Not too long after I passed my motorcycle test, I was offered the chance to go out with a rider who had spent more than 30 years on two wheels, many of which were as an instructor.
He offered to take me out for a day to teach me all the real world biker stuff – stuff they would never teach you as part of the actual test. Nothing dangerous, just good, advanced skills from someone who had decades of experience. And all for the price of a tank of fuel – which on a bike is about £20 and an absolute snip.
Aside from all the invaluable practical stuff I learned that day, he also offered a couple of pearls of advice that stayed with me. One was read voraciously. Books, magazines, anything I can get my hands on, to increase my knowledge of all things bike.
The other bit of advice was to take more advanced lessons and courses whenever I get the opportunity.
It was advice that I’ve followed religiously ever since. And it was what led to me taking part in a rider assessment day run by an organisation called Be A Better Biker.
What I expected from the day was confirmation and development of everything I’d been taught and learned since I first hopped on to two wheels.
What I actually got was everything I’d been taught and learned pretty much turned on its head, ripped apart and reinstilled.
That is not an indictment of the instruction I received to get me through my test – I still maintain, as do others who used my training school, that they are among the very best. It is, however, indicative of how easy it is to get ingrained in certain habits and beliefs.
Be A Better Biker began in Buckinghamshire in 2004, in association with local authorities in Bucks, Oxfordshire and West Berkshire. The previous year, 18 riders had lost their lives on Buckinghanshire’s roads and it was clear that something had to be done.
The scheme’s aim is simple – provide riders with an accurate profile of their skills and potential.
But it isn’t as simple as just sticking you on a bike and watching how you get on. I took part in a one-day workshop, which started with a two-hour theory session in the classroom.
This was where much of that theory we thought we knew was ripped apart – everything from how tyres actually react to roads, to when roads offer the best grip. Think a hot, sticky tyre on a hot, sticky road on a hot, sticky summer’s day is going to offer you the best grip and performance? Think again – UK tyres are manufactured for UK conditions, meaning best performance is probably offered in the cooler spring months.
The group consisted of a wide range of riding experience – from me, riding for just under two years, to those with 20 to 30 years’ experience and more. And every one of us was surprised at what we were learning.
Be A Better Biker director Bruce Wingrave was our class instructor for the day. And without wishing to sound like a bit of a suck-up, the man is a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to the roads.
He’s ridden bikes on and off since he was 16, is an HGV1 driver and assessor, delivers a variety of motoring courses, is Institute of Advance Motorists-trained and, of course, is an instructor for Be A Better Biker. And that’s on top of his day job! It’s fair to say he knows what he’s talking about.
He delivers his classroom stuff firmly and with the authority of someone who knows, and has experienced it.
The morning classroom session is designed not just to instruct the students on various aspects of roadcraft, but also to tap into any fears and concerns you might have, and ultimately to pair you up with a suitable riding partner who will assess you on a three-hour rideout in the afternoon.
Most of the other riders on the day went out on a ratio of two riders to one instructor. I, on the other hand, had one instructor – the very patient and understanding Stewart Glover – all to myself. In turn, he was being assessed by Bruce for his own IAM instructor qualifications.
Initially, it was felt that because of my lack of experience, a one-on-one style assessment would be more suitable for me. As it turned out, because I have the blaggiest job in the world, Stewart was pretty sure I’d actually ridden more bikes in the last two years than he has in the last 30!
My bike for the day was a Suzuki C800 Intruder. It’s a decent enough bike, and great for what it’s designed for but, if I’m being honest, if I’d had the choice I probably wouldn’t have picked it for the BABB course.
It also didn’t help that I’d picked up the bike for road test review purposes just a day earlier, so I wasn’t as familiar with it as I’d liked to have been.
Add to that the fact that I was acutely aware of the fact my riding was being assessed, and it meant our ride got off to a slightly tentative and nervy start.
Radio contact between me and Stewart meant he could pick up on and correct riding faults straight away – at least, he could when the radio wasn’t playing silly buggers. Eventually we had to settle for stops every now and again with a quick chat about what I was doing wrong and what I should be doing.
After three hours on the road, it was back to base for a detailed debrief, which includes whether certain aspects of your riding exceed the required standard; are of a good, safe standard; are of a developing standard; or are a potential risk.
I’m glad to say that no aspect of my riding was a potential risk. There were a few Exceeds Standards on there, but on the whole most of my riding was of a developing standard or a good, safe standard. Which is reassuring.
The assessment debrief also included a look at areas for development and an action plan, including recommended reading.
It also included two little words about the ride itself that are worth bearing in mind, and serve as a reminder for why we take to two wheels. Those words? Very enjoyable.
Be A Better Biker runs one-day workshops on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, as well as other skills-based and confidence courses. Visit the website at www.beabetterbiker.co.uk or call 01296 328608