The distribution of flow in a single bifurcation was studied to examine what factors played a critical role. Flow was preferentially directed down the straightest pathway when higher frequencies and/or larger tidal volumes were used, but otherwise followed the pattern dictated by the distal impedance regardless of bifurcation geometry. In a symmetrical model, the observed flow distribution was in good agreement with a mathematical prediction based on linear impedance theory, though this was not the case when tidal volumes were increased. The difference in mean pressure between the two terminal units was also a strong function of branching angle and the Reynolds number. These findings suggest that the geometrical factors and local flow conditions contribute to both the flow and mean pressure distribution in an inertia-induced nonlinear manner. Consequently, linear impedance theory can be applied only to the limited situation of low tidal volume and symmetric configuration.