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Rider Skills - how to deal with a tailgater

By BikeSocial

Bennetts BikeSocial was launched in autumn 2012



Getting tailgated while riding is annoying and risky, but here’s what to do when you glance in your mirrors and see a car just feet from your numberplate.


Getting tailgated while riding a large capacity bike is rare on the open road because we’re usually travelling faster than any cars. It usually happens in traffic queues – either in town or when there’s a hold-up and you can’t overtake – and when it does we are at far greater risk than car drivers.

If a numpty crashes into the back of a car in that situation it’s generally a fender-bending inconvenience, but if they crash into a bike we could easily end up in hospital. Here’s what to do when you glance in your mirrors and see a car just feet from your numberplate:

  1. Do not allow yourself to get angry – it is one of the worst things that can happen when riding a motorcycle. As the fury rises, you hand control over to the ancient part of your brain that evolved to cope with fighting sabre-toothed tigers, and your rational brain is almost entirely bypassed. This can lead to you making very bad decisions – not just to do with the tailgater, but any other situation you come across while riding – and as we all know, a motorcycle is not a forgiving place to make poor decisions. As WSB hero Alex Lowes once said: “I never get angry in a race because I’ve learned if I do I can’t think straight. I finish more races if I keep thinking.” Take deep breaths, regard the tailgater as an interesting problem to solve, count to 10… whatever it takes, just don’t get angry.     

  2. Assess what kind of tailgater you’re dealing with. There are all manner of sub-sets, but they all fall into one of two main groups: a) The Twonks (we’re being polite here) and b) The Sleepers.

  3. Recognise a Twonk. These are almost always male and angry – expect flashing headlights, finger waving, extreme tailgating and general unpleasantness. Twonks can be in cars or vans, but rarely lorries (thank God). All tailgating is illegal (it comes under careless driving which can lead to three points and £100 fine) but Twonks can escalate that to dangerous driving. You stand zero chance of changing their behaviour or state of mind – that would take years of therapy – so don’t even try. Flashing your brakes at them, waving your arms or speeding up and slowing down will only enrage them. Remember you’re dealing with a toddler having a tantrum. Your mission is to get out of there in one piece and let them wreak havoc on someone else. If you can safely let them pass, do it. If you can’t, make sure you’ve got plenty of space in front of you to give you room to manoeuvre if the traffic in front brakes.     

  4. Recognise a Sleeper. These are the drivers who are listening to a fascinating podcast about cheese, or chatting to their mistress on hands free, or dreaming of a new lawnmower. Whatever, they’re not paying attention and are totally oblivious to the danger they’re putting you in. There’s a chance with Sleepers that a few flashes of your brake lights might wake them up, but it’s a risk – it might just as easily flip them into Twonk mode which is far more stressful. Again, your best policy is to drift your speed down to create a healthy space in front of you and look for the soonest opportunity to get away.

  5. The rarest tailgating bird is another motorcyclist. These usually materialise when you’re filtering through traffic and you’re focussed on the gap in front, not your mirrors. Clearly the only sensible response is to let them past and then resist the temptation to try and keep up…

  6. Don’t become part of the problem. Squeezing up behind a car before an overtake might not feel like tailgating to you, but it almost certainly will do to the driver. Instead, hang back and use your bike’s vastly superior acceleration to blat past from further back. You’ll get a better view from there too, and of course there’s considerably less chance of you crashing into the thing you’re trying to overtake when it suddenly brakes… 


Getting tailgated while riding is annoying and risky, but here’s what to do when you glance in your mirrors and see a car just feet from your numberplate.

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