The Art of Overtaking

Picture the scene.

You’re out riding alone, and it’s one of those head-down-focus-on-the-breathing-maintain-a-steady-power-output kind of rides. In other words you’re in your own world, and your mind is cleared of all extraneous nonsense involving work, money, or interior furnishings.
And then you look up briefly – a quick check of your surroundings – and you spot a fellow cyclist up ahead. Suddenly there is a decision to be made.

(Some of you may now be thinking what…eh? What decision? Read on my friends).
With innate cyclists brain engaged you start to process the data: How fast are they riding? How far down the road are they? How tired are your legs? How much fire do you have in your belly (great roaring forest fire, glowing embers, or the carbon remnants of a long forgotten camp-fire)?

You then make a swift decision and either chase down your new sworn enemy with immediate effect (the correct decision), or back off and allow them to silently ride away and out of sight. The simple and primal competitive instinct will not allow you to maintain the status quo for more than a minute or two without a response; one way or another.

I've spotted him...i'm going to overtake him! (Image: Denis Egan - Flickr CC)
I’ve spotted him…i’m going to overtake him!
(Image: Denis Egan – Flickr CC)

There’s nothing wrong with chasing down this silhouetted figure but don’t underestimate the forces at play here. The chase part is simple; unless you happen to have picked a fight with some local hotshot (who perhaps only appeared on your horizon because he’d slowed down briefly to check a mechanical issue), the extra shot of adrenalin from the thrill of the chase should help you to reel in your prey, and no cyclist in their right mind would begrudge a stronger rider from claiming their prize (Darwinian selection is at work here).

But making the catch does not mean ‘job done’.

The worst thing you can do is chase them down, overtake, and then slow down slightly. In doing this you are demonstrating that the act of overtaking is what this is all about, and that is not only an affront to a fellow cyclist but shows a lack of class; there’s a time and place for cheap points scoring, and it usually involves a bike ride with a good friend who you know was out on the beer the night before.

Once you’ve overtaken and exchanged brief pleasantries (a simple “‘ow do mate” will usually suffice in these parts) you are duty bound to continue riding at your scorching pace until they are a dot on the horizon behind you, removing all doubt or awkwardness.

If, however, you have made an error of judgement and bitten off more than you can chew – perhaps you’re up against the aforementioned local hotshot, or you just haven’t quite got the juice in your legs that you thought – you may find that as you barrel past, your new rival jumps on the pedals and responds, attaching himself to your rear wheel in a show of defiance.

You have got yourself involved in what is commonly known as ‘a situation’.

He’s saying, ‘I’m not having that!’ and you are now committed to a fight to the death. The very fact that this unknown racer feels confident enough to take you on suggests he’s feeling pretty strong. There’s every chance you are about to be beaten to a metaphorical pulp and you have no option but to take it on the chin.

After all…you started it!

You could, of course, allow him to overtake before you drop back quickly and silently and thus wriggle free from the situation, or you might make a quick and unexpected left turn down a country lane, acting casually as if you always intended to go that way; but you both know what’s going on, and it’s far better to go down with head held high than with your tail between your legs.

So you see; when you spot a cyclist on the horizon there is a decision to be made…roll the dice or cut your losses?

Feeling brave?

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18 comments

  1. As a bit of a novice I’ve been passed like this several times and it doesn’t half make you want to chase the ‘overtaker’ down and show them you can compete, when really you can’t!

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  2. Familiar territory. I have one guy who I pick up on the horizon every now and then, dawdling along at about 18mph. I overtake simply because I’m riding faster, not because I want to teach him a lesson. And yet every time he jumps on my wheel and clings on for dear life. I don’t want to increase my speed and drop him as I don’t want somebody else interrupting my own ride. And so there he is, clinging on. Eventually our routes part and off he goes without so much of a word, slowing down immediately the second he’s out of my draft. I am his keirin pacer, his interval man. Now when we meet we exchange a smile, but not a word. The game plays out the same each and every time.

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  3. I’m no pro by far, but I overtake cyclists regularly. I’ve had 1 bad wheelsucker that I didn’t even know was there until the tool overtook me and cut me up at a roundabout. Another time, on a long planned ride, a guy chased me down and decided to follow me. Creepy. Then decided he wanted to do my ride with me as he was also from Liverpool. He complained about my choice of route, that it was too long and hard for him and that I was riding too fast for him. Erm, yeah, I didn’t invite you along :/

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  4. Ahhh the ultimate dilemma! Obviously the answer is ALWAYS chase, but this needs careful planning and consideration. You need to pass looking cool, not like you’re ragged and in pain (which you are, from chasing of course).

    Fly by at speed looking fresh and relaxed as if you’re out for a recovery stroll. Always with hands on the hoods or tops, possibly one handed while taking a causal sip from your bidon. Wipe any sweat from your face and straighten up your jersey as you approach for that total pro look. Be sure to save enough breath for a cheery “hello” as you go by. Once the pass is made, absolutely bury yourself over the next mile to ensure the move is a success!

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