How To Safely Pass Other Traffic


Category: How To

Passing. Totally legal, but also terribly controversial, likely to upset the passee and, if you don’t do it right, terribly dangerous. But, it’s also one of the unique abilities of the motorcycle and a skill any rider needs to master. Here’s how to safely pass other traffic on your motorcycle.

How To Safely Pass Other Traffic

The Theory

Traffic travels at a variety of speeds. On a road where a decent bike can travel at 75 mph in total, relaxed safety, your average passenger car may start squealing its Cheap-O TM-brand tires at just 50 mph. A big truck may struggle to average 35 mph and a school bus full of screaming children may bumble along at 25 mph. There’s no reason — not safety or respect or The LawTM — that you shouldn’t be able to determine your own safe pace.

But, for some reason, American drivers seem to consider passing to be an affront to their constitutional right to inconvenience others to their heart’s content. It makes people angry in a way only lane splitting seems to beat.

That’s not true in other countries, where passing is simply considered a reasonable exercise in personal progress. In fact, the United Kingdom’s police operated their own high performance riding school in which cops teach citizens how to safely control high performance motorcycles on the road. The thinking is that, if they’re going to ride them, they may as well do so as safely as possible. Less police work that way. I’ve taken that school and this advice is drawn from that experience. Believe it or not, but the laws of physics hold true no matter which side of the Atlantic you’re on.

How To Safely Pass Other Traffic

They’re Just Yellow Lines

The person who determined where they go is just a government employee or contractor earning a wage and, if equipped with some sort of manual, it’s likely as outdated as those textbooks you had in high school that listed 48 states. He/she had no way of knowing you or your bike’s capabilities, the individual traffic or weather conditions you face and likely had no way of controlling where the subcontractor/work program prisoner who actually sprayed the lines on the road.

You shouldn’t rely on double or dashed yellow lines to tell you where it’s safe to pass. Particularly on a bike, with our vastly superior performance and vision, we may be able to pass in safety on double yellows. Conversely, places with dashed lines — indicating legal passing zones — shouldn’t be trusted either. Would you trust the sub-contractor/prisoner working for a low-level government employee with your safety? I know I wouldn’t. I trust myself with my own safety and I make my own decisions on when and where it’s safe to pass.

How To Safely Pass Other Traffic

Where it’s Safe to Pass and When

As an accomplished motorcyclist, you have a complete and total appreciation of the performance capabilities of your bike in any and all conditions, right? If not, stop reading now and go figure that out first.

Think about the total length of what you’re trying to pass. One car? Three? A bus, a truck and a minivan? How much time and distance will it take to safely pass them? You need to be able to see a clear road ahead for at least that distance.

Now, assume the worst case scenario. If you ride anything like me, that’s if there’s an equivalent speed demon on an equivalently fast machine travelling in the opposite direction. Factor in their closing speed and add it to your safe passing distance.

If you can easily accelerate past the obstacle in question, in the distance you can see ahead, factoring in your doppelganger and the distance he’ll close, then it’s safe to pass.

When Not To Pass

Intersections, driveways, turning lanes, blind crests, blind corners and absolutely anything that may restrict vision or cause another vehicle to pull into your path or turn across it should stop you from attempting a pass. Wait until none of those things are present before passing. Consider this rule absolute and without exception.

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