“All advanced riders from the IAM are old men…”
“Learning is boring – what do you want to do another test for? I already know what I am doing on the road and can ride fast …”
The above phrases are a few of the negative things that people said to me about advanced riding and having completed the course with the IAM, I can honestly say what a load of tosh. Yes, I already have my licence, I’ve been riding for over a decade and have been lucky enough to do race schools, track days and BikeSafe – but I think you can always learn more.
As you may remember, at the beginning of the year, I headed out with Cambridgeshire police and completed the BikeSafe course – this gave me the advanced riding bug and I wanted to do more. I promptly signed up with my local group of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and embarked on the Skill for Life programme.
The programme teaches you ‘The System’ – Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Acceleration – a process you should go through when approaching any hazard. It gives you time to assess and make your riding plan – all of which is done in seconds. Through a series of ride-outs with your designated observer, you navigate round the local area and learn to put the system into practice.
There’s no limit on the number of ride-outs that you can do – most people tend to do around 8-10 -and you organise them with your observer for a time and place which suits you both. I did a grand total of five rides and thought they were brilliant. I discovered roads that I had no idea about and it was like going out for a ride with a friend – it didn’t feel like a lesson, although I found myself learning so much.
The course itself costs £149 and there was a voluntary donation to my observer of £15 per ride to cover his fuel – at a local level, everything is done by volunteers on their own bikes and in their own time.
It’s not just your riding skills that are tested – but also your knowledge of the Highway Code and road signs. Come on, if someone asked what coloured cats eyes were on the motorway closest to the barrier – would you know? I do now…
So, over the last few months, I met Andy Greenslade – my lovely observer – and we went for a ride through Lincolnshire. Motorways, single track roads, and dual carriage ways – we tackled them all. We even went through a ford!
Now if Marks and Spencer’s made IAM observers, it would be Andy. Not only was he a former Police ‘Class 1’ and Special Branch Detective involved in covert police investigations, murder enquiries, sting operations and protecting the Royal family – cool huh?! He’s a flying instructor, National Observer, Master Rider, Master Driver and Master Mentor for the IAM. But all that aside, he was a great guy who knew how to have a laugh but make sure I learnt things at the same time.
At the end of the ride, we’d stop and get a warm drink and debrief about the ride. What went well, what went wrong, where I could improve and he’d test me on road signs and the Highway Code. It never occurred to me what people might think if they heard our conversation or watched as we did figures of eight in the car park to illustrate my slow riding – but who cares…
You’re encouraged to do the course on your own bike – one that you know inside out – something I can honestly say I do about the KTM. The little Duke did me proud throughout the whole course and held its own against Andy on his big BMW GS. Having ridden it all year, I was confident to use the engine and gearing to my advantage. On one particular ride out, we rode down an undulating road with a number of hair pin corners – just the kind of road that can trip you up, as if you go into one corner too fast, then you set yourself up wrong for the rest. Selecting the right gear on the KTM 390, I shimmied down the hill and was pleased that the Duke had so much engine braking as I was set up for each of the bends at the right speed and in the right place. Andy was impressed – phew…
Andy came out with seriously funny quotes – whether he meant to do it on purpose or not, I don’t know… but one particular corker that I will always remember is:
“Your ride was musical – almost operatic – it flowed and I really enjoyed the tempo of the ride. When necessary it was fast and progressive like rock and others it was quiet, relaxed and restrained.”
It made so much sense. That’s how rides should be, the tempo on the road changes as the traffic levels and speed increase. Riding is about rhythm and finding yours and can make a good ride, a great one.
I wouldn’t have considered myself a ‘bad’ rider when I started the course. I looked far ahead and thought I was riding well, but since starting the training, I’ve become a more systematic and precise rider. It certainly doesn’t take any of the enjoyment out of it, in fact it gives me more pleasure knowing that I am positioning myself in the best way on corners, getting on the throttle straight away and planning so far ahead that I know what other road users are going to do before they tell me. I leave room for their mistakes and keep myself safe. It’s not just me, research done by the IAM revealed that 97% of people who took the test found riding more enjoyable.
The test itself wasn’t anything to be scared of, my examiner, Andrew Trevithick is an ex-police rider and now works at the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership.
“Just pretend you’re riding out with a friend and you’re showing them everything you’ve learnt in the course.”
And that I did. The one-hour route included as many different types of road that he could find. My aim was to be progressive but be patient and show restraint. Pulling back up to the centre, his smile told me I’d passed before he could speak. I did it, I’m officially an advanced rider – I have a certificate that says so which means it must be true! I shall be heading to the next social night with the Lincolnshire Advanced Motorists for my official certificate handover.
I would recommend the course to the young and old, the new and experienced riders and everyone those categories don’t cover.
What’s next for me now? I could always take more training and become an observer myself – now there’s a scary thought…
Want to try it for yourself?
The Skill for Life course costs £149 and can be completed with your local branch of the IAM – I completed mine with Lincolnshire Advanced Motorists. For more information visit the IAM website at: www.iam.org and click on the Skill for Life section.