Motorcycle filtering: Best practice

Motorcycle filtering: Many bikers shy away from it but if you follow our tips you should be able to filter safely and at the right speed.

On UK roads, motorcycle filtering is legal, when done within the confines of Rule 88 of the Highway code.

Now we’re clear on that, let’s look at how we can get better at filtering as riders – making it as safe and quick to do so as possible.


Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be moving faster than 10-15mph more than the prevailing traffic speed. Doing 40mph in stationary traffic, even in a 40 zone, really isn’t advisable. If you have an accident, it’s likely that your insurance company will take the same view.

Where the traffic itself is moving at anything more than 15-20 mph the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) advise that you shouldn’t filter at all, as the traffic is flowing and vehicles can more quickly move into spaces ahead of you.

Going faster also means you are closing down spaces quicker, giving you less time to react to anything coming into your riding channel.

Body positioning

Your ability to react quickly during filtering is vital if you are to deal with cars turning into your path at the last minute.

So it doesn’t help to have tensed arms and legs – they actively reduce your reaction time. Keep your body relaxed, with arms slightly bent and your legs loose against the tank. You don’t need to be gripping the bike fiercely at filtering speeds.

You really don’t want to be tense when filtering for long periods of time, during a miles-long motorway jam, for example. Tense muscles tire you more quickly, making you vulnerable to fatigue.

When this happens, you can find your mind wandering to the issue of fatigue and not focusing on what you should be doing, which is focussing on the riding channel ahead.

If you do become fatigued when filtering, find a safe gap between other vehicles to pull into and stay with the traffic flow until you are back up to your riding quality state-of-mind. The IAM advises, ‘Any prolonged session of filtering is tiring and requires the utmost concentration. On certain machines, the riding position may cause discomfort at slow speeds. Be prepared to stay in line for a short time if you are affected.’


Focal point

Making sure you aren’t tense has a lot to do with reducing the potential for, and understanding when you may be in danger. This is best done by using your eyes.

As a rider, you’ll agree we already have advanced road-assessment skills, yeah? This means that we are capable of monitoring the exit point as well as assessing all inputs from our peripheral vision, in real time.

Meaning, in plain English, we’ll be looking as far down our riding channel as we can see, at the same time as watching out for signs that a driver is going to pull out into our path, having not seen us in their mirrors nor choosing to indicate until they have actually started their move.

Obviously, as the vulnerable rider, you are looking for clear indications that something may be moving into your path – side indicators or a vehicle stopping to let someone through. More subtle things to look out for are drivers leaning forward to pay much more attention to a space they can manoeuvre into and power-assisted wheels turning in anticipation of a move.

Having spotted a potential danger, you also need to ensure you have not become target fixated.

Lane positioning in town

A rider can also reduce the number of inputs they need to take on board by their lane positioning.

Obviously, when it’s legal to do so, bus lanes should be used, but do remember to keep an eye to your right for any gaps that may have been left for a vehicle from the opposite direction to turn into, directly across your path.

If you choose to filter between the kerb and the nearside lane, then keep a look out not only for those same courteous-but-deadly gaps but also any stationary vehicles that may spew an impatient passenger into your path.

If you filter down the outside, be extra vigilant for vehicles turning right or deciding to do u-turns to get out of the queue.

Lane positioning on carriageways and motorways

It’s tempting to say, where a carriageway has a central reservation or fencing, the best place to be is on the outside of the lane where you can escape onto the central reservation, should something come into your path. The reality is that you’ll rarely find this space available to you. You’ll also find that drivers are less likely to be expecting you to come down that side, as bikes normally filter between lanes.

Instead sit between lanes two and three, where there will be fewer wide-bodied vehicles. There will also be fewer vehicles changing lanes to leave an exit.



Gaps of two or three car lengths are attractive things to jump into as, naturally, you are putting more space between you and the surrounding vehicles.

But think for a moment, that same gap is as attractive to a car driver as it is to you, so you are in danger of being sideswiped by a car who has seen the space, but not you.

The gap may also have been created by a driver letting another car into their lane – and we know that that same courteous driver may not have checked their mirrors to see if you were coming alongside the space they are making available when they waved the other car into it.

Also, when filtering along an outside line, you are visible for a decent period of time to those drivers who are using their mirrors.

When you leave that line, you are potentially telling them it’s OK to do a u-turn or even try filtering themselves to get to a right turn quicker – so when you return to the line, you may have put yourself in danger if they haven’t checked their mirror since not seeing you back there.

Lights and forewarning

Drivers sit in traffic picking their nose and worse, and not checking their rear view mirrors when stationary. So we need to let them know we are coming, right?

You have to remember their state of mind is warm air, Capital-Radio-listening or talking-to-the kids fugginess, not the hyper-awareness of you as a vulnerable rider.

The fact is we have no automatic right-of-way when filtering – we are simply taking advantage of a law that allows us to use the space that is available.

So they aren’t expecting us and we have no right to demand that they should be following our every move, even though the law says we’re allowed to filter.

When I see riders in town with their main beam on I can’t help myself and nearly always point out that they are actually putting themselves in more danger by blinding oncoming drivers than potentially warning people in their own lane that they are behind.

I’ll be honest, there have been occasions when I have put my lights on high/main beam when filtering in heavy traffic. My reasoning is that with so many cars fitted with daylight running lights these days I need to do something to get myself noticed.

This is wrong-headed thinking as the original point remains – I may have inadvertently temporarily blinded a driver who has looked in the wing mirror (remember, your super-bright bulb is also being magnified by the mirror, so it’s even brighter). And I’ll also have potentially wound-up more aggressive and righteous drivers.

Rule 114 of the HighWay Code is also pretty clear: ‘You MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders.’ and Rule 115 states you should also, ‘keep your headlights dipped when overtaking until you are level with the other vehicle and then change to main beam if necessary, unless this would dazzle oncoming road users.’

So keep your running lights on dipped beam and if you do come up behind a driver who is oblivious, either wait or, if it’s been a few minutes, a friendly double beep on the horn, maybe with a Timmy Mallet wave when they eventually wake up and look in their mirror.

Revving the bastard out of your engine or wrapping hard on their window with your carbon-capped knuckles really isn’t the way to deal with it, no matter how tempting.

Get yourself sorted:

Keep your speed down and your eyes ahead – one to make sure the channel is clear, and the other on those tiny vehicle movements that could mean that channel will be going from clear to blocked in a few seconds…


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