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If you’ve driven in California or another country other than the United States, you’ve likely experienced some motorcyclist behavior that differs from most U.S. states. For instance, riders could be blasting between stopped or slowed traffic, a practice you rarely see in most other states. However, you might not be used to filtering, either. So, what is lane filtering? And what does it mean for you as a motorist or a motorcyclist?

Lane filtering is a common practice for motorcyclists in California and many countries around the globe

Ok, maybe you’ve heard the term thrown around here and there. So, just what is lane filtering? And how is it any different from lane-splitting? Well, for motorcycles in the United States, lane filtering refers to riders overtaking or riding around stopped traffic. I know, it sounds a lot like lane-splitting, right? Not quite.

According to Ride Apart, lane filtering “allows the motorcyclist to trickle down between rows of stopped/slow-moving vehicles.” Therein lies the major difference: speed. Consequently, filtering is better characterized by riders moving around or between queued traffic at a stoplight to reach the front of a lineup. 

A pair of riders about to ride between slow traffic on a sportbike and a bagger.
A pair of riders about to ride between slow traffic | Sundry Photography via iStock

Now, before you get jealous of your delicate little two-wheeled road mates, there’s good reason for filtering. For starters, filtering motorcycles can cut down on lengthy lineups and congestion at red lights. A rider can also stay out of distracted drivers’ way by moving around queues. Additionally, scooting up to the front of a row of traffic prevents bikes from idling longer than they must. I don’t have to tell you that idling produces excess tailpipe emissions and harms the environment. 

However, a motorcycle idling in the heat, especially an air-cooled motorcycle like an Evolution Harley-Davidson Sportster, is prone to overheating. Overheating can lead to a traffic-inducing breakdown or worse, a seized engine. 

So, what does lane filtering mean for you if you’re not a motorcyclist? It’s simple, really. Use your mirrors. As a driver or rider, you should never change lanes without checking your mirrors and indicating. It’s bad driving practice and downright dangerous. Of course, motorcyclists who choose to filter or split must do so in a safe manner. That said, riding between cars is expressly forbidden in states like Texas. Become familiar with your local laws before splitting or filtering.

Moreover, you shouldn’t engage in what police officers refer to as “lane-straddling.” Straddling is the poor driving practice of occupying more than one lane at a time. It’s not only dangerous for filtering and splitting motorcyclists, but it’s also risky for other drivers and bicyclists.