Lane Splitting San Francisco
Lane Splitting San Francisco
Although I had my “Big City” cherry popped in Vancouver, I was still anxious about commuting in San Francisco. Like Jules in Vancouver, Lena was an excellent guide to help me determine my route from Oakland to the Zoo and back.
From the house up in the hills of Piedmont, the closest BART station was a five minute drive. We parked at MacArthur and rode the train under the bay all the way to Glenn Park. There we hopped on a bus and arrived at the Zoo two hours after leaving the house. I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the commute I was going to be facing the next six weeks.
I better learn to lane split.
My first week commuting to the Zoo, I’d ride the Radian to the BART, and nervously leave it parked for the day. I never felt good about leaving it for long periods in a public area. Luckily nothing ever happened and it was nice I never had to pay to park like the rest of the cars in the lot. Two wheels are better than four.
In contrast to my experience with public transport in Canada, I quickly became depressed spending hours on the Bart and the buses in San Francisco. My commute was twice as long in a city twice as big. I didn’t find the enjoyment in the different mode of transportation like I did in Vancouver. Instead I dreamt of being on the bike for my own sanity.
I watched the majority, plugged into their ear buds, mesmerized by their Smartphones, oblivious to the world passing by around them. It was only the occasional few that made eye contact, only a couple that would say, “Good morning,” or “Excuse me.”
I did not see familiar faces on my route, like I did in Vancouver. I saw a lot of angry people, sad people, and crazy people. It was kind of scary at times and made me just want to keep my head down.
I felt alone, although surrounded, in my own world on my own journey. It reminded of my experience on the bus in Denali. I realized I felt more loneliness in a crowd, being just one of many like an extra in a movie no one notices. It’s not that I wanted to be noticed or seen, but when I was alone I felt more confident and happy with myself.
After a week of commuting to the Zoo, I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. I was looking forward to a warm relaxing weekend on the farm by the Russian River.
Billy picked me up from the Zoo and took me back to Oakland to get the Radian. Doubled up on his GS we split lanes through rush-hour traffic and it only took us 45 minutes to get to my house. It was way more intimidating riding on back of a bike, but I watched and learned and was determined to start riding to the Zoo the following week.
On our way out of Oakland, I got my first go at it. Traffic was still backed up through “The Maze” and I followed right behind Billy at a slow 15-20mph between the cars. My arms were tight, butt clenched and I was tense but the further I went the more I relaxed and the fun began.
“Oh this is going to be dangerous,” I chuckled. I realized I was going to have to set some rules for myself to avoid getting into trouble.
Rule #1: Never lane split over 25 mph…..ok 35 mph.
Rule #2: Never lane split close to on/off ramps.
Rule #3: Only lane split between the far left lanes.
Rule # 4: Only lane split when traffic is bumper to bumper….no gaps!
On my first day riding to the Zoo I sat in traffic, terrified to pull out into the split lane. I felt like I was preparing to jump off a cliff. That paralyzing hesitation before committing to free fall only wound me up more. Stop thinking, stop thinking. Just go!
Another biker whizzed by and woke me from my mind and I instantly wove out behind him. I had a leader to help me take that giant leap of faith. However, as soon as I got behind him I realized I had made a very naive mistake. I didn’t check my mirror before pulling out and there was another biker pissed off behind me riding my ass.
Rule #5: Always check the lane before you pull out. Duh!!
With more practice, lane splitting became easier and easier. I would only do it in short sections of traffic where I could easily see an obvious lane between the cars for me to ride through. Then I’d find an open spot behind a car to give myself a mental and physical break.
I think it was the coming in and out of the split lane that was the most nerve wracking for me. Deciding when to go and where to stop all while controlling the bike was a lot to multi- task. I had to be very determined and committed to my decisions. I had to be confident and there was no time for hesitancy. It was exhausting.
The actual riding in the split lane was the easy part. In general people would make room and there was plenty of space to cruise at 20-30mph between the cars. But occasionally I’d get to narrow spots between wide trucks that made me wince. I tapped several mirrors along the way, but I couldn’t really stop. It happens.
It’s easy after splitting lanes on a regular basis to feel like the entire road is yours and the concept of lanes doesn’t exist at all. You can ride anywhere around any obstacle. The lines between the lanes almost become invisible and I’d have to remind myself when traffic started breaking up to stop ignoring them. It was hard not to forget the rules.
As tempting as it was to weave through traffic at high speeds, I felt smarter sticking to the normal rules of passing. It’s an easy thing to forget on a bike in California. I saw many reckless riders I chose not to follow.
The purpose of lane splitting in my mind is not only to allow riders to be seen in heavy traffic, but to help riders avoid extreme heat when it’s bumper to bumper. Unfortunately the luxury of lane splitting, like anything else, can be abused. That’s why I had to set boundaries for myself.
But I’ll admit, once you lane split, it’s hard not to do it all the time. It becomes a desirable challenge for the thrill. It’s like solving a puzzle or working through a maze to find a way around obstacles executing fast decisions. It’s empowering and it’s fun.
May the road rise up to meet you
And wind be always at your back