Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?

It's not too often I have a go at others involved in rider training but this particular piece of nonsense really made me blow my top.

A newly qualified rider asked for help:

    "I passed my test 2 weeks ago tomorrow and am really a complete novice as I'd never ridden before I started my training which was basically 3 lessons. Anyway I bought a 6 month old Thundercat as my first bike after a lot of worrying that the bike was too powerful for a 1st bike. I want to know what tips you can give to a new rider... I'm really struggling with a few things in particular:

    1. setting off I'm not sure what revs to use, and find it hard to keep the throttle steady... I panic that the the front wheel is going to fly up and throw me off

    2. turning into a side road I was taught to use 1st but it just doesn't feel right as I'm very jerky on the throttle

    3. which brake should I use? For example on country lanes if I want to slow down from a speed above 30 ish, is it the front? I worry that wheels are going to lock and start sliding"

OK, it doesn't take much brains to see that here we have a rider who has clearly identified some major problems, any one of which could cause an accident.

And our resident IAM expert's advice? After some useful but theoretical advice he adds:
"Unless you really do feel that you can't manage I would delay any extra training until you've been riding 5-6 weeks or so. You'll be amazed at how different it will be then and you'll get more out of any training you do."

That is of course, assuming our wobbing friend on the Thundercat is actually still in one piece after the 5-6 weeks. No doubt the next bit of advice would have been to avoid commercial advanced schools with qualified advanced instructors like myself and actually paying for lessons, but to head off to get some friendly tips on the cheap from the weekend warriors of the IAM.

In fact, it's pretty clear that the rider is in need of some very immediate and basic skill building and reassurance, and in my opinion his or her very first port of call should be an instructor who can deal both with the problems described, and the others that will undoubtedly make themselves apparent.

Having let the steam out of my ears, if you read between the lines charitably, this is basically an admission that the IAM observer corps cannot deal with the problems of a newly qualified rider, or a returning rider come to that, who is having very basic problems. This is something I have come across before, and have actively discussed with one IAM group just recently.

If you are less uncharitable, you might argue that it throws into doubt the whole ethos of the IAM system of observing and testing an advanced rider.

What do I mean? There are two ways of approaching rider training - improver training or testing to a standard. The standard is irrelevant.

I do the first and aim to improve riding. I take the rider I see in front of me, and progress them as far down the line as time, money and natural aptitude permits. I am able to address specific weaknesses and also tailor the training to what they want, which might be traffic skills or it might be country bend swinging. The results are nearly always gratifying both from my view point and that of the trainee, because they see a definite improvement in their riding, where they need it and where they want it. At the same time they get the benefits of a structured training course, which advances their riding in a logical and progressive manner, with no need to push them beyond the point where their skills can't take them.

My training is also highly realistic. I consider risk assessment and how and where riders make errors. When we recognise the kind of mistakes we make, we can not only try to avoid the errors but to learn how to be able to out of trouble when we do foul up. Because it is WHEN rather than IF. It's a pragmatic approach to training.

The IAM and RoSPA do the second and aim for a standard. Each has their own standard and a particular style of riding that is defined as advanced. The ultimate goal of both groups is a test pass, and that requires the rider to ride in a particular manner to a particular standard to satisfy an examiner.

So what is the problem with the testing approach I hear you ask? After all, we all have to pass a test to get on the road. Like the much criticised DSA test, it is an examination of your bike control and safety. Unfortunately, there are a couple of objections.

it's a one size fits all approach and whilst it's fine and dandy to have another certificate and a badge to tell others that you have passed the advanced test, it's a test that sees the rider attempting to demonstrate perfection in their riding, and by definition, a perfect ride is out of reach for most of us, so in fact the standard required for a pass isn't that high at IAM level.

But there is a second, more serious, objection - one of mindset. By aiming for that perfect ride, you begin to believe if you are good enough, it'll never happen to you - a very dangerous state of mind. I prefer to accept that I am human, will foul up and to ensure I have the both the awareness and the skills to rescue myself.

The second problem is that the style simply doesn't suit a lot of riders because the skills and riding display required to pass that test are not what the rider wants or needs. If you ride all day in central London, how does the IAM pursuit test actually help your skills or even test what you do most often? We can end up in the sort of situation one contributor on Visordown commented on - his inability to bring together his "dual mode" riding:

"When I'm in RoSPA Mode, I concentrate as much as possible and apply the 'system' to everything. When I'm in everyday mode, sometimes I ride as I do in RM, but sometimes it all goes out the window and I know...I tend to be prone to red-mist and euphoria. I really want to try to integrate these two approaches, so that I have *one* riding mode."

There's only one real answer to this. The rider doesn't see "RoSPA Mode" as the answer to his riding needs. Maybe his expectations were wrong in the first place but it's equally likely he can't see his way to making it flexible enough to fit what he wants it to do.

I'm always very nervous of any rigid system. I tend to ask three questions as I watch riders:

    do they know what they are doing?
    do they know why they are doing it?
    are they doing it safely?

Common sense really. One of the things that is constantly misrepresented about the DSA test is that it's a rigid examination of the way you ride. It was but now it isn't, it's actually anything but. Sure, there are some must and mustn't do's but nearly all of them are what any sensible rider would do anyway. And it is quite possible to pass with no training if you apply the three common sense rules above to your riding.

My own preference for any training is that you take what you need and what you like, and that you consider the rest, and whether there are advantages or disadvantages of applying it to your riding.

No doubt, some readers will say that you CAN do that with the RoSPA or IAM system, and to some extent that is true, but far too many riders believe implicitly in "the system" to the extent that it takes over from a reasoned approach to riding.

Final comments. The training (or I should say advice from the IAM observers, as they cannot offer training per se) itself may help sort particular problems in passing, but what if you have very particular riding problems? How does the testing system serve the riders who because of very basic problems have no intention of taking the test in the first place? What about the riders disappointed by a failure? What about the riders who think that an IAM test pass is the end of the learning process?

The advice offered to the Thundercat rider was extremely poor and potentially highly dangerous. Worst of all was the fact that it was being offered by a rider who as someone engaged in advancing riding skills really should know better.

So, if you think you have a problem with your riding, think carefully. Do you want to solve the problem with a properly qualified and experienced instructor, with realistic training that addresses your needs, or do you think you would be better served by riding "the style" in front of an examiner and collecting a badge?