Rapid Technical Series information sheet


Most of us will nip past dozens of cars on the shortest of rides so it’s easy to become complacent. Rapid Training’s boss Gary Baldwin tells John Westlake how to sharpen up your overtaking.


John Westlake

John Westlake is one of the UK’s most experienced motorcycle journalists. The former editor of Bike and Ride has road tested almost every bike made since 1991 and is a contributing editor for Bike and Classic Bike.

Gary Baldwin_Rapid founder.jpg

Gary Baldwin

Gary Baldwin is a crash investigator, ex-motorcycle cop, former racer and director of Rapid Training. He’s a blisteringly fast road rider and the man behind Rapid’s no-nonsense approach to fast, safe road riding.

JW: Let’s start with things to avoid doing. What are the common overtaking mistakes?

GB: The most common overtaking crash is not what you think it is – it’s not hitting something coming the other way, it’s hitting the vehicle you’re overtaking. As crash investigators, that’s almost always what we see.

Really? So we crash into the car in front?

Usually, yes. The most common accident happens because people overtake on junctions and probably 50 per cent of these accidents involve you hitting the vehicle you’re overtaking. You might think that because you’re on the wrong side of the road, you’ll hit something coming the other way. But generally we can sort that bit because we can see it coming.

So junctions are the danger?

Yes. We have a lack of imagination at junctions. Indicators are an optional extra on most cars as we know, but some riders don’t imagine what might be going on. So the car suddenly turns right and we’re there and it’s a nightmare. You might think that we’ll bounce off the side of a car, but we don’t – it chucks you about like a piece of paper. It’s very dangerous. Never, ever, overtake on a junction.

Any other high risk factors?

Tractors. We get an awful lot of motorcyclists who hit tractors. Tractors probably don’t have indicators anyway, and even if they do, they’re probably not connected. And whatever direction they’re turning, they go right first (ie swinging out to get into tight left hand entrances). There are clues, of course, like a trail of mud leading into a field. And if a tractor is going down a road, he’s doing something – no-one takes their tractor for a nice trip out. It’s going to do something.

What about hitting a car that pulls out to overtake?

That does happen, but it’s less common these days because most cars don’t overtake. It’s quite a novelty. If you’re following someone who looks like they’re interested in an overtake then you need to take that into account.

So should I indicate before overtaking?

When I’m training someone to overtake, I don’t usually suggest indicating, because it’s generally a waste of time. By the time it’s flashed once, we’re alongside the car, so he’s definitely not seen it. And by the time it’s flashed the second time, we’re back on our side of the road. It’s much more important to check out the hazards ahead, and that includes a layby on the offside. Just don’t do it. On a bike, overtaking is so easy, why take an overtake that’s got any risk associated with it at all? No matter what modern bike you ride, it’s not going to be short of power.

So no overtaking at junctions then?

No. If there’s a hazard line (ie longer white lines) down the middle of the road, think why? It may be a hill crest or a bend coming up, but the most common reason is a junction. And there might be a car on the left thinking ‘I can just sneak out before he gets here’. I’ve seen it so many times and it makes me so frustrated because it’s so simple to avoid.

Assuming we’ve checked for hazards, what’s the best overtaking technique?

You have to really watch the vehicle you’re overtaking. Don’t get too close to it, and don’t apply the gas until you’re looking at empty road. Once you’re happy, go, but don’t accelerate at the back of a car. Quite often drivers notice a bike coming up fast in their mirrors and brake. So drift out onto the other side of the road, and don’t push the fire button until you see empty road. And if in doubt, abort. There’ll be another chance.

Graham Sass