Would a National Standard for advanced
training be appropriate?
Years ago, like most riders I would guess, I took the
view that there was something almost mystical about advanced riding.
Fuelled by magazine articles and their own publicity about riding
the police way, the idea of "quiet efficiency" appealed and
eventually I decided to improve my own riding via a local IAM group.
Unfortunately the results were not quite what I expected.
Firstly, the standard I was expected to ride at wasn't exactly
challenging. To be fair, with around half a million miles of courier
experience under my belt, maybe it wasn't surprising that I had
graduated to an "advanced" level simply by surviving and reading
about riding, though I did pick up a couple of useful tips which I
Perhaps more importantly, the way I was expected to ride to keep my
observer quiet simply didn't suit me, and worse didn't tally with my
experience. In a couple of instances had I followed the advice I was
given, I believed it would have led to potentially dangerous
situations. In particular I felt I was being forced to make
pointless overtakes. My explanations of my actions led to some
fairly heated discussions between myself and my observer, which
eventually degenerated into a kind of "if you don't do it, you won't
pass" dogma. Needless to say, having survived day to day traffic in
London for a decade and a half and realising that I actually had far
more riding experience than my observer (or indeed nearly all the
group), I was unconvinced of the validity of that approach.
Around the same time I got involved with training at basic level
full time, did the excellent CSM instructor training course, and
realised that training riders to a good standard for the bike test
took them to not far off IAM standard in the first place. Sure there
are differences in positioning for bends, but observation and
anticipation skills are just as necessary to avoid dangerous errors
to satisfy the DSA examiner, and they like to see plenty of progress
The major difference between the IAM and the DSA test seemed to be
that the IAM required that particular style I detected on the
observed rides to the point where you have to ride in the way the
examiner expects to see to pass, to the point where it is pretty
easy to spot an IAMer out on a ride. Meanwhile the DSA test does
almost the opposite. You start with a clean sheet and so long as you
adhere more or less to the Highway Code, don't do anything silly or
dangerous to notch up X's on the marking sheet, you pass. The DSA
examiners don't expect to see identikit riders, something that many
advanced instructors with no basic training experience fail to
Having been asked to put some advanced training together for the
training school I worked at back then (out of which Survival Skills
was soon born), my experiences with the IAM made me realise that the
general unthinking acceptance that "police is best" wasn't right. I
might not have had the formal training that police riders get, but
by heck, I'd learnt a lot in the school of hard knocks. If there was
something stupid I could do on a bike, I'd done it. Wasn't that
Apparently not. Reading a recent letter in an industry magazine, one
RoADA instructor wrote in and claimed: "most of the RoSPA staff
involved in advanced training courses are ex Police Advanced
Instructors...more than capable of ensuring the highest of standards
are maintained in a uniform (sic) manner".
Hmmm. Maybe my experience wasn't enough! I have some doubt about the
"police instructor" claim as to my knowledge most police riders
doing the job are not instructors per se but hold a class one
I could just see what was coming next too: "Of course we bike
instructors should be controlled by a register to ensure a
recognised national standard is maintained at all times. RoSPA could
be a candidate to become the controlling body, and be completely
independent". [my italics]
Completely independent? Of whom?
What if you don't happen to like the rather dubious connection of
RoSPA (Road Safety) with the parent organisation that is still
pushing for speed limiters, knee protectors, high level brake lights
and god knows what other loony "save you from yourself" ideas for
Recognised national standard? Forgetting the political angle, who
has decided "Roadcraft" and the police syllabus is appropriate to
all riders? What if you don't happen to like the idea of the "police
pursuit" and progress oriented training?
There are thousands of riders out there for whom the idea of hooning
round is completely against the grain, and thousands more for whom
such a syllabus is inappropriate to say the least.
Does the 50 year old woman on a 535 Virago want to be pushed to
overtake everything in sight, or rather gain a decent grounding in
defensive riding and machine control techniques? What about the
returning rider easing back into biking? The newly qualified rider?
Can a nationally approved course suit the London commuter on his
superscooter, the two-up BMW tourer AND the recreational rider on
his R1? What about the town rider who wants to learn to do bends, or
the out of town rider who has decided to commute?
Leaving aside the very obvious holes in Roadcraft if it were to be
used as the likely "approved" syllabus, what about the very real
validity of learning new techniques and ideas from training schemes
from other countries and in other areas of motorcycling such as
Then there is the problem of how that syllabus is implemented. The
dangers of a rigid syllabus are shown up by CBT. Whilst it has the
laudable goal of ensuring that no corners are cut, it is so rigid
that the instructor has little flexibility within that syllabus. For
instance, many riders have problems with the Figure 8 exercise. It
would make sense to move on, do some other work and come back to it
after a break, but the rules say we cannot move on to the next
module unless all parts of the previous module have been
satisfactorily completed. Some dubious techniques are emphasised
heavily (the safety position), other useful methods are discouraged
(counterweighting and countersteering).
At DAS level we are assessed as instructors but then left to get on
with it as we please. So long as the results of our training fit
within the general framework of the test, we are left alone.
Structuring the training to the trainee and the required goals is by
far and away the best way to teach, but the syllabus we work from,
the DSA's "Motorcycle Riding" is guidance, no more than that.
Nothing stops an instructor changing the order of training or
concentrating on weaknesses, or using different techniques to
achieve the required result.
I didn't come up with the name Survival Skills by accident,
deliberately avoiding "Go Faster" references. My courses are, by
deliberate intent, highly relevant to real-life riding. I take a
pragmatic view of riding - everyone on the road, including
ourselves, makes mistakes so training looks at how we and other
drivers make errors, how to avoid them, and how to get out of
trouble when it does go wrong - we teach Survival Skills!
I recognise all riders are different and that demands a carefully
thought out training regime, with different courses offering
different goals, but with the single aim of to improving your riding
and safety by addressing your own skills and weaknesses, rather than
turn out a rider who can do "the style" but maybe not the substance.
I've had the content and the delivery of my courses independently
assessed and been awarded a BTEC in recognition. Do I want to give
all that up to teach the same nationally approved syllabus as
everyone else? No, I don't.
I've long thought that the majority of advanced training is quite
simply inappropriate to most riders, and the idea of a single
controlling body and fixed syllabus do nothing to dispel that view.