Why is Overtaking on Track so Difficult? And How to Get Better

While not a typical barrier to progress in the same sense as general riding technique, overtaking is an area that every track rider faces and one that can often be detrimental to their track time.

I’ve previously covered a few general tips on overtaking and some ways you can better do that, but in this article I wanted to look at the broader conversation of why it’s so tough in the hope that it’ll offer some perspective on the thing that’s really holding you back.

So with that said…

Why is Overtaking so Difficult?

It’s my feeling that overtaking is a barrier for newer riders for similar reasons as something like increasing corner entry speed. I feel it’s similar because the rider is being forced to do something they’re not used to doing.

When trying to increase entry speed for example, you HAVE to take more speed into the corner in order to achieve that goal, or you will not increase entry speed (duh!)

When you attempt an overtake, you are once again going to have to do something you’re not used to doing.

This could be braking at a different point, entering the corner at a different speed, or taking a different line into the corner. All while having to manage the space you leave the other rider.

It’s a tough ask if overtaking is not something you’ve done very much of.

Even just straying off-line can be daunting. I distinctly remember frequent moments of mild panic in my earlier track experiences as riders overtook me on the inside, causing me to steer later into a corner than I was used to.

In some cases, the fear of running straight on and missing the corner altogether because of that change in line was pretty substantial.

In reality all it really took to navigate the corner was to steer a bike-length or two later, and all was well.

But that same false and overblown perception is what has riders fearing making the commitment to move into another unknown area to get the overtake done decisively.

Improving Your Overtaking Perspective

What you often see from less experienced riders is the tendency to brake later in an attempt to pass on the inside, but then they bail out half way through and stand the bike on its nose to get it slowed down for the corner, being left going much slower than they normally do.

But ask yourself this…

If you were able to brake much harder and enter the corner with less speed than you normally do, what would have happened if you had just gone for it and drawn level/slightly ahead like you planned to do?

Chances are you would have made a comfortable pass and made it around the corner just fine.

The reason you bailed out of the pass was very likely attributed to what you were doing with your eyes at the time.

Like I said in the other overtaking article, focusing on the rider you want to overtake too much is going to make your job more difficult.

As soon as you take your attention away from where you’re going and where you want to go, your brain is going to more than likely override that plan and cause you to continue down the path you knows is safe.

This means braking more and sitting (often frustrated) behind the rider for another corner.

Your goal in this instance should be to spend just enough attention on the rider you’re overtaking so that you know where they are and where they’re heading so you can make a safe pass, but the rest of your attention should be where it normally is.

Tracking your position and heading on the circuit and judging the space you have ahead of you.

What to Do When You’re Stuck

If you find yourself stuck behind a rider longer than you’d like and going slower than you know you can go, first look to gain perspective on what you’re doing as you remain behind them.

You may realise that you’re sitting well within your ability in some, or possibly all areas of the track.

With that internal perspective, look to gain external perspective by getting the bulk of your attention off the rider ahead of you, and instead onto the places where it should be.

Committing to a different approach to a corner while trying to manage a safe pass isn’t always easy, particularly for less experienced riders. However, getting a better level of all-round perspective is going to be the best way to begin making those first steps to easier overtaking.

In time and with more experience, overtaking becomes a much smaller drain on your attention and a much smaller frustration overall.

Unfortunately though it’s something that won’t get considerably easier until you have experience of performing the skill, so do your best to gain and keep perspective and then just go for it.

Chances are the vast majority of your overtaking efforts will be safe ones when taking this approach.