Everyday's a school day
Updated: Jan 17
The importance of further motorcycle training
We asked our instructor, Joe, to write about further motorcycle training, why it is important, and how to go about improving your motorcycle skills.
Whatever skills you possess, unless you keep them refreshed and updated they will fade. Whatever you do in life, whatever your passions or interests, it is important to keep them up to date and fresh otherwise rustiness can creep in. The longer you leave something, the harder it gets to re-learn and regain that skill level you were once proud of.
If you were to ask most people whether they would like to put their lives at risk on a daily basis they would laugh at you. We are pre-programmed to avoid danger, it is one of our survival instincts. When asked to consider who in our society does this most people would say the military, the Fire / Rescue services, the Police. Because it is a factor of their job. Maybe those thrill seeking types, those crazy folk that do crazy things like climbing sheer rock faces without ropes. Because they’re crazy.
But actually we do put our lives at risk on a daily basis. We jump on our motorcycles, the form of motorised transport with the most risk, and we ride off into the unknown. We are exposed, vulnerable, hard to see and easy to hurt, or worse.
Experience is not enough.
Most people do some training to get a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training), because it’s compulsory, then some training to pass their test. At that point, the “L” plates are ripped up, thrown in the bin and that’s that. The vast majority of drivers on the road do the same. Pass their test and that is the last training they may do for the rest of their lives. Consequently, adding to the risk of riding a motorcycle is the fact that the roads are full of people who have not ever updated their skills or who haven’t updated their knowledge of the rules of the road because their highway code knowledge is outdated. My father passed his driving test in 1972 and he never picked up the highway code again until the end of his life. Yes, he was experienced but that is not enough. In a previous blog post we discussed that renewing a CBT every two years is not a waste of time and money as some seem to thing. It can also be an opportunity to refresh techniques, get rid of bad habits and get re-acquainted with the highway code.
Many people on the road are habitual. People are creatures of habit. We like routine. We like things done just so and when we find ourselves operating outside those routines it can cause problems. It’s ok to have lots of experience driving in London traffic for example but then one day we find ourselves on a country lane on the way to the coast, or on a motorway trip and, because we are not used to it we find things difficult.
Or the reverse is true, we may live in the countryside and then one day find ourselves in need of driving into the big city. Many people drive to work and back using the same routes day in day out. A modern motorcar is a very safe, very comfortable place to be. It can also be quite boring allowing for easy distraction. Drivers can become lax or complacent, even lazy. It is not a coincidence that most collisions occur within a three mile radius of home. Typically at a junction.
What about once we trade in an old bike for a newer one? Do our own capabilities match those of our motorcycle? Technology and performance increases year on year but how about us? I may have ridden a fast and/or powerful bike some years ago but, am I able to handle a fast, powerful bike today? A few years ago, an old friend owned a Honda CBX 1000 six cylinder motorcycle which he had owned from new. In its day it was fast powerful and radical machine. But when he tried the 650cc Suzuki Bandit I owned at the time he was staggered at the performance, agility and power of the brakes. It wasn't anything special, just a standard, basic road bike. We aren’t good outside our comfort zone.
Safety, safety, safety.
It is not a coincidence that most motorcycle injury collisions are the result of rider error. It is also not a coincidence that most motorcycle injury collisions occur on larger capacity bikes. That may surprise some of you that may think it’s learner or delivery riders on smaller capacity machines. It is no coincidence that most motorcycle injury collisions occur in the countryside. I won’t bore you with numbers but the statistics are staggering. If you combine rider error with a large capacity motorcycle and riding in an unfamiliar environment, the risk of collision increases dramatically. It matters not if a rider has been riding for two or twenty two years.
Think about it. You passed your test, bought your big bike and your mates propose riding to the coast on the country lanes for a day out. What better way to enjoy the new machine. But, have you considered the difference involved in riding that new bike, in a new environment, with people of different levels of training, skill and/or experience? My Inspector, in a previous life had “Failing to plan is planning to fail” on his office wall and this mantra so applies to motorcycling. The more prepared you are, the safer you will be on a motorcycle. We will re-train for a new role in our business environment, or to get a better job, or to use a new bit of equipment at work. We may improve our university degree or level of education. But do we re-train when it comes to something like driving, where our life could be at risk? Nope.
Be honest with yourself. How good are you really?
We all think we are better riders than we actually are. Males are worse at this than females. In my experience female riders tend to downplay their ability whereas male riders tend to overstate it.
Let’s not get into a gender battle here. This is not to say that every maIe or female rider is like this but on the whole women tend to have a less competitive streak than men, or, more accurately, less of a need to demonstrate this than males. In the pub with the lads, I could teach Marc Marquez a thing or two but do I need to? Who am I competing against here? Do I even need to compete?
This is a very real issue with motorcycling. Some people have a desperate need to show that they are somehow better than someone else. A need to demonstrate that they can ride faster, get the bike over lower, get their knee down further or wheelie higher than anyone else. Social conditioning or peer pressure can lead a rider down a very rocky path without the presence of mind to realise that it’s all just brash b*****t. Who the hell cares? The motorcycle press don’t help with this as they sometimes promote a nonsensical image of what a good motorcyclist is. It’s not about getting your knee down or your front wheel in the air. It’s about keeping both sets of rubber on the black stuff and getting home in one piece after your ride. We are individuals and we are all different. It is ok to have a different level of skill or experience, it doesn’t make me a better or worse person or, more or less of a man. Frankly my dear, I couldn’t give a flying damn whether you can wheelie or not.
For example, I am a motorcycle instructor and I ride a motorcycle every single day but I am aware that I don’t ride enough. That sounds bizarre doesn’t it? I have been riding motorcycles for more than thirty years and have toured everywhere in the UK and most of Europe. I have owned and ridden nearly seventy bikes in my time of many different types. I am definitely experienced but I am also professional and level headed enough to know that I need to update my skills. The last time I rode a bike long distance was in April during a tour of Spain.
That was also the last time I rode on a variety of roads, from mountain, to dirt, to country lane and motorway. When touring I ride with my wife on the back with a fully laden machine. The combination of precious cargo on the pillion seat and a laden heavy bike means I’m not going to be scratching on the twisties. The last time I did something like that was approximately fifteen years ago! The last time I rode a bike at high speeds was a couple of years ago. Yes I ride every single day but in a very specific way when training others. I can also become rusty in other ways of riding. Which is why every now and again I also re-train. Last year I did an ERS (Enhanced Rider Scheme) course and this year I took a Bikesafe course. Do I have to do these things? No, I don’t. But is it advisable? It most definitely is. Be aware of your limitations. Don’t ride beyond your ability. Want more ability? Then get some further training.
If I keep my knowledge and skills updated and sharp I am safer. If I ride regularly I retain my experience levels. The combination of these two factors has a very positive effect on my safety, and that is what we should be aiming for as motorcyclists.
So what kind of further training is available?
What do you want to achieve with motorcycling? Think about that first. Safety should always be foremost in your mind. There are many ways you can re-train to improve your skill levels and, with that, your safety threshold will also be raised.
We offer a range of additional training. Have you passed your CBT or full bike test and wish to increase your confidence?
We offer half day or one day confidence building courses. These are 1-2-1 courses where we can spend time with you enhancing what you already know to make you more proficient in day to day riding.
These courses are also useful if you passed your bike test or CBT some time ago but have not ridden that often in the meantime. Maybe you passed your test some years ago and have spent some years away from motorcycling and would like a safe, controlled environment in which to recover skills you once had. Have you passed your test and would like to carry a passenger for the first time? We can teach you how to do that safely and, again, in a controlled environment.
Have you passed your CBT and are worried about commuting in rush hour traffic for the first time? We can help with that too by picking you up at your address and following you on your route to work so you can manage that safely and take in safe filtering techniques, for example.
Advanced motorcycle training courses.
There are also many advanced motorcycle training courses available to you. The Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) is a great way to explore further the beginning of advanced riding techniques. In this course you will go on an observed ride with a DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) qualified instructor who will break the day up with feedback sessions so that you can first learn, then practice what you have learned. It is not a test, it is a training course.
On completion you will receive a DVSA certificate that can also see a reduction in your insurance premium. I took this course last year. To find your local ERS provider visit the government website.
IAM Roadsmart is offered by the Institute of Advanced Motorsists and offer a course designed to raise your riding level from standard to advanced. You will be paired with your local IAM group and allocated a qualified observer to teach you.
RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) also have a range of motorcycle training courses to teach you advanced motorcycle riding techniques to improve your ability and therefore your safety on the road. They have a range of courses available.
In many cases advanced riding training is actually based on motorcycling techniques and skills employed by Police motorcyclists. This being the case, if you wish to train to an advanced level why not do so by learning from the best? From Police riders. These guys are extremely highly skilled and very interested in passing on their knowledge to you so you are a safer rider.
Most Police forces in the UK have a Bikesafe course and it is a great way to start. I took this course yesterday and absolutely loved it. On a personal level I thoroughly recommend it. The course has theory and practical elements. You begin the day learning about issues that affect your safety and are then allocated a Police motorcyclist who will then go on the road with you observing your ride and offering feedback to improve and sharpen your skills and, ultimately, your safety. It is a relaxed and informative day and so much cheaper than other advanced training.
Their slogan is “bridging the gap” and the idea is to do that by creating a link between passing your test and the advanced rider training providers. A means by which they try to promote the need for further motorcycle training and how to go about it. The good thing is that in London you can take a Bikesafe course on a 125cc motorbike, so you don't have to wait until pasing your test. Why not learn some advanced techniques as a learner? Skill=safety=confidence=safety. You can even begin the process of understanding Police motorcycle methodology by reading Roadcraft, the Police rider’s handbook.
My Bikesafe course was managed by Gordon Mckinlay known as "Gordy". A great guy with heaps of experience and knowledge. He also runs private courses designed around you, hence his Younique Advanced Motorcycle Training website. Very recommended if you are looking for a more tailored approach.
If you wish to experience high speed riding there are track based courses you can take at various circuits around the country where you can learn the necessary techniques and skills to handle a motorcycle at higher speeds with the correct equipment and on a proper high speed surface. The public road is not a place for you to try these skills. Search online for your local motorcycle racing circuit and enquire whether they hold these courses, many do.
We hope that this article explains the importance of realising that passing your CBT or your test is not the end of your motorcycling journey, it is the start. If you approach motorcycling with the view that you always have something to learn you will remain grounded and your skill and therefore safety levels will be increased. We all have something to learn, and if you speak with any down to earth motorcyclist you will be told the same. Learning to ride a motorcycle is not about a day’s training and/or passing your test. It is a ifelong journey. Keep training, keep learing, you will be a better, quicker, more efficient, safer rider. Every day is a school day.
Next week: we look at what to do to stand the best chance of success at CBT.
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