass, weaving in and out of traffic revving your engine. Do what you do, get what you get.

  • http://www.robgadv.com/ RobG

    Given that you probably can’t tell what “color” a motorcycle rider is under the gear, I will assume you mean black motorcycles. And, for what it’s worth, most of them do it regardless of color. I think there are just more black bikes on the road.

  • http://www.robgadv.com/ RobG

    We “weave in and out of traffic” to get away from people like you. And before you take that personally, I mean people in CARS. Because cars are usually in the way. Bikes are small and maneuverable, and cars are just there, in the way, while the driver plays with their damn phone, taking their own sweet time.

  • http://www.robgadv.com/ RobG

    It will be legal in Arizona very soon!