Passing/Overtaking on a Motorcycle

Overtaking and passing. These are both terms meaning the same thing — depending on your local lexicon, but they both refer to the act of getting past a vehicle that is going slower than you intend to ride yourself.

For consistency, I will use the term “passing” in this chapter.

Passing is arguably one of the most dangerous things we do while riding, yet, executed with care and planning, it is not something to be feared or unnecessarily avoided. Indeed, sometimes we find that the safest place to be is in front of some hazards.

So, with that said, let’s take a look at how we can make passing the safest activity we can.

It may seem counter-productive, but would you like to know the first thing I do when considering a pass? I drop back — sometimes way back. This may seem the opposite of what we want to achieve, but let me outline what we need to plan when considering a pass, and the reason for dropping back may become clearer.

For a safe pass we need to:

In that situation they are robbing themselves of a good, clear view of the road ahead. How many times do you see these people start to pass, then abort when something they have missed suddenly comes into their view?

Furthermore, when they go to pass, they will need all the acceleration they can get from their machine because, relative to the car in front, they are starting from zero. Both vehicles are going at the same speed. Although we often have plenty of acceleration at our command, overly harsh acceleration goes against our mantra: “A motorcycle is at its most stable when going in a straight line at a constant speed.” The further we go from that ideal, the less stable the machine will be.

So, what do we do? We start the manoeuvre from way back. By the time we reach the vehicle we’re about to pass, we have already achieved the necessary speed differential to smoothly get past them. No frantic acceleration is necessary.

Now, this technique does come at a price. It means that we need to plan this manoeuvre much, much further ahead. That is why I stated at the beginning of this article that a well-executed pass requires much forethought and planning.

If you aren’t 110% sure you can safely carry it out; if you don’t have the necessary view ahead; in short, if you don’t have all of your “ducks in a row”, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

In the following images, I will outline the steps for a carefully planned and executed pass:

Here, I am following a car which I intend to pass. At this proximity, I can’t get enough information about the road ahead. My view is obscured by the car I’m about to pass. Also, if I were to initiate the pass from here, it would require a lot of acceleration to get past the car.

To gain a better view of the road ahead, I have dropped back considerably. From this position, I can see much further ahead and plan my pass. I am:

If I need to shift toward the left or right of my lane to get an even better view, I will do so — as long as it doesn’t bring me into conflict with oncoming traffic.

Having made careful observations and planned all the points of the pass, the process begins. I have already picked my re-entry point.

I begin to accelerate. The objective is to arrive at the point where I move out to pass at a sufficient speed to smoothly execute the manoeuvre without asking too much of my machine.

As I approach the vehicle in front, I put on a turn signal. I consider giving a flash on my of my lights, or a brief sound of my horn, to alert the driver that I am about to pass.

Note that it is not necessary for the last vehicle coming in the opposite direction to have cleared at this point. As long as they will have cleared by the time I begin to move out. I am still on my side of the road, and perfectly able to abort the pass should circumstances change.

I am continually practising the IPSGA and TUG methodologies as outlined in Motorcycle Mastery, so, at any point, circumstances may dictate I re-evaluate the manoeuvre.

I have now moved out to pass. Note that I’m not being timid about my positioning, and I am using the opposite lane to my advantage by not getting too close to the vehicle I am passing.

There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, I want to create a “buffer zone” between myself and the car I am passing and, secondly, it affords me a better view of what is happening up ahead. From this position, I could see if, for instance, a vehicle up ahead shows a turn signal. The worst-case scenario being a left-turn signal! Not seeing this has caused many unfortunate incidents for some people.

This clearly is the most dangerous point of the manoeuvre. Don’t linger out there. Get past. Keep observing.

Having passed the vehicle, I smoothly head for my re-entry point.

Now, this is a fine example of using throttle sense. If I need to brake, I was going too fast, or I didn’t allow a big enough gap for my re-entry, or it simply wasn’t prudent to pass at that point.

I should be able to smoothly adjust the throttle, and re-join the flow of traffic — at their speed — without needing to brake, or causing any of the vehicles around me to take action.

A well-planned and skilfully executed pass is a thing of beauty (OK, I may need to get out more). Like most things in good, skilled riding, the keyword is “smooth”. Further, our objective is to execute the pass while leaving no “footprint”. In other words, if we cause any other vehicle to take action because of it, we have failed.

Let me leave you now with some final points about passing:

I intend to add more videos to this blog as time goes on. To start off with, I have created a quick video demonstrating some of the points outlined above, which are considered during a live pass:

Until next time, keep the rubber down!

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