A recent statement by police that all motorcyclists, regardless of the size of bike they are riding, must use the motorcycle lane along the Federal Highway or face a fine, drew comments and criticism from the riding public that the motorcycle lane was unsafe to use. Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director SAC Maha­mad Akhir Darus said using the dedicated lane instead of the main carriageway would prevent accidents involving motorcycles.

SAC Mahamad Akhir said no exemption would be given to riders of larger capacity motorcycles, adding that “engineers have done their research and designed the lanes to accommodate all types of motorcycles” and riders who refused to do so were providing “a lame, unacceptable excuse.” This provoked a response from motorcyclists who use the lane, with many saying it was not safe to ride, especially in the tunnels, more so at night, or in bad weather.

With this mind, we decided to see if there was any basis to these claims, and see for ourselves what the fuss was all about. By way of explanation, the author last rode the motorcycle lane on the Federal Highway a little less than 10 years ago, preferring to use alternate routes instead.

Mounting a camera on our long-term test bike, a 2016 Triumph Street Triple R, we planned a route that began at the Jalan Utara entry to the Federal Highway bike lane, turning around at Mid-Valley, then heading towards Klang, and returning.

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The first thing we noticed on entering the bike lane proper was how narrow it was. Barely wide enough to accommodate two kapchais side-by-side, the Triumph Street Triple we were riding, while not considered to be particularly large as big bikes go, did require some quick judgement calls while overtaking.

Another thing we noticed was the road surface, which was patched in many areas, and very rough and uneven. Some of the feedback we received was that the surface was not kind to motorcycle rims, with many saying that they had suffered rims bent from accidentally riding into potholes.

Others had said that the uneven and pot-holed surface, together with tree roots breaking through the tarmac, required them to take evasive manoeuvres, and we found this to be true. Quickly changing direction to avoid some of these hazards was not always an option in the narrow – and during rush hour, crowded – bike lane.

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Construction abounds along both sides of the Federal Highway, and the works have encroached into the bike lane proper, which means riders are sharply diverted into the emergency lane of the main highway itself. While this might be an accepted practice in terms of traffic management, we found the traffic barriers in the diversion lane made it very narrow, with zero room for error, or stopping.

This hazard was found in many cases to lack of proper warning signage, or warning lights, while construction debris was found scattered through much of the lane. If you’re riding a motocross bike, sand can be entertaining, but not so funny if you’re riding a scooter with small wheels, or a big bike with some weight behind it.

Riding into the tunnels revealed several other hazards, first among which was the lighting. In some tunnels, the lights were not functioning, or partially lit. The other issue was the level of lighting. Riding in bright sunlight, entering a tunnel means the rider is effectively blind, due to the low light level in the tunnel.

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Eyes take time to transition from bright sunlight to darkness, and the light level inside the tunnel is inadequate to compensate for this, even when riding at a speed of between 60 to 80 km/h. The road surface inside the tunnels, which we assume is concrete because we couldn’t stop to check, was uneven and bumpy.

While the bike we were riding had adjustable suspension that is compliant and works well, we wondered how riders of cheaper, lower capacity machines coped with riding this kind of a surface, day-in and day-out. The other issue was with the entrance and exit of some of the tunnels.

In many cases, riders had to take a sharp turn to enter the tunnels, with a sharp exit waiting on the other end. Coupled with the temporary loss of vision from entering the darkness, this made for some very exciting exits during our ride along the bike lane.

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Another issue was the number of water hazards we encountered, and we’re not playing golf here. We found standing water at several points during our ride, and according to feedback we received from paultan.org readers, flooding in the tunnels during heavy rain is a common occurrence, with many saying that they had ridden into the tunnels to suddenly find themselves knee-deep in floodwater.

Some sections of the Federal Highway bike lane were undulating and curvy, almost like riding a roller coaster. While some might consider this fun, doing this on a daily basis for a work commute rapidly grows old. Add to that the lack of width and emergency run-off space on the lane, and you have an accident waiting to happen.

Corners on the bike lane were the cause of some concern. While certain corners were nicely radiused to match the speed limit, other were 90-degree challenges to a rider’s low-speed bike handling skill. The narrow confines of the lane, coupled with retaining walls and fencing on both sides, effectively made the lane a single-track.

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When you consider the amount of bike traffic in the lane, especially during the morning and evening rush-hour, what you get is a bottle-neck. Some riders have said that when the bike in front of them brakes hard for the corner in front, or a hazard, they have found themselves having nowhere to go to avoid a collision.

This sometimes results in a multi-bike pile-up, along with the fact that everyone’s day is ruined. Speed bumps along the lane are also somewhat over-sized, and we saw the result of this in an accident that happened when a rider lost control of his machine after hitting a speed bump.

Overtaking in the lane is a somewhat dicey affair. At certain stretches, like near Shah Alam, overtaking is easy, with a clear, straight lane and adequate run-off space. Other places, like at Angkasapuri or Sunway, overtaking means having to have good judgement, and hoping that the bike in front doesn’t suddenly decide to change direction.

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That the guard-rails along the lane come close to edge, coupled with big edifices being built right up to the edge of lane itself, means a rider has absolutely no chance of escape in case something happens in front. All the rider can do is brake hard, and pray.

Speeding up doesn’t solve anything, since the margin for error is so thin, and slowing down means you start to hold up traffic behind you. We rode the lane at an average pace of 55 km/h, according to our GPS, increasing speed slightly in clear sections.

Other hazards we saw during our ride include pedestrians crossing and walking in the lane, and a car crossing the lane. Direction signboards were also somewhat lacking, and exits from the bike lane were not clearly marked.

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While it is possible to ride a big bike on the Federal Highway bike lane, it is somewhat hazardous. If a rider doesn’t pay attention, or is taken by surprise, an accident can easily result. In some places in the bike lane, the only thing that saved the author was decades of riding experience, and a capable motorcycle.

So, from a safety standpoint, are the police right in enforcing the law and making riders use the Federal Highway bike lane? Yes, the law is the law, and not obeying the law leads to anarchy and chaos. The lackadaisical attitude of many Malaysian road users, both four- and two-wheeled, is proof of this.

But, is it fair for motorcyclists to be subject to some of the hazards of riding in the bike lane, when the infrastructure and maintenance is clearly lacking in many areas?

We hope that this video, along with constructive comments and opinions from our readers, will spur the authorities to make improvements not just to the motorcycle lane, but to road and highway design as a whole, so that we can all have a safe drive or ride.