Bikes are good at overtaking. Even those with modest power are capable of accelerating quicker than most cars; so you can whip out and pass things very quickly. But some of their riders aren't good at overtaking. I'm not particularly good at overtaking. Like most old blokes, I am probably a bit over-cautious. There are times when I could probably overtake safely, but I hang back, waiting for a better opportunity. Although that's not necessarily a bad thing; because it's one reason we get to be old blokes!
At the other end of the scale are people who aren't cautious enough. They're the people who are really "good" at overtaking. But being "good" in this way is not always being safe! For most bikes overtaking is easy, but it still has to be done safely.
The main problem, in most cases anyway, is not that people over-estimate the bike's capability, I think it is that they under-estimate the distance needed to overtake safely. I'm sure that many people think that all you have to do is be able to overtake within the distance you can see ahead. But that's wrong!You have to be able to overtake within approximately half of the distance you can see. Let's say that another vehicle pops into view just as you pull out to overtake. And let's say, just for illustration purposes, that it is going at the same speed you are. If that situation was maintained, you would meet at a point exactly half way between where you started and the furthest point you could see when you pulled out. Okay, so you might end up going faster than the approaching vehicle and so you'd end up doing it easily within half the distance. But then if the other vehicle was actually going faster (and remember you are pulling out from, presumably, a relatively slow vehicle, so you are probably starting out relatively slowly) then you would theoretically meet at a point closer than half the distance you could see. That's what I mean about people under-estimating the distance they need!
Recently I was on the receiving end of just this sort of scenario. I was riding along a narrow winding road often frequented by bikers. As I rounded a corner there was a car coming the other way a short distance up the road. Following the car was a bike, and just as I came into view he pulled out to overtake. The decision to overtake would have been made a split-second before I came into view; and as I rounded the corner he was just pulling out. I braked to give him room, and as he flashed past he gave me an appreciative wave. Okay, no harm done, and no-one in any real danger. But what if I'd been going faster? What if I'd been driving a car, let's say a fast car, and I had a heavy right-foot and a dislike of motorcyclists? The result could have been much different!
Relying on sheer speed and / or the generosity of the approaching traffic is not a good approach to overtaking! Yet it is an approach that many bikers take. They know their bike is fast, so they reckon on not needing much room to get around that slower vehicle infront of them. There's no assessment along the lines of "how much distance do I need if something is coming the other way?" If there's road there then they reckon on the bike being fast enough to get there without the need to consider on-coming traffic. The incident I described above is proof that this is not the case!
Another factor that some use when overtaking is the knowledge that a bike doesn't take up much room on the road. Lane-splitting might be fine in city traffic, but it's a bit dangerous out on the highway! But I've seen bikes do it; and I've had one do it to me. One day I was riding along a two-lane road with a 100kph speed-limit. There was a steady stream of cars behind and infront, all travelling at around the speed-limit. I was happy with that. But coming up from behind was a sports-bike with the rider dressed in racing-leathers. He overtook the car behind me and then, with traffic coming towards us, he pulled in beside me for a few moments until there was a break, and then he shot away, overtaking the car infront. It was a pretty dangerous move really, and I had to pull over to make room for him to ride beside me. He probably thought it was a good overtaking manoeuvre, but the thought of possibly banging handlebars at 100kph was something that I did not appreciate!
Part of the art of being "good" at overtaking is following the vehicle infront very closely. Obviously the further back you are from the vehicle, the further you have to travel to overtake it. So reduce the distance to the vehicle infront and you reduce the distance and the time needed to overtake it. The guys who are really "good" at overtaking will sit right on the bumper of the vehicle infront, ready and waiting to pounce just as soon as there is a break. And if the vehicle infront suddenly slows for some reason? Well, having your front wheel run under the back of a semi can't be too serious can it? Can it?! For me, I'd much rather be "bad" at overtaking and travel at a safe distance back. I might be stuck behind a slow car for longer, but at least I won't be stuck underneath it!
On the same ride when the sports-bike came up and pulled in beside me, I noticed another bike in my mirrors. It was back a ways, and was keeping station with me. When I overtook it did too. When I was travelling along in the flow of traffic, so was it. I was curious, especially after the earlier incident, to see what sort of bike it was. When we came to the next town I slowed down to let the bike catch up to get a closer look at it. It was a sports-bike too, but it was being ridden by a guy wearing jeans and a textile bike jacket, rather than the racing-style leathers of the other rider. I think that said something about the differences in riding styles!
And that's what it really comes down to; attitude and the way you ride. Treat the road like a race-track and you'll be practicing all those sort of moves I've described. You'll be "good" at overtaking; at least for a while! But treat the road and the traffic on it with respect and ride in a more safe manner and you'll avoid dangerous moves like that. You'll be "bad" at overtaking. But you'll probably live longer!
So I'm happy with not being good at overtaking. I'd rather be good at living longer!
Note: For a detailed training article on overtaking, click here.
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