This has been a dynamite riding season for motorcyclists. Spring came early and the late summer has been nearly perfect for hitting the roads.
It’s also been a deadly year. As of Aug. 4, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety recorded 44 fatalities involving motorcycle riders or their passengers, an increase from just 25 at this period last year and dangerously close to the 46 for all of 2014.
In 23 of this year’s 40 fatal wrecks, a motorcycle was the only vehicle involved. Rider error while negotiating curves or going too fast was the No. 1 factor. In the 17 fatal wrecks when motorcycles collided with other vehicles, the leading cause was that the other drivers failed to yield to motorcyclists, said Megan Matthews of the Department of Public Safety.
The interaction between bikers and vehicle drivers has long created friction and has raised lots of questions.
Reader Doug Voerding was driving west on Interstate 394 on a recent Sunday when he encountered four motorcyclists riding in pairs next to each other. They were in the far left lane, with the rider on the right hugging the lane divider. He wondered why motorcyclists often ride side by side rather than single file and how close to the lane marking they should be.
“It is especially disconcerting when a pair of motorcyclists is approaching with one hugging the centerline. In that situation, more often than not, I have to swerve to my right to give them room, room they would have if they rode single file.”
It is legal for motorcyclists to ride side by side, according to state statues, and be slightly offset to allow a proper space cushion so each rider has enough time and space to maneuver and to react to hazards, the Minnesota Motorcycle and Motorized Bicycle Manual says. But riders should not be spaced out so far that they are in the blind spot of another motorist, Matthews said.
“You want to be seen,” she said. “We always recommend riders avoid others’ blind spots and stay within the lane.”
How close is too close?
There is no specific rule about how far from the white line a cyclist must be, but riding close to a lane marking is not advisable, Matthews said.
Motorcyclists, however, cannot ride between two lanes of traffic. The practice known as lane splitting or stripe riding is illegal in Minnesota, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol.
Riders have basically three paths within their lane. In group rides, the lead rider takes the left third of the lane, while the next rider stays at least one second behind in the right third of the lane. The rest of the group follows the same pattern. A single-file formation is preferred on a curvy road, under conditions of poor visibility or poor road surfaces, entering and leaving highways, or other situations where an increased space cushion or maneuvering room is needed, the manual recommends.
Voerding also saw a pair of motorcyclists change lanes to the right and back to the left to get around a slower-moving vehicle in their lane. Like their riding, the lane changes also were done in tandem. In that case, both of the bikers should have signaled, Matthews said.
Regardless of what the laws says, the main rule of the road is to drive safely. “We don’t want that fatality number going up,” Matthews said.