Rider training – never too old
Ian Marsden has been riding for 30 years, and wrote a good piece for the Telegraph last year. It might take some of you back in time, especially the reference to the Honda CB125.
Training with ex-police riders really hones your skills.
It is 30 years since I first ventured out on two wheels. Although I had a lovely Honda CB125 T in the shed, waiting for me to hit 17, this acne and angst-ridden teenager had to make do with a Honda SS50 supplied by the local RAC/ACU training scheme, as I learned to read the road, signal, turn, accelerate and stop.
My training progressed apace, finally allowing me to take to the road on my own Honda. The little CB went, other bikes followed. I passed my full test and then came the matter of what to do next.
I was invited to train as an instructor for the Star Rider organisation and, bronze instruction licence duly achieved, I progressed to silver. I was now qualified to train pupils for the then new two-part test. But still I yearned for further development and it came in the form of the Star Rider gold award. That was 1984.
Fast-forward to a Saturday, 25 years later, and I was still enjoying my riding but looking to reacquaint myself with the concept of training.
This time it was not a formally recognised body but Rapid Training, a nationwide group of current and ex-police motorcycle instructors who teach the art of “making progress”.
It’s police-speak for going quickly, safely. I should point out, however, that progress comes at a pace with which you feel comfortable; they will try to take you beyond your comfort zone, but not too far.
My instructor for the day was 53-year-old Dave Burton, who has been riding motorcycles since he was 17. He became a motorcyclist with Humberside Police at 24, later turning to car and motorcycle instruction. He has been training on and off ever since. He rides a BMW R1200 GS, but today he’s using his wife’s Honda Fireblade.
Like 90 per cent of his students, I suspect, I say I want to improve my cornering ability (ie go faster). That’s the beauty of Rapid Training. There’s no manual and there are no boxes to be ticked – the day is tailored to suit the individual. And as it wore on, it became apparent that I needed more help on left-hand bends than right, but more of this anon.
The session started gently with Dave following me on various types of road to get a feel for my abilities. A debrief followed and it turned out that I do things too much by the book… and this from a copper. Reassuringly, I’m apparently capable and confident, so the past 30 years haven’t totally been wasted.
After the debrief we try walking through a corner, which – implausibly – turns out to be a huge help. Apex, vanishing point and other key details are all brought into perspective. Another tip Dave offers is to talk to myself while riding: “Right bend ahead, vanishing point moving away as I approach.” That translates as a chance to accelerate safely where, previously, I would not have done so. I can’t begin to describe how significantly this improves my riding.
The day then hots up. We’re on to national speed limit roads and I’m encouraged to ride at a ”reasonable” pace, with the priority being safety first. In built-up areas I must strictly observe the limits, but on open roads I can straighten bends at will, although it seems strange to be “making progress” with a copper on your tail. And unless your surname is Rossi, you won’t be able to outrun one of these guys.
The theme continues throughout the session, Dave taking turns leading to show me the right (ie faster) way. It looks effortless yet I’m using every bit of what limited skill I have to keep up and I know he’s not even breaking sweat. This continues until we end with a refreshing cold drink and a final debrief.
I chose the one-on-one option, which is more expensive than two pupils doubling up with one instructor. I was warned that this would be extremely tiring – and correctly so. My reasoning, however, was that I didn’t want to be paired with somebody who can ride like Rossi on the road. Gary assures me that mixed abilities are not a problem and can offer significant benefits, because two riders might profit from witnessing each other’s learning experiences.
The only time I’ve ridden consistently faster than this was at the Ron Haslam Race School last year, another day I’d recommend. On the road I’ve ridden longer, I’ve ridden farther and I’ve even ridden faster, albeit generally in a straight line. I have never, though, ridden this fast for so long and so far. I’ve never wanted to and still don’t, really.
And this is testament to what Rapid can do for you – it takes you beyond your comfort zone. Where I previously thought I was riding at eight tenths, I am now – thanks to Gary – achieving the same results while riding at five. That means I have a much greater margin of safety.
The next time I ride this fast for this long will be the next time I do a Rapid Training day, which is already pencilled in for next year, and more than likely the year after that, too. Would I recommend this? Wholeheartedly, whether you’ve been riding for years or have just passed your test, this is bike training for life.
And those left-hand corners? It turns out I’m holding my line past the apex, thereby keeping myself close to the centre of the road for too long and putting myself at increased risk from oncoming vehicles.
Motorcycling is like life. You’re never too old to learn.
Thanks for your thoughts Ian. Let us have your views and experience, and do please let us know if such courses do really lower your insurance premiums.