Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Touring Safely

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Overtaking on a motorcycle is probably the one thing I see other bikers do that makes me shake my head in disbelief.

And it’s ironic because overtaking on a motorcycle is the single most dangerous thing you can do on two wheels!

So how is it that so many riders get it wrong?

For me, the level of safety and effectiveness of an overtake often depends on the reason.

And overtaking on a motorcycle out of frustration, anger, or some sort of misplaced self-entitlement are the wrong reasons to overtake.

Like a chess grandmaster implementing an accomplished strategy, a well-executed overtake looks cool, calm, and collected. You can see the strategy unfold. It doesn’t upset or annoy anyone. It’s seamless, and it fits smoothly into the flow of traffic.

overtaking on a motorcycle
A well-timed overtake should be cool, calm, and collected. (Image via Blah 2012)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Advanced Rider Training

The best way to learn effective overtaking on a motorcycle is through some advanced training.

If you’re in the UK, BikeSafe is a great place to start.

Led by Class 1 police bikers, BikeSafe is the best way to have your riding critiqued by some of the best riders in the world.

Whether you’re a new rider or have been riding for 30 years, advice on how to be a safer rider is never a bad thing!

From here you can move on to more in-depth training through schemes such as RoSPA, Diamond, ERS, and even some track days.

uk police motorcyclist
Doing the BikeSafe course is an excellent way to brush up on your overtaking skills. (Image via Tom S.)

When Overtaking On A Motorcycle Is NOT A Good Idea

This is really simple. In general, an overtake is NOT on if you either have to break the law, or you have to compromise the safety of yourself or other road users.

That’s it.

So examples could include:

  • Crossing solid white lines
  • Breaking the speed limit
  • On approach to a bend that you can’t see around
  • If your view of the road ahead is anything less than 100%
  • When approaching dips in the road
  • If there are junctions ahead
  • Where warning signs are advising you not to
  • If there is a narrowing of the road
  • When you don’t have a designated landing spot
overtaking on a motorcycle - only when it's safe
If your view of the road ahead is anything less than 100%, then the overtake isn’t on. (Image via RAC)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Observations

Observations are the cornerstone of overtaking on a motorcycle. Without front and rear observations, there is NO overtake.

It’s as simple as that.

Use your eyes! And take a second to assess the situation in front of you.

Are there solid white lines up ahead? Can you see junctions or side roads?

Are there traffic lights, signs, signals, or crossings? Or can you see the road up ahead or are you relying on luck?

Have you chosen a landing spot or are you just hoping one will present itself?

And what’s going on behind you? Is there a GS bearing down on you? Or how about a notorious Audi driver that’s itching to come past you?

Let’s have a look at some of these in more detail.

motorcycle between two cars
Lots to consider when contemplating an overtake. (Image via singes)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Pick Your Landing Spot

As a fellow rider, I know we’re always looking for the overtake. Especially when traffic is moving slowly or the car in front is dithering around in front of you.

But don’t just commence overtaking on a motorcycle with no idea where you’re going to pull back in.

It sounds stupid, but I see it time and time again.

As a thinking rider, you should already have your landing spot chosen before you begin overtaking on a motorcycle.

Now, I’m not saying you have to stick to that landing spot.

During your overtake, you might see that you are able to continue overtaking traffic as you approach your original landing spot.

If this is the case, assess your position, choose another landing spot, and continue.

But don’t look at the eight cars in front of you and just hope that you’ll be able to make it before a lorry comes around the bend and takes you out.

Always have a plan.

overtaking on a motorcycle
Only overtake when it’s safe. And have a landing spot in mind. (Image via MotoMag)

Simon Says…

Speaking of plans, don’t blindly follow the leading rider when it comes to overtaking on a motorcycle.

Again, I see this a lot.

The problem with following another rider into an overtake is that you are ultimately following their plan rather than your plan.

What if they abandon the overtake?

What if their landing spot becomes unavailable and they have to squeeze into a gap barely big enough for one bike, let alone two?

Where will you go?

What if they slip on paint or gravel? Are you happy to slip as well?

If you’re following someone you know and trust, then you can sort of (maybe, perhaps) place a little more trust in them when it comes to overtaking on a motorcycle.

But if it’s someone you hardly know, do not go into an overtake based on their plan.

Because for all you know, they might just be a really shit rider!

Blindly following other riders is a dangerous way to overtake. (Image via Suffolk Roadsafe)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Taking A ‘Second’ Rider

So you’ve decided on an overtake.

You’ve done your observations (front and rear) and you’ve chosen your landing spot.

Good stuff.

Now, before you set off, ask yourself if you could take another rider with you.

Is the gap you’re aiming for big enough for just you? Or will the imaginary rider behind you be able to fit in as well?

If the gap is only big enough for you, I’d question whether the overtake was on in the first place.

If you think both you and the imaginary rider behind you could comfortably fit into your intended landing spot, then that sounds like a better situation to be in.

overtaking on a motorcycle safely
Take an imaginary rider with you on your overtakes. (Image via Sourav Mishra/Pexels)

Imagine Yourself Coming The Opposite Way

Take a second to put yourself in the shoes of oncoming traffic – especially if the road curves up ahead and you’re unsure what lies beyond it.

If you’re riding at 65 mph, put yourself on the other side of the bend riding towards you at 65 mph. Do you still have time to safely complete your overtake?

If you think that one of you (or both of you) would end up with messy pants if you met on the bend, then it’s safe to say your overtake needs to wait.

Imagine yourself coming the other way. Is it still safe? (Image via RoadCC)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: There’s This Famous Saying…

“If it’s probably on, then it’s definitely off.”

I think this nicely sums up overtaking on a motorcycle!

If you probably have enough time, or if it should be okay, then wait.

Get around the bend and then reassess.

There will always be another chance to overtake when the situation is definitely on rather than probably on.

overtaking on a motorcycle when it's safe
If it’s probably on, it’s definitely not. (Image via MotoMario)

Your Ego Will Kill You

You’ve probably been in a situation where you’ve seen a rider (or group of riders) in your mirrors bear down on you from behind.

They sit on your tailpipe. And they’re looking for you to overtake so that they can overtake, too.

They push you. They weave about and are in and out of your mirrors as they look for an overtake.

And it’s very easy to feel the pressure. They want you to overtake and you don’t want to hold them back. So you feel pressured into taking overtakes based on nothing but their opinion that you should.

This is ego.

Don’t be pushed into dangerously overtaking on a motorcycle just to satisfy your ego. Because even if you do, those pushy riders behind you will follow.

And then there’ll be another overtake.

Then another one.

And another.

Until eventually the luck runs out.

What use is your ego when both you and your bike are wrapped around a tree?

Don’t be pushed into overtaking on a motorcycle if you’re not absolutely sure. You are the only person who should decide if your overtake is on.

bikers on millau viaduct
Don’t be pushed. Overtake in your own time when you know it’s safe. (Image via Adobe)

Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Conclusion

As mentioned at the head of this post, if you’re planned overtake is going to break the law or endanger yourself or others, then wait.

What information do you have? Are there any road signs in front of you advising you not to overtake? Are there any junctions, solid white lines, dips, or blind bends?

Once you clear this, have another check behind you before shifting position and selecting the correct gear.

If it’s all clear ahead and you have your landing position in mind, then it’s time to perform your overtake safely and efficiently.

And remember, overtaking on a motorcycle doesn’t have to be at full throttle. It doesn’t have to be a spectacle, and it doesn’t have to frighten other road users.

To onlookers, your overtake should look controlled and seamless. So make it classy. And take pride in doing it correctly!

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