Piling on the miles

I was reading an industry mag and the point was made about how much time on an advanced course is actually run on the road in terms of mileage. The star letter writer referred to a discussion with the owner of another school who, he claims, boasted of controlling his costs by: "padding out talks and never covering more than 50-60 miles during a full day's training". Our correspondent by contrast, claims to offer "maximum on-road instruction". Why do I suspect a bit of self congratulatory hyperbole in both comments?

There is undoubtedly a fine the balance to draw between theory and practice but good teaching demands both. Practical exercises have to be set, but they require explanation. Simply piling on the miles on its own is not good teaching technique, just as "chalk and talk" neither challenges riders to develop nor offers an opportunity for improvement to be assessed.

Different trainees will respond to different teaching styles. Some will be overwhelmed by talk and will need to be shown, but others will respond well to question and answer sessions with detailed explanation. It's up to the instructor to vary the lesson to suit.

Then there is the aspect of training routes. It's a lot more informative to ride the same short stretch several times with debriefs than hack a hundred miles up the road and back again. I use two training loops which encompass a mixture of traffic and road situations to assess, demonstrate, practice and finally reassess. The repetitive nature means mistakes can be corrected so it also aids the trainee in seeing their own progress as they learn the route and improve their performance around it. Add in other routes they ride blind which can be chosen according to their own needs and wishes, and I can run a trainee through a variety of scenarios (without boring myself rigid too, which is an important consideration - if I'm not on form, neither will the training be as good as it could be).

There is also the very important consideration of fatigue. Think back to your car lessons and remember how knackered you were after a two hour session behind the wheel. If you've recently done an intensive basic course, think about how exhausting CBT and each day's subsequent training was. An experienced rider (such as a police rider or an instructor) may well be able to ride all day and for several hours at a stretch, but commuting or recreational riders are unlikely to be able to manage it with such ease. It's also easily forgotten by the instructor that whilst we are likely to start training from our own base, our trainees have already had a ride to get to us and have to get home again!

As concentration slips, learning deteriorates and far worse, the risk of a riding error is magnified many fold. Do we want to push trainees to those kind of limits? I think not, and I worry when I hear of trainees doing eight hour days and 200 miles plus - that's over 5 hours riding time at an average of 40mph which would have been a fair ride when I was despatching!

Well designed theory sessions, as well as off-road practice in slow control and brake use, can give the trainees a physical rest as well as a mental change of gear.

Certainly there are financial considerations for any commercial training which are likely to affect training regimes. Some schools get round it by training at 2:1 or even 3:1 - even I offer group training to clubs where I can keep the cost per person down to a point where it will attract riders who might not otherwise consider advanced training.

But mostly I get the feeling it's simply lack of imagination and a case of "that's the way it's always been done", that high mileage courses are yet another hangover from simply aping police training, where at least part of the exercise is undoubtedly to get the trainee Plod used to sitting on the bike and maintaining concentration all day long, and as such, inappropriate to road riders (except perhaps couriers!).

Of course, the least charitable view would be that perhaps our correspondent, so proud of his high mileage courses, is actually padding out the lack of theory in his training by simply keeping the trainee sitting on the bike all day! After all, spending £4 on another gallon of unleaded is much easier than actually writing a decent syllabus and lesson plan for the day's training.