MCN IAM Better Riding Guide: Filtering

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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at ways you can improve your riding style to make you a better biker.

But whether it’s your first time on your bike or you’re going back to biking after some time away, here’s some advice to make you a better and smoother rider.

This week, we’re look at filtering. By manoeuvring around vehicles and through traffic, you’ll reduce journey times. Here are few tips on how to do it. 

• Take care. Filtering presents its own hazards, not least because some drivers wrongly believe that it is illegal and may react in a hostile way when they see a bike or scooter wending its way through a line of traffic. However the Highway Code acknowledges that motorcyclists can and do filter in traffic and advises that this should be carried out safely and slowly.

• Before filtering you must consider the speed of the traffic you’ll be moving through, the speed differential between your machine and the surrounding traffic, and finally, the amount of space available.

• Filtering in traffic flowing at speeds above about 15-20mph should be avoided owing to the ease with which vehicles can change direction with little if any warning.

• The speed differential shouldn’t be more than 10–15mph above that of the slower moving traffic in order to give you sufficient time to react to any hazards. The further away you keep from slower moving vehicles, the greater that speed differential can be.

• Good machine control is a prerequisite to safe filtering and your concentration needs to be focused primarily on traffic in the near and mid-distance.

• Make maximum use of peripheral vision – this is the most effective way of detecting small traffic movements that could affect you. Look well ahead to plan your intended route through the traffic and use your peripheral vision to monitor traffic either side of you.

• Avoid target fixation, this is when your vision fixates on one particular thing such as a vehicle in the foreground, as any escape route then becomes effectively invisible to you.

• Observe, scan, identify, predict, prioritise and act as necessary. With your distance vision, identify ‘landing points’ of safety in much the same way that you would if you were crossing a fast flowing stream by the use of stepping stones.

• If there are any gaps in a line of traffic you should anticipate that a driver may dive across without warning. If a driver sees a fleeting opportunity to move into a faster lane don’t assume they will be checking their mirror or indicating before they manoeuvre.

• One of the most dangerous areas is filtering between the kerb and/or stationary traffic when traffic stops for any period. It is not uncommon for passengers to open their doors to jump out or even to try and see what’s causing the holdup. Remember, passengers cannot make use of the door mirrors as they are angled for the driver and few if any will ask the driver if it’s clear to open the door.

• A common development in some cities is riders being allowed to use bus lanes. Take extra care because drivers crossing them will be looking for a bus, not a motorcycle or scooter, so beware at junctions of vehicles turning into or out of them.

• Plan your filtering well but consider every vehicle passed as an overtaking move in its own right. Be especially considerate towards cyclists. Above all give yourself time to react by keeping distances as great as you reasonably can and your speed – relative to other traffic – down.

• It is worth remembering that all new cars are fitted with daylight running lights (DRL). Consequently when a driver looks in their mirror, the single headlight of a filtering motorcycle no longer stands out in a sea of traffic.


Filtering tips

• Look well ahead and plan your route. Do you have an escape route and have you left sufficient distance to give you time to react to any hazards?

• When passing high-sided vehicles, will you be able to react if a pedestrian steps out from that vehicle in front?

• Where vehicles start moving off, beware that if one remains stationary they may be letting someone or something out.

• At pedestrian crossings you can’t overtake the lead vehicle that has stopped to allow pedestrians to cross – some riders find the best thing to do is stop behind that front car, rather than beside it.

• Comply with double white line systems and keep left signs on bollards etc. Failing to do so is not only illegal but gives motorcycling a bad name.

• On three-lane dual carriageways it’s usually easier to filter between lanes two and three because there are less lorries and buses in lane three, so you generally have more road width.

• If you don’t need to be close to the vehicles you are filtering past – move well clear. You are easier to see if you are separated from them, and also have more room for manoeuvre.


• Don’t ‘rev’ aggressively to badger car drivers to let you pass – it winds them up and makes them less likely to help the next rider through.

• When approaching traffic lights, can you get to the front of the queue before the lights change if there’s a long vehicle at the stop line? If not, don’t start the overtake (especially down the nearside of an articulated truck indicating left!).

• There is a civil court case which describes filtering as “an activity fraught with danger”. That sets the atmosphere in which you are operating – accept that and ride appropriately.

For more riding advice, get a copy of How to be a Better Rider, Advanced Motorcycling the Essential Guide. It costs £9.99 and is available from the IAM.


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Stefan Bartlett

By Stefan Bartlett