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
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.