Monday, November 09, 2009

Virtual Vic from Carole Nash samples an Advanced Motorcycle Course

Virtual Vic spent a day with Advanced Motorcycle Training, based in the Midlands, to find out how useful a regular series of assessed rides can be.

There are a rising number of two-wheeler accidents in the UK, as more riders aboard large, 600cc+ machines come a cropper on our scenic roads. Although the causes are often hard to establish when there’s only bike involved, it is obvious that many riders today simply cannot handle the 170mph motorbikes they own, but vanity prevents them from asking for training tips or guidance.

In a way, that’s understandable, as almost every one of us thinks we are `good’ riders, but as I found out with a day’s ride in North Wales with Nigel Bowers from Advanced Motorcycle Training, there’s always room for improvement. The whole rider assessment was also video taped, via an on-bike camera, as Nigel followed me for about 20 miles.

Reading the road ahead

Although the session was simply a `taster’ it was just a few minutes before I realised how many potential hazards I was oblivious to, as I merrily rode along the scenic roads near Llangollen. Nigel had his radio linked to an earpiece inside my Arai, so I could hear his running commentary, which identified all kinds of traffic problems looming ahead. He even spotted the address on a foreign registered truck three cars ahead, which was a very subtle touch, as you might expect an overseas driver to make sudden moves, if for example they were lost, or looking for a trading estate.

After a much needed tea stop, we stopped to review the footage and chat about the ride’s highs and lows, along with Andy Gralton, who was a relative novice at motorcycling, but keen to learn techniques which could save his life one day.

It was useful to get another opinion on my riding style, along with some good advice on positioning the bike for maximum view around corners, instead of taking a `racing’ line sometimes. Nigel also spotted that I got too close to the back of vehicles in front, which restricts your view - not good when you need maximum vision ahead to plan overtaking moves.

Andy had completed a series of rider assessments with Nigel and his scoresheet at the end of the day reflected the good progress he had made. Andy commented at the Ponderosa cafĂ© that he `felt much more confident with bike now, more relaxed too.’

The day made me think harder about `reading’ the traffic, and the road `furniture’ far ahead in the distance, which is the key to anticipating dangerous situations, instead of just reacting to them. The type of riding we were doing was brisk, not fast, but it was a million miles ahead of the urban pootling about that most riders do on a motorcycle test, or the training leading up to that test. My own feeling is that every rider needs some extra tuition after passing the bike test and one day, the government will make this a legal requirement before you can ride a bike which makes more than 100bhp.

But before that day arrives, you could do yourself a favour and learn to think ahead, plan your ride, become smoother through the corners and - most important of all - acquire the skills you need to overtake traffic safely and quickly, which is where many accidents on 60mph A roads occur. The day’s assessment was impressive stuff and you can find out more at

Get involved

Every rider gets a copy of the video footage which is filmed from Nigel’s hi-tech Sony on-bike camera, complete with a soundtrack. Watching the DVD playback, you can see how sometimes you almost set yourself on `autopilot’ and don’t seem to be in quite the best position on the road.

For me, it’s this added feature which sets this riding course apart from many other advance riding schools; later, you get the chance to assess your own mistakes, and successes. The whole thing makes you more involved with your riding style and keen to improve your biking next time around.

Like many riders who have been biking for decades, rather than years, I kinda thought I knew most stuff worth knowing, but I could see immediately that I am far too reliant on the road being clear of obstacles around the next sweeping bend. Because I’ve raced a little bit in the past, I am still entering blind corners too quickly and apexing the bend as if I was racing - but there’s no trophy up for grabs in Accident & Emergency is there?

I now tend to hang the bike out, for as long as I can, before going around the bends, which isn’t the fastest line, but it has already saved me from hitting a lump of shredded lorry tyre on some of my fave local B roads, during the last three weeks of monsoon summer weather. I also look more closely over hedges, through field gateways and watch tree-lines, or telegraph poles, on rural roads, as I try to guess what route the road is taking up ahead - I even got some new glasses from Boots to make sure I can see properly!

When you’re an old git like me, you need to reduce the odds of becoming another biking casualty, because it takes a helluval long time to repair 46 year old bones. Take it easy out there - Vic.

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