bike on roadStrategy for Restricted Access Highways

Riding on restricted access highways is in some ways simpler than city streets and highways. Except for the very occasional vehicle that crosses the median, most traffic is heading in the same direction and there are no cross-streets.

Trucks

There are a lot of over-the-road trucks. I had a recent opportunity to observe truck behavior over a few thousand miles, and I talked to Bubba Strawn, experienced biker, SCRC West Tennessee Second Officer and truck driver for this section. See our Truck Issues page for background on truck blind spots, and motorcyclecruiser.com's article.

It's important to understand truck drivers. They are making a tough living driving these huge vehicles, which have diesel engines and maybe 18 gears. They have a narrow power band, and diesels are most efficient when run at a constant speed. Truck drivers want to sit in the slow lane and cruise all day. It is a real pain in the neck to have to slow down, and get back up to cruising speed.

Truck drivers will move into the overtaking lane if they have to overtake something slow, if they see activity such as a stalled vehicle or flashing lights on the right shoulder or if a vehicle is coming up an on-ramp ahead of them.

truck blind spotThere is a big blind spot behind a truck, extending at least 25 feet, and a trucker can see objects in his left mirror better than the right. There is often a large blind spot to the right of a truck and a smaller one to the left, depending on how the trucker has set up his mirrors. Small objects like a bike on front of a truck might be hard to see also. If following a truck, don't tailgate and stay to the left sublane of your lane so the driver can see you easier. Watch for 'alligators' and other road debris thown up by thr truck tires.

Overtaking Trucks

If you come up on a truck, and intend to overtake, approach in the passing lane. Give the trucker time to see you in his left mirror. You should be able to see the trucker's face. Wait four of five seconds to allow the trucker to go through a complete scan cycle, or until you make eye contact in the mirror.

When waiting for the trucker to see you, take a look at what the trucker is seeing. Look for flashing lights on the shoulder or stopped vehicles, upcoming exits and on-ramps and slow vehicles ahead. Anticipate any possible lane change from the trucker. It is courteous to flash the trucker on if he uses his turn signal. If you have a modulator, the trucker might assume that you have, in fact, flashed him on, as a short view of a modulated headlight looks like it is flashing. As you are probably on the road having fun and the trucker is working, be kind and let him make his move if he wants to.

Alligators

Wait until any vehicles in front of you has finished passing the truck before you make your move. Once you decide it is safe to pass, accelerate and complete the maneuver as quickly as possible. Pass either in the center of your lane, if it is windy, or as far from the truck as possible otherwise. Don't linger passing a truck, as truck tires blowing out are often fatal to bikers. An 'alligator' from a busted truck tire has a lot of kinetic energy and sharp steel bands embedded in it. Think in terms of someone throwing a chainsaw at you. They say that the warning sigh of a truck tire about to blow is a rhythmic 'whump' noise, but I don't know of any biker who has heard this and lived, so this might not be accurate. Any unusual noise from a truck tire is a signal to get away fast, into your ready crash landing site. As you have waited for any previous vehicles to complete passing the truck, the way ahead should be clear, and if there is a lot of space behind, emergency braking might be a quicker escape.

Another reason to stay away from a truck is that there is often a vacuum behind and under a truck, which could suck your bike under the truck.

On completing your overtaking maneuver, wait until you are a safe distance in front of the truck, signal a lane change and move into the slow lane.

Truckers Driving Oddly

Trucker behaviour is usually regular and predictable. Be very afraid of truck drivers driving differently from normal. Assume that something bad is happening. Maybe he fell asleep or is having a health emergency. Give him plenty of space.

Cages

Sometimes, you will come across some bozo who has his cruise control on and is overtaking a truck doing a half mile an hour faster than the truck. This is a potentially dangerous situation. If you join a queue of vehicles waiting to pass the truck, you might be obstructed from the truck driver's view. You might collect a bunch of impatient, tail-gating cages behind you. Don't follow a car which is passing a truck or slower vehicle until it has completed passing the slower vehicle.

We think it's better to pull into the slow lane, well behind the truck and in the left sublane of the slow lane, where most of the cage drivers and the trucker can see you. Wait it out there until the cage drivers finish passing the truck, then change to the passing lane and maneuver as described. In this situation, making a few extra lane changes can make you more visible to the other road users. Never pass a truck on the inside, that's a dangerous place to be because of restricted trucker visibility on the right.

Overtaking cages, RVs and other vehicles is a different. With trucks, we can assume the drivers are well-trained and courteous, they will use their turn signals and generally be predictable. Cage drivers are unpredictable, can aggressively come up behind you and jam on, pass on the inside when you are waiting to overtake and generally act like doofuses. Watch for unexpected hood dip and wheel turn when around cars as usual for ultra-defensive riding.

Speed Issues

The routine ultra-defensive riding strategies apply on the freeways, and we need to assume that we are invisible at all times. The SEE strategy, conspicuity, maintaining a large space window, and having escape routes ready apply on the motorways as much as on regular streets.

It's not speed that kills on the highway, it is differences in speed. Traveling significantly faster than the average passing speed in the passing lane is dangerous. Equally dangerous is riding slower than the average speed in the slow lane. I have often seen small traveling traffic jams, where a slow-moving bike in the slow lane has accumulated a large group of tailgating cages, and there is a dumb driver with his cruise control still activated edging past in the passing lane. The glut of honking, impatient tailgaters is an accident waiting to happen. Having traffic come up behind you fast and have to jam on when they see you late is a very dangerous situation. (In fact, you can now get a ticket for coming up fast and jamming on, it is considered road rage). Going slow in the fast lane is even worse, as drivers usually assume that vehicles in the fast lane are at least doing the speed limit, and we have discussed how bike speeds are hard to estimate. If your bike can't keep up with highway traffic, consider taking another route. And when you get in the passing lane, speed up and complete your passing maneuver briskly. Rear-end crashes with bikes are relatively rare, but often fatal, and the biker is often helpless in those situations. Because the classic 'cage turning across' accident pretty much can't happen on an interstate, rear-enders are much more common on these highways.

A final point. If they are executing SEE and incorporating mirror views, most biker's scan cycle time is four or five seconds, when they are paying attention. It is quite possible for a very fast-moving vehicle to come from far behind to right behind you inside five seconds, so do extra mirror checks when you are in the passing lane. This is more likely to happen on the autobahns and autostradas of Europe than the interstates, but all it takes is some rich kid in a sports car, or a cop doing cop stuff to mess up your day. There are plenty of cages out there which can do 120 MPH, meaning that they can get from more than a quarter of a mile behind to right on your tail in one scan cycle.