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CHP lane splitting rules please motorcycle riders

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POSTED February 13, 2013 1:22 a.m.

California is the only the state in the country that allows motorcycles to split lanes.

It also has four regions that are routinely crack the Top 10 on the list of the worst traffic in the nation – San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco.

But while that motorcycle that cuts through the narrow gap between you and the car next to you might be annoying, the California Highway Patrol formally gave the practice its approval on Monday when they released a set of rules for riders who slice their way through traffic when it gets heavy.

And at least one Manteca resident was thrilled to see something that he’s been preaching for decades finally put down on paper.

“I love the fact that they’ve finally put it out,” said retired highway patrol motor officer Keith Crane. “It’s almost like they listened to me. That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about for years because it’s what’s safe.”

According to the new guidelines, motorcycle riders aren’t advised to split lanes when traveling faster than 30 miles-per-hour and can’t do so traveling any faster than 10 miles-per-hour above the vehicles that they’re passing.

Its common sense, Crane says, when you think about the safety issues involved. And with nearly 1-million-miles on a police bike to his credit over his 30-years on the job he’s seen just about every scenario possible when it comes to cutting through traffic on two wheels.

“Sometimes cars will come over on you. I’ve had somebody actually open their door –which by itself is against the law on the freeway,” he said. “That’s when I got to use my air horn to scare them. I only used that for special occasions.

“People get upset and frustrated in traffic. They’re stuck. But splitting lanes, as long as it’s done safely, is one of the benefits of riding. It’s more dangerous and you have a responsibility to be aware of what’s going on around you – cars will come over on you. That’s why I recommend that if people are going to do it they should between the Number 1 and Number 2 lane. People don’t change in-and-out of the fast lane as much as they do in other lanes.”

Prior to publishing the guidelines officers were left to use their judgment when deterring whether a motorcycle was traveling too fast for the conditions or operating unsafely.

Getting to the toll plaza early, however, isn’t the reason that the practice exists.

According to regular riders, most of the motorcycles on the road today are air cooled and need to have a constant breeze blowing into the motor in order to prevent the engine from overheating – something that would only cause more traffic problems if idling bikes were inching up behind you.

There’s only one Harley Davidson that comes from the factory that’s liquid cooled, said Eagle’s Nest Harley Davidson General Manager Tom Horn, so sitting in one place for too long is a surefire way to overheat and cause problems.

And as a San Jose resident who rides his bike to Lathrop twice-a-week, he sees his fair share of traffic.

“I’ve had some close calls – I’ve had to lock it up before; kick a fender,” he said. “People will cut you off out there when you’re doing because they’re ignorant and they don’t know the law. But it’s a really small percentage. About those new rules – that’s mostly how people ride in traffic so I don’t see it as a big deal.”

Then there are others, like custom bike builder Paul Binford, who believes that lane splitting – and the etiquette that goes with it – is all relative.

It isn’t uncommon for Binford to ride to rallies or events around the country to showcase entries that he’s spent months working on – whether it’s winning a top prize in Sturgis or tearing through the Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats on a pure speed machine.

“It all depends on where you’re at,” Binford said. “Whether you’re riding up in the mountains or out in the desert or out in the middle of nowhere. ... But it depends on the situation and what’s around you. It’s a lot different when you’re sitting in traffic.”

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