Overtaking on a Motorcycle

When it comes to overtaking, motorcycle riders often have benefits over larger vehicles; acceleration (if your bike has a good amount of power) and a good view of the road ahead.

Benefits aside, overtaking on a motorcycle represents one of the most hazardous manoeuvres a biker can do. In fact, overtaking represents one of the major causes of road traffic accidents. Bad judgement that results in overtaking at the wrong time or place will put you into a collision course with oncoming traffic.

This tutorial provides procedures and techniques for overtaking on a motorcycle. The first thing you must always consider and ask yourself before committing yourself to a hazardous manoeuvre is ‘Is it necessary and is it legal?’

For example; is there a good deal of traffic ahead traveling at a similar speed? Are you turning off soon? Is the vehicle in front already traveling close to the speed limit? All these reasons might be sufficient to hold back and wait. If you do decide that overtaking is necessary, you’ll first need to ensure none of these scenarios make a hazardous manoeuvre into a dangerous one:

When Not to Overtake on a Motorcycle

  • Breaking the law – ensure it is legal to overtake and that it is not prohibited by the use of road signs or continuous solid white lines on your side of the centre of the road.
  • Look ahead for road markings such as hatched road markings or arrows warning you to move to the left
  • Avoid overtaking on the approach to a bend
  • Ensure your view of the road ahead is not blocked
  • Make sure there are no approaching vehicles hidden in dips in the road
  • Avoid overtaking if a junction is up ahead. Look for signs that may warn you
  • Don’t overtake if the road ahead narrows
  • Ensure there’s enough room to move back into your lane once you have overtaken

Planning an Overtaking Manoeuvre

Observe Vehicles Close to You
It’s not only checking the state of the road ahead, you also must observe other road users. Each year, many motorcyclists that are overtaking are involved in a collision with vehicles turning right. Observe the actions of the vehicle you intend on overtaking and don’t assume that they can see you. Are they indicating to the right? Are they slowing down? A vehicle slowing down may be an indication that they are turning off shortly.

Road Position
You’ll need to be in a road position, that enables you the best view of the road ahead before overtaking. Riding too close to the vehicle in front, especially if it’s a large vehicle will reduce your view of the road ahead.


  • the speed of the vehicle you are overtaking
  • the speed at which you need to overtake
  • the speed of approaching vehicles

For example, you are riding at 60 mph (approximately 96 km/h) whilst overtaking a vehicle that is traveling at 50 mph. Vehicles are approaching you at 60 mph , you are therefore approaching each other at 120 mph (approximately 193 km/h), which equates to 52 metres per second. Bearing in mind that HGV’s may be over 16 metres in length, you must judge speed and distance accurately.

Overtaking Large Vehicles

Mirrors and Blind Spots
Always attempt to ride, using a road position that enables the driver of large vehicles to see you in their mirrors and keep as clear as possible of the vehicles blind spots. Blind spots of left-hand drive vehicles will be different to those of right-hand drive. Remember, if you cannot see the mirrors of a vehicle, then the driver is unable to see you.

Stay Back
Cars and other small vehicles allow you to see past them easier, enabling you to see well ahead for potential hazards. This is more challenging with large vehicles. For example, a large vehicle could easily obscure your view of a junction up ahead, to the left where a vehicle may be exiting into your path. If you intend on overtaking a large vehicle, stay well back initially as this will provide the best overall view of the road ahead.

You’ll need to move to a position that provides the best view of the road ahead. As can be seen in the diagram, the red shaded area illustrates the view ahead of the road that the motorcyclists has when keeping well back from the large vehicle. The inset diagram clearly shows the motorcyclist riding close behind the large vehicle, resulting in their view of the left-side junction being completely obscured.

Riding motorcycle too close to the vehicle in front reduces view ahead
Riding too close to the vehicle in front reduces view ahead

Road Gradients
Consider also the speed of the large vehicle based on the road gradient. Large vehicles being very heavy vary in speed considerably. They are often much slower traveling uphill compared to downhill where they can pick up speed quickly.

Getting Frustrated

You’ll encounter many slow-moving vehicles on the road. Examples can include farm machinery, refuse trucks, road works vehicles, or simply people driving much slower than other traffic. This can become frustrating, especially if you are running short on time.

Avoid taking risks and remember how vulnerable motorcycle riders (you) are and how your actions can impact on others. Always remain patient until you are completely sure the road is clear of oncoming traffic, that it is safe and legal to overtake.

Overtaking Routine

Routines, or systems are used, particularly for learner riders to help them accomplish a task or manoeuvre safely. In this case, it’s the OSM / PSL, or Observation > Signal > Manoeuvre > Position > Speed > Look routine.

This routine can be used for many situations, including overtaking and is flexible depending on the circumstances. The OSM / PSL routine will need to be repeated if it is interrupted. For example, if you intend on overtaking, are halfway though the routine and something interrupts you and prevents you from continuing, start the routine again from the beginning.

  • Observation – Firstly check your mirrors and then look around, ensure you perform a shoulder check in the direction you intend on moving out to so to cover any blind spots that are not observable in your mirrors
  • Signal – Signaling your intentions informs drivers behind what you are doing, the vehicle that you’re overtaking and drivers that may be coming towards you
  • Manoeuvre – This is the PSL part where you will make a change in direction and / or speed
  • Position – You’ll now need to position yourself close to the vehicle you intend on overtaking, but not so close that it obstructs your view ahead
  • Speed – The longer you take overtaking, the greater the danger. Ensure your motorcycle has enough power to overtake at a brisk pace

Further Information