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