Issue Number

An associate’s perspective on advanced riding

The following is a newsletter article provided by a recent new Associate - Aamer Sandoo - and outlines his experience of the club and advanced riding so far!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article which details my experiences as a new associate to the Coventry Advanced Riders group. I would like to start by thanking everyone for welcoming me into the group; you have all been very friendly, approachable and it is clear that you have an abundance of knowledge on a variety of motorcycle related topics. I have already learned so much from the few interactions I have had with members so far.

The purpose of this article is to provide an insight into my experiences as a new associate as I begin the journey into advanced riding. I want to explore some of the thoughts I have had since starting my training for the RoSPA advanced rider test and hope that these reflections will be of benefit to other new associates. I have split the article into sections in the hope that it will help me chart my progress more clearly and make it easier for you to follow the article.

Riding Background

I was late to motorcycling having started riding at the grand old age of 26! It was a cold Saturday in February 2009 when I bravely faced the ice and cold and passed my CBT. The very next day I and a friend would travel 118 miles to Louth, Lincolnshire to pick up my new Sachs XTC 125cc motorcycle which I had placed a deposit on a week earlier. It was a bitterly cold day, but the weather was clear and bright, with snow showers forecasted later in the evening. We arrived in Louth just before midday, picked up the bike and then set off back towards Birmingham with the aim of getting back before the snow showers. However, our journey took longer than expected as we had to stop several times to warm up and we also managed to get lost on the way back. This meant that we got caught in the snow showers in the last leg of our journey. You have to remember that my riding career up to this point had totalled less than 24 hours, and now I was faced with a monster snow storm. To make matters worse, I lost contact with my friend who was leading the way on his bike. Thankfully, my survival instinct kicked in and I just followed the signs the best I could and got myself into Birmingham – words cannot describe how glad I was to see a familiar landmark - the Mailbox in Birmingham! I parked the bike in a street nearby my house as the snow was now settling and I did not want to risk having an accident on my first day of independent riding! I got to my house where my friend was anxiously waiting, and was glad to be in the warmth. The reason I mentioned this story was because it defined my approach to riding – no matter what situation you’re in, there is always a systematic approach we can go through in our heads to guide us through it. Thankfully, the years following on from this have been mostly event-free.

I kept my 125cc for 2 years and covered approximately 12k miles on it. In February 2011, I passed my full bike test and brought a Suzuki GSX-R 600. I kept the bike for 2.5 years and covered 25k miles on it. I always said that I would never buy a 1000cc bike as it was not necessary for the road. However, I succumbed to the temptation of a bigger cc bike and bought a K5 Suzuki GSX-R 1000 in August 2013. I have covered 7k miles since then. I would describe myself as an all-weather rider, as I ride in all but snowy and icy conditions. I don’t usually commute with the bike, so most of the miles are for leisure purposes on the UK’s brilliant country roads.

Pathway to Advanced Rider Training

There are two main reasons I started motorcycling back in 2009, the cool image of riding a bike and the thrill of taking a corner quickly. I have to say that the novelty of the cool image quickly wore off. To me, there was nothing cool arriving to your destination with helmet hair and sweaty leathers! So my main enjoyment is the technical challenge of riding a motorbike. Much of the information I utilised in my riding was from internet forums, Youtube videos, discussion with friends and my own reflections when out riding. However, I knew that each time I rode there was always room for improvement. Even on a good ride, I would come back and think that I could have slowed down for a certain junction a little more, or I could have given a car more space when overtaking. I knew further training of some kind would be useful to me but I never really gave any further thought to act on this feeling.

In December 2013 I decided that I wanted to become a blood biker. Having browsed through the information on the website for Warwickshire Freewheelers and for Coventry Advanced Riders I decided to make initial enquiries with club secretary Michelle Routledge, who kindly provided me with comprehensive information on the path I could take to accomplish this goal. Initially, I viewed the training as a means to an end, i.e. I will do the training to become a blood biker and that’s it. However, when I started to read and understand the Police Roadcraft manual and go out for training sessions with my observer Phil Legate, my thoughts on what I wanted out of the course changed.

The first day

Once I had signed up to the group, I received a welcome pack which consisted of the Roadcraft - Police Rider's Handbook to Better Motorcycling manual, a book on road signs, the Highway Code and information on how the group and the training is organised. At the same time, the clubs training officer, Jane McNeill, very efficiently assigned me my observer. We arranged the first meeting which would include some administration tasks (document check etc.)as well as an assessment of my current riding. Despite the rain, I genuinely enjoyed that first session because for the first time in my riding career, I had a highly qualified and knowledgeable rider critiquing my riding and showing me areas where I need to improve. I must say that because you are consciously aware that you are being observed, it is difficult to ride the bike how you ‘normally’ would. Nevertheless, I believe that the observer can still get a realistic picture of your normal riding from this session, as some habits that we riders have are subconscious, making it hard for us to deviate from them even when trying to ride differently.

Structure of the Training Sessions

I was keen to get my training underway, so was able to arrange a number of training sessions with Phil. Generally, the format of the session is that we start with a briefing on the skill to be focused on and we then begin the ride, with several stops for feedback. This immediate feedback is very important and helps you hone the skill as the session progresses. I will be honest, the sessions are enjoyable but they require focus and concentration and this can be mentally draining. For example, a skill such as positioning sounds easy when reading about it in Roadcraft, but is quite challenging at the beginning when out on the road. You have to consider the hazard you are altering your position for, along with your speed, road surface conditions, pedestrians, navigation using road signs, anticipating what other traffic is doing and of course the feeling that your every move is being observed! However, the way my training session is structured is excellent, because we focus on small manageable goals and once these have been achieved we move onto the next goal. This approach allows your mind to adjust, and your riding follows accordingly.

The club have also organised a slow-riding course recently which was an excellent opportunity to practice an often neglected skill. I was actually a little surprised about how challenging it was, but each of the observers was brilliant at giving the instruction needed to improve this aspect of my riding. You wouldn’t normally get this type of opportunity if you were not a member of an advanced riding group, so joining such a group will allow you to focus on different aspects of your riding. It was a well–organised training session, and was informal in its approach, so there was plenty of humour and good banter!

Reflections on Advanced Rider Training

It’s been an interesting few months since I joined the group and I have learnt a lot of things by attending the club meetings. I was proud to be awarded ‘Associate of the Year’, but this would not be possible without the help of my observer Phil, as well as the rest of the group, who clearly have lots of knowledge, enthusiasm and experience. Furthermore, I have felt very much part of the group from the first day and this has helped me strive to work even harder at improving my riding to advanced level.

As I mentioned earlier, when I joined the group my intention was to use the training to become a blood biker as quickly as possible. Now I have started the training, I feel very different. I still want to be a blood biker, but I want to master the advanced riding techniques. I have already started to utilise the skills I have learned into my everyday riding and I feel much more confident that I am riding in the most efficient and safest way for any given situation. I think riding a motorcycle is like an art that is created by science. What I mean by this statement is that when we follow a methodological approach to riding (like the system of motorcycle control in Roadcraft) then the riding flows and the bike does exactly what you want it to. If you were to step out of your body and observe yourself riding, you would see the bike following a perfect trajectory on the road, the rider at ease and at one with his machine – that for me is art in motion.

My concluding remarks to anyone who is thinking about undertaking advanced riding – do it! It will be the best thing you will ever do for your riding career. Even if you take only a little of what you learn, it will still benefit your riding. Whenever we ride we are always learning, so view advanced rider training as another quest for knowledge with individuals who share the same passion for riding as you do.

Aamer Sandoo