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 still apply.

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 too.

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 understand.

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 worth something?

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 licence.

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 bikes?

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 track skills?

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.