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How to overtake on a motorcycle

How to overtake traffic lane filtering

One of the great joys and advantages of riding a motorcycle is being able to quickly, efficiently and safely overtake slower vehicles.

However, there are right and wrong ways to do it.

It would seem like a fairly simple task, but many riders get it wrong from both safety and legal issues.

Many riders follow too closely before overtaking, pass too closely to the vehicle and cut in too soon in front.

Following distanceFollow too closely tailgate downhill overtake

We have already covered reasons riders tailgate other motorists.


There is no need to follow closely to overtake quickly.

You can sit a safe distance behind a vehicle and, thanks to the rapid acceleration of a motorcycle, overtake them in a short space of time.

Sitting back from a vehicle allows them to see your headlight in their mirrors.

It’s a good idea to switch wheel tracks a couple of times or gently weave around in your lane so the driver is alerted to your presence.

Another reason not to follow too closely is that it obscures your forward vision.

Sit further back and you will be able to see a longer and safer distance down the road to check for oncoming traffic and other obstacles such as road surface problems, stray livestock or wildlife.

Wheel tracks

How to overtake traffic lane filtering
Move to the right wheel track

Before overtaking, move to the driver’s side wheel track, a little outside the edge of the vehicle in front.

This will put you in the driver’s wing mirror, give you a good vision of the road ahead and allow approaching traffic to see you.

You not only need to scan the road ahead for approaching traffic and obstacles, but also for turnoffs.

These can be side streets or property entrances that the driver may suddenly decide to take without indicating.

Passing manoeuvre

Before overtaking, check over your shoulder and in your mirrors to see if you are being overtaken!

Start your indicators for a couple of seconds before moving, but don’t wait too long or other traffic may believe you have accidentally hit your indicators.

When you start to overtake, move immediately into the farthest wheel track from the vehicle.

Don’t sit in the closest wheel track as you will be in the driver’s blind spot.

How to overtake traffic lane filtering
Too close!

Riding in the farthest wheel track from the vehicle you are overtaking gives you the biggest buffer in case the driver decides to overtake a vehicle in front of them or suddenly turns across in front of you.

Also, if the vehicle you are passing has a blowout, you will be farther away from any shrapnel.

Even the farthest wheel track may still be in the driver’s blind spot, so you need to accelerate swiftly up to the point where you are right alongside the driver.

Now that the driver has seen you, start moving into the closer wheel track while you accelerate past.

While you should avoid speeding, I would rather break the law and speed for a short time and clear the vehicle than sit alongside for a long period as you crawl past.

The shortest time you can spend heading toward oncoming traffic, the better and safer!

When you start to move in, it is a legal requirement to indicate again.How to overtake traffic lane filtering

Cutting back in

I’ve seen many riders cut in sharply after overtaking a vehicle.

Sometimes it is done in anger or frustration after being held up by an inconsiderate driver.

However, there is no point in road rage. Besides, it is illegal to cut in close on a vehicle you have passed.

Once in front of the vehicle, stay in the driver’s wheel track and claim the lane.

However, if you are being followed in your overtaking manoeuvre by another motorcycle, move ahead and leave a gap.

That will allow them to slip in behind you in the passenger wheel track.

When you’ve passed, don’t slow down. Continue to ride at your faster pace, having regard for the speed limits, of course!

Passing another motorcycleRoadworks overtake traffic

It is legal in many jurisdictions to pass a motorcycle in the same lane.

In fact, it may also be legal in your area for two motorcycles to share a lane and for a third to overtake in that lane.

However, three motorcycles beside each other in one lane is dangerous.

Since riders often move from wheel track to wheel track within a lane, it is important that the rider you are about to pass knows you are there.

Maybe give them a quick honk on the horn to alert them.

Multiple bikes

If you are riding in a group or even with another rider, it is safer to pass one at a time.

The second rider does not have sufficient visibility to overtake at the same time as the first rider.

After the first rider overtakes, they should leave sufficient distance between them and the vehicles they pass.

Overtaking overtake
Graphic supplied by the Motorcycle Legal Foundation

They should stay in the driver’s wheel track and their fellow rider should slot in behind and to the passenger wheel track.


Avoid undertaking. It is illegal in many countries — for good reason — even on multi-lane roads.

While motorists on multi-lane highways may expect people to pass on the driver’s side, they may not be aware of a bike passing on the passenger side and may suddenly move over on you.

Similarly, riders won’t expect another rider to pass up the inside, especially in the same lane!

Thank-you wavemotorcycle wave

I often give the driver of the vehicle I have passed a polite wave.

It’s not only good karma, but it might also prevent them from tailgating you.

It might also make them more aware of motorcycles and more likely to move over or slow down to let riders overtake in the future.

  1. I know you dont believe loud pipes save lives, but surely this is an example where having pipes loud enough for the other rider/driver to hear you (and become aware of you) is a good idea and safer than quiet pipes?

    1. Hi Nigel,
      They would have to be annoyingly loud for an exhaust pipe (firing backwards) to be heard by a driver in front of you!
      However, a horn faces forward and gentle tap on the horn to alert someone if they start to move over on you is better than pulling in the clutch and revving the engine. That may just be the moment when you need to accelerate …

      1. When I’m in a cage I’ve never heard any loud pipes that weren’t within “ramming distance” unless I was stopped at lights……and that’s without cranking the doof doof up to 11 on a set to speakers with more horsepower than the engine.

        Consider upgrading the horn – OEM bike horns are pretty anaemic, something like a Stebel airhorn is a bit better.

      2. I agree Mark. I ride with a group that sometimes includes a loud bike. I don’t ride behind it if I can help it. However, when I’m ahead I rarely hear it. Someone in a car with the windows up wouldn’t hear it until it had gone past, especially with the sound system going.

  2. I always wonder why people don’t indicate in this country. No surprise it is bot mentioned in this “how to”…. EVERY time you overtake another vehicle you should indicate early, so the driver in the front can see your intention. And a potential vehicle behind you also knows you will be swerving out for a passing manoeuvre. This is not just the law, it can really be life saving for you (and others)

    1. Tom – I agree. I’m pretty sure it is legally required that you indicate before pulling to the right to overtake, and again before coming back into the correct lane. When I were young lad, many, many moons ago doing just that was implanted in my impressionable brain, and I still do it. I like the habit for another reason – that flashing orange light attracts attention and helps you be seen by other road users.

  3. A couple of things that come to mind:

    * particularly on a multi-lane road/freeway consider positioning behind a car drivers brake light and weaving slightly. This should make you visible in both mirrors. Lateral(side to side) movement also attracts attention and raises awareness.

    * With semi-trailers I tend to linger in a position that the driver can see me for a couple of seconds. If you can see the drivers face/eyes in the mirror then they should see you. Most truckies are much more aware than other drivers, but if they don’t know you are there they may change lanes or start an overtake while you are halfway along the trailer.

    * Look for the drivers eyes in their mirrors – this is a good indicator that they have/can/will see you.

    * Also on trucks – more reasons to keep a safe distance, sometimes tiedowns can be loose or untied and will whip around in the truck slipstream. Don’t get hit.

    * Do NOT hesitate beside the driver. If they happen to be updating their super-special TwitBookGram friends and they see a bike appear beside them from the corner of their eye…..lets just say they often drop their dumbphone, then they dive to pick up the phone and the car can move sideways an appreciable distance. This goes double if you wear fluoro or ride a white bike. Make sure you are out of the danger area by the time they see you.

  4. Hi everyone,
    Indicating before and after your passing manoeuvre seemed so obvious to me that I overlooked mentioning it.
    Thanks for the reminder. I have now updated the article to include reference to indicators.

  5. Very good article Mark.

    A damn shame about the replies having to degenerate, to that old chestnut, loud pipes crap.
    Science and psychics, even anecdotal evidence proves ya wrong.
    However do go on, it amuses me.
    Being as Old and Grumpy as I am, I do so much like, and look forward, to being amused.

      1. Hi David L.

        Firstly my amusement, is confined to the assumptions that sound from an exhaust only travels in the direction that the pipe is facing, which science and physics disproves, period. SOUND WAVES TRAVEL OUTWARDLY AND EQUALLY IN ALL DIRECTIONS FROM THE SOURCE. Only reflection, absorption and cancelation can have any bearing on that FACT.

        Anecdotally, then why is it I can hear bikes, trucks, trains, planes and automobiles coming toward me? I feel it would be somewhat unreasonable of me to believe I am the only person in the world with this amazing gift.

        What is reasonable? I have no wish to enter into that debate, but I will tell you I’m on my second set of very expensive stock stainless steel mufflers on my daily steed.

        Why stock, because I travel daily what a lot of riders would achieve weekly, 91% of my daily commute is at Highway speeds in 100kph and 110kph speed limit areas, I have no desire what so ever, to draw any unnecessary attention to myself from Mr Plod, shit you not, just riding a bike draws enough, thank you very little. I have been very concerned about another EPA BS failing (hang on a sec, while I put my tin foil hat on) complete burn AFR’s the unnecessary heat generated, causing the failure of the first set of mufflers in under 80,000k’s.

        I have no need to extract any more horsepower, torque is my gig, however in saying that, I have extracted more ponies, as a by-product by resetting the AFR values within the ECU, the gains of better fuel efficiency (Up 50k’s per tank on my daily commute) more torque, smoother and cooler running, which in turn should see this set of mufflers last a lot longer.

        But hey this is my gig, your gig may differ, and the next blokes gig will differ again. I will not preach my gig on those whom walk a different road. When hordes ride through the town where I live, with extremely loud pipes at top note, I don’t get upset about it, bring it on I say, keeps Mr Plod off my butt. Keeps mechanics employed.

        But, yes there is always going to be a BUT, With human hearing being able to ascertain with a very high percentage of accuracy the direction of the source of noise, I can relate to the argument of loud pipes can save lives, as we all know very well, that car drivers don’t look, don’t use mirrors. Anecdotally I can add, when I rode as a courier, the instances of near misses substantially dropped, after a cheap aftermarket muffler was fitted. (No standard replacement available) So therefore, I can safely assume, with no change in riding style that in fact loud pipes (or louder pipes) can contribute to saving lives.

        My 2 cents worth.

        Bugger pooh bumb, ya sucked me right in David L, there I was saying to myself, I wasn’t going to take the bait. Oh well pooh does happen. And its kept me amused. LOL

        Ride free, ride safe.

        1. Thanks for replying Grumpy. Without getting drawn into this more than it’s worth to my sanity, and science aside, reality has shown me that loud pipes are ineffective at highway speeds in the situation already discussed.

  6. Nearly killed by some clown, we both swung out to overtake a line of traffic, & when he backed off at 140 ks I nearly ran into the back of him . If you don’t know how to use the throttle, stay at the tail end of the group.

    Loud exhausts are a substitute for testosterone; they deserve our sympathy.

  7. Not sure I saw flash your headlight to the vehicle in front before pulling out. I do. Just in case they are thinking of pulling out themselves…o.. Don’t leave it on high beam as it obscures your indication.

  8. What about doing a head check before starting to overtake to make sure no one is in your blind spot?

  9. LOL’ed at the undertake section. If I didn’t pass anyone because it’s illegal/dangerous to undertake (on a multilane road), I’d never overtake at all, given the amount of people who sit for too long/forever in the far right-hand lane.

  10. I have a good friend who drives a B Double all over the country, thousands of highways Kms each week. From Brisbane to Geelong, from Newcastle to Roxby Downs. His pet hate that he talks about all the time?

    Vehicles that pull in too quickly after overtaking.

    Quite often it is a near death experience for them and they never even know it. So take your time, and WAVE to the truck driver in the country. It can make his day.

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