Magazine Article

 

AN EXCERPT FROM ‘AMERICAN – V’ MAGAZINE      

Words: Amanda Wrightmag art 1
Pictures: Andy Hornsby

If you read the articles on the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclist course over the last two issues, do yourself a favour, forget them, read this and then go back to the beginning and read them again.

Well, except for one bit: the bit about initial motorcycle training teaching you how to pass your test, and the observation that it’s only after passing your test that you really start learning how to ride, because that’s what the Bridging The Gap ‘workshop’ is all about: a police-led initiative that has been designed to fill an identifiable gap between the motorcycle test and advanced training. The intention is to engage as many riders as possible, to spread the word about the need for further training, and has even been taken up by the likes of Shell, for the benefit of workers who commute by bike, holding workshops on site.

The goal? To reduce rider casualties. It makes us safer and gives them less work to do: the last thing they want to do is end up scraping someone off the road for being an idiot or, worse still, for simply not being aware of the hazards.

Of course there’s an element of PR in there, but it’s all positive and the Police reckon that BikeSafe is probably the ultimate tool for them to engage with likeminded individuals who have a passion for riding bikes.

The workshop comprises two individual classroom-based presentations which feature heavily the use of 3D computer-generated reconstructions of everyday riding scenarios, together with live footage films, complimented by a one-to-one observed assessment ride, followed by a Police Class 1 motorcyclist, where you get to put the classroom theory into practice out on the road. Volunteer observers with credible riding qualifications do assist with the on-road element in certain areas which is great because it is bikers helping other bikers.

On the course I attended there were twenty men and four women covering an age range from a guy in his thirties to another in his sixties, demonstrating that it doesn’t matter how long ago you passed your test, it’s never too late to enhance the skills you’ve got.

Our presenters for both evenings were Andy Griffiths and John Hughes. Both are serving officers, Andy is a patrol motorcyclist and John is assigned to the driver training unit, but both are also off-duty riders who get wet like the rest of us, and have to deal with exactly the same hazards.

After introducing ourselves, through our choice of bikes and experience, to break the ice in so varied a group of students, we’re introduced to the system operated by the Police, which they call Roadcraft.

Roadcraft involves creating an ever-changing riding plan as you ride, through observation: constantly scanning what is ahead and to the sides in a 180- degree semi-circle of peripheral vision, constantly referencing the mirrors when changing road position or speed, and using lifesavers when and where appropriate. The mantra is to “make room for what we can see, what we can’t see and what we can reasonably expect to happen”. And as with the IAM, the mnemonic IPSGA – Information, Postioning, Speed, Gears and Acceleration – is used to formulate your riding plan.

The first classroom session concentrated on filtering and junctions, which are used to introduce the importance of observation. Information and observation links are highlighted as a really important facet of the plan; for example, the more paint/signage there is on the road, the greater the likely hazard will be for that stretch of road, while in terms of observation – especially in built up areas – look at the reflections in shop windows to see what information that can give you.mag art 2

John and Andy were both well aware that they were skimming the surface of skills and techniques, but they were covered with enough depth to get the importance across without overloading us with the full detail, and followed it up by inviting questions from the floor.

Then it was time for the videos and computer-generated scenarios, which further reinforced the lessons by applying them to familiar situations, able to run through the full range of outcomes – good and bad – without the pain.

The second session covers cornering, overtaking and group riding, and again places emphasis upon the ever-evolving riding plan, which gives us time to react and to stop in the distance we can see to be clear.

Cornering is about using the riding plan as a logical sequence of events and constantly processing observational demands, positional decisions, the nature of the road layout and surface: always position for advantage, which would typically be for vision but not if the preferred line is on a poor road surface which would be inherently less safe. If safety is compromised then maximise position for safety.

Using the ‘flexible’ gears is an interesting one for me, because I still make the mistake of not quite being in the right gear at times. Riding in the right gear for a given situation offers the flexibility to be able to get you out of trouble, and gives you smoother constant acceleration round bends.

Safe overtaking was explained through live footage and theory of effective and safe overtaking practice, and was ultimately backed-up beautifully by a demonstration from PC Andy on the rideout, and I was impressed by how graceful he made it look. I’m anything but graceful, but watching PC Andy made me realise just how effective it can be if you are riding to a plan as there is no room for doubt: if you find there is room for doubt, then stay back and wait until the planned opportunity arises.

Group riding is an obvious one for me to be included in such a workshop: many a time I have seen a group of bikers with the slowest at the back under pressure to keep up with the faster front-runners, and it is not a good position to be in!

Best practice in group riding was explained as a matter of common sense in that you always ride to the speed of the slower rider, you agree on signals to be given that have particular meanings before the ride, don’t ride too close together and always ride to maximise each other’s positioning and forward vision. And never ride to the person in front: been there, done that!

So, the classroom as a place to learn about how to ride? How does that work then?

We all know the famous dictum, Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand: Confucius circa 450BC.

Having Dyspraxia, I am very aware of my short attention/concentration span. As a student, I dreaded lectures as I would frequently shut-off from what was being said and go into my own little dreamworld (to the extent that I used to have to record lectures), so I was a little wary when I discovered there would be two 3-hour presentations as part of this course. It soon became apparent, however, that I was not going to be allowed to lose concentration as the video presentations were remarkably engaging and I found myself not wanting to miss any of them.

The computer generated films are marvellous, well thought-out reproductions of ‘what if ’ real-life road riding scenarios which couldn’t conceivably use live footage as the people involved would have been seriously injured or killed.

In a room of twenty-four students the verbal response to some of the footage was great … the graphics were convincing enough, to the point that I found some of my reactions physically gut wrenching.

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I found them a huge benefit to myself – and by their reaction to most of the other folk on the course, as they genuinely made us stop and think about the possible outcomes. But, most of all, they supported what the presenters were drumming into us about riding techiniques, to the point that there was no room for any misinterpretation.

The true value of these visuals came on the ride-out, as you were able to apply the visual theory to real-life, realtime riding … though not the crash scenarios, obviously! In Confucius’ terms: I was shown and then on the ride-out I was involved, and it was a very empowering learning experience for me.

I think it would be very useful for the police to make these visuals available to the IAM for their advanced courses – maybe even in a planned classroom session. The IAM, being a charitable organisation, probably wouldn’t have the money to fund such visuals, and when such high quality learning aids already exist, it would seem extravagant to recreate them, and a waste not to get the maximum benefit from them – it might even bring some IAM members across to some of the more focussed Police training initiatives.

But then one day you wake up to face the reality that you’ve got to go and meet your police assessor – in my case PC Andy Griffiths from the classroom sessions – at a predetermined time and location.

Upon arrival, you are given a preride briefing about what the ride will encompass and are given the opportunity to clarify any questions you may have before the ride.

While the ride follows a predetermined route, you are given ownership over what you want the ride to involve – it is tailored entirely to your needs – and over the course of the ride, PC Andy followed me, gave me a run-down of progress made at pre-planned waypoints, finishing off with a demonstration ride based on the areas of weakness – and my strengths – that he had identified in my riding, showing me how these could be improved upon and turned into positives, before returning to his observer’s position again for the home leg and a final debrief at the end of the ride.

The ride itself covered around 50 miles of dual carriageways, A-roads, B-roads and town riding, and all was done within the legal speed limits.

Any heinous crimes listed at the debrief? I need to be less insistent on picking my line for maximum visibility when the road surface is poor, and I failed to notice an approaching HGV that was visible over the tops of tall hedges, which I should have seen and could have accounted for earlier, if I’d had have been scanning properly, factoring it into my riding plan, both of which underlined why ever-evolving riding plans are so essential every ride we ride.

And you know what? I had a whale of a time and loved every minute of it: the constructive criticism and absolute professionalism from PC Andy could not be faulted.

With the Cheshire Police, BikeSafe costs £50 for the whole workshop, but it does vary in price across the country due to the funding they are given from external sponsors.

To me, it is worth every penny, and if you put it into context, what can you buy for £50 that could help save your life and don’t wear out?

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed this course, in fact I thought it was brilliant (can I do it again, please?) and learnt so much from it in so short a period that it has been difficult to do it justice here.

The courses vary in how they are delivered in each police region, but the training pack is the same in terms of visuals and subject areas covered.

Of course, I need to retake my IAM test at some stage in the near future, but I will do so with greater confidence than before because a lot of the theory makes more sense. And if you are considering taking the BikeSafe workshop as a route to advanced training, I don’t think you would regret it.

But even if you don’t plan to take any advanced level training, treat yourself to a BikeSafe workshop: it may be the best personal investment you can make in yourself. And it could be a great Christmas present for a loved one: check availability in your chosen area by visiting their website: www.bikesafe.co.uk

Although the BikeSafe course is presented as a ‘workshop’ it does cover loads of areas that make it much more than that.

My report sheet could have done with a few more ‘A’s, and more importantly fewer ‘C’s, but PC Andy explained that the bar has been set deliberately high: perhaps to make sure only the very best riders come away with straight ‘A’s.

To be honest, I’m delighted there are no ‘D’s and that I’m comfortable with what I need to do to raise my game in those areas where I got a ‘C’.

If I had known about this course prior to the IAM course, then I would have done this first as it is the stepping-stone to advanced training, but, I didn’t; BikeSafe reminded me of all the skills I learnt on the IAM course and reconfirmed them. Perhaps it is a bit self-indulgent, but I’m getting a real kick out of doing bike training … I think I have found my new ‘fix’.

Thanks to Andy Griffiths, John Hughes, Phil Edwards and Sarah Carter.

BikeSafe Rider Development Form

Name: Amanda Wright
Machine Make/Model: Harley-Davidson Rocker-C
Weather Conditions: Dry/overcast
Observer Name: PC Andy Griffiths (4705)
BikeSafe Area: Western Cheshire
Simple Eye Test Passed: Yes
Date: 19/9/09

  1. Moving Off B
  2. Stopping C
  3. Observation C
  4. Planning C
  5. Machine Control B
  6. Acceleration B
  7. Braking B
  8. Gears C
  9. Signals C
  10. Positioning B
  11. Cornering B
  12. Overtake / Filter B
  13. Attitude A
  • A = Consistently high standard: Low risk
  • B = Good standard: Low/medium risk
  • C = Reasonable standard: Medium risk
  • D = Inadequate standard: High risk

Amanda, you have demonstrated a relatively safe competent ride to include some good overtakes. I have identified a few key areas for you to further develop your skill level. I would recommend you continue in your IAM training to achieve this.

Mirror checks almost non-existent – remember these (both sides) when altering speed i.e. entering or exiting speed restricted areas.

Your overall positioning was relatively good. Avoid sacrificing position for safety especially when the nearside road surface is in a bad state of repair (A534 towards Broxton).

Understand the advantage of cross views (narrow twisty B5130 towards Churton) where the white HGV roof was clearly visible over hedgeline. These early observations will give greater flexibility to your riding plan.

Exit signals on roundabouts given too late. Indicate in good time to inform other road users of your intentions.

Lastly, try not to get drawn into slower moving vehicles (tractor) expecially when hazard frequency is high. If in doubt hold back and allow situation to unfold.

Good effort, well done!