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The 400cc Motorcycle Highway Dilemma Pt. 2

This is part two of our piece on motorcycles and their usage on Philippine highways.

This is part two of our piece on motorcycles and their usage on highways.

In our last article about the existing highway motorcycle rules, we talked about the history of them matter, to understand the context and events that took place in the formation of the existing rules and guidelines. As promised, this follow article will answer some questions that have been sent to me, personally through messages, and a good number of constructive and valid comments we saw in various threads where the story came out.

Let it be clear, however, that the purpose of these articles are to inform and create a point of discussion between readers and motorcyclists. There are a lot of variables to consider about motorcycles and their application on expressways, and we decided to narrow them down to a handful of points.

1. Weight

There has always been the factor that motorcycles are obviously lighter than other motor driven vehicles, and that they are affected by sudden gusts of wind or the vacuum created by a passing vehicle. As it stands, the KTM 390 Duke, which has been granted highway access due to 400cc being written on their certificate of registration, weighs in at 154.2 kg without a rider. So let’s say that with a normal passenger, the 390 Duke will tip the scales at 220 kg.

Having ridden the 390 Duke and RC 390 on several occasion and on our expressways, having a light motorcycle generally isn’t an issue. It’s how you react to riding conditions that ensure how you minimize the weight handicap. First of all, dealing with crosswinds and head winds are a motorcyclists bread and butter; it’s something you live with everyday. On expressways, the weight and wind factor are multiplied, as the speed increases, and the margin for error decreases. The key is to not tense up and relax. Use your legs to grip the tank and keep your hands and arms loose. Let the motorcycle adjust, but keep your body ready to make minute adjustments.

Of course, if the wind is too strong (I have ridden in signal number 1 and 2 typhoons before, crazy, I know), then you as a responsible rider must stop and assess the situation. When in doubt, don’t ride the storm out. Common sense prevails in all riding instances.

2. The Vacuum

This is related to weight, and we touched on this on the above point. Taller and bigger vehicles displace more wind as their mass and relatively worse aerodynamics affect the wind behind them, creating turbulence. This, in turn, creates an almost sucking effect behind the vehicle, and can drastically affect the direction of travel of any vehicles it passes. This is true for even smaller cars, so it pays to keep an eye out for a few things.

First, remember that as a motorcyclist, you must be aware of bigger vehicles and the road conditions. The effect of the wind turbulence created by a passing vehicle increases with speed, so be wary of how fast the truck or vehicle is going. If possible, move to another lane to mitigate the effects, or even better, don’t get overtaken to begin with. On the expressway, trucks and buses have speed limit of 80 km/h, and, in the perfect world, they follow their limit to the letter. Use the advantage of your quick acceleration and weight to speed up to maintain a far enough distance from them. Also, a 390 Duke is perfectly capable of hitting 170-180 km/h, so if you’re on the expressway, keep at the speed limit to prevent being overtaken by other vehicles. If possible, travel a little faster to overtake, and go back to the speed limit when you have created a safe space and safe situation. This is, in my experience, the best way to deal with bigger vehicles and their vacuum effect; never give them a chance to overtake you and be aware of them.

If the worse case happens and the vacuum does hit you, follow my tips for point 1, and don’t tense up. Don’t overcorrect by leaning the opposite way too much, because once that vacuum ends, you’ll be heading in the other direction pretty quickly. Stay calm and maintain your part of the lane.

3. A Designated Lane

In many developing countries that have an abundance of motorcycles, there are dedicated lanes on main thoroughfares, and these are usually separated by a physical barrier. In places like Thailand or Malaysia, low displacement bikes are allowed on the expressway as long as they use the lanes closer to the shoulder, with the faster and bigger motorcycles being able to go along with other traffic in the other lanes. They also have a dedicated lane at toll booths, and they are almost always free of charge

The idea of creating a motorcycle lane on our highways creates a few issues. The way things are now, we’re seeing bottlenecks at key areas and exits on both NLEX and SLEX, and vehicles are even using the shoulder to get past traffic. Having a designated motorcycle lane will eat up one lane, that is if expanding the roadway cannot be done. If expanding the roadway is an option, then that means that clearances have to be accounted for between the edge of the highway property, and any existing exits and barriers. If it is a protected lane for bikes, then cars exiting will have to be wary of the gaps in the island and the motorcyclists using the lane. They must yield to bikes and wait for a gap, or add a traffic light that allows the filtering of exit and through traffic. That adds another issue for gridlock (because lane discipline and road courtesy are almost nonexistent) and further complicates the traffic scheme.

If we don’t have a physical barrier, then the chances for conflict between vehicles is increased exponentially. Of course, again, in a perfect world where everyone is licensed and tested properly and they all follow the rules, slow motorcycles will keep with the flow or stay to the right. Cars will give proper space to bikes and will not tailgate. Vehicles will not hog the left lane and force other cars to go around them. So, as you can see, maybe we just need to crack down on bad drivers and enforce the existing rules instead?

I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot of words for just three points. That’s because implementing rules and guidelines need to be carefully studied before enforcement, and must be scrutinized even more once there’s a party wanting to change the status quo. The best way to learn about how motorcycles are affected by road conditions, traffic situations, and existing rules is to ask a motorcyclist. While some may do it for work, and others ride because of passion, we all share the same road and the same responsibility to get to our jobs and families safely, and on time. A little consideration for all types of road users goes a long way than just casting a net and preventing an option for another form of travel aside from a car or commuting.

According to a report from Transport & Mobility Leuven, a Belgian analysis firm, if 10% of cars were replaced with motorcycles then traffic time would be cut by 63% for all drivers, and carbon emissions would decrease by 6%. We all get home earlier, we get to our jobs happier, and we are more productive. Isn’t that a win-win for everyone? So give motorcycles a try, and see where they’re coming from, then get back to us. Chances are, it’ll be a unique and liberating experience, and you’ll be wishing it would stop raining so you could get on your bike again.

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