Riding Skills 101

Improve your motorcycling skills
with Survival Skills Rider Training

Start your journey into better biking here!

Survival Skills|FREE better biking tips for all motorcycle riders

Learning biking Survival Skills isn't expensive...
...because these tips are FREE for all bikers

All about Survival Skills riding tips

Although I personally detest the term, you might call this a mission statement, as this article explains my aims as I've spent the last twenty-plus years as a FULL TIME rider coach.

But before I go any further, it's worth thinking about two terms; 'advanced riding' and 'safety'.

Advanced training is essentially any coaching that takes place after the basic motorcycle riding test - I'd say a better term would be 'post-test training', but people recognise 'advanced' so you'll find I use them interchangeably.

Safety means, according to the dictionary, "not exposed to danger". By implication that means there is an "absence of risk". A moment's thought tells us there is always a risk attached to riding a motorcycle. It's a basic truth that the roads are amongst the most dangerous places available for use by the public. We only have to look at accident statistics to see that, and unfortunately, if we crash on two wheels, the consequences are often serious and even life-threatening. We can certainly REDUCE risk but no matter how good our riding (or our protective kit), we cannot completely eliminate it.

My own riding background began in the 'School of Hard Knocks'. I had no training before I started riding when I went to university in London. I graduated with a science degree but no job, so I began working as a courier in London to pay the bills. I won't kid you, I had a lot of near misses as well as some crashes early on in my courier career and was lucky to survive a couple. I realised that in order not to repeat the SAME MISTAKES I had to learn from them. That meant understanding as much as possible about why, where and how I - and those other riders around me - were crashing. To survive, I had to learn - and learn quickly. I needed to understand:

  • how hazards pose a threat of personal harm ('hazard awareness')
  • why the hazard poses a threat ('risk assessment')
  • what I could do to minimise the threat ('risk management')
  • how I could get out of trouble when things went wrong ('hazard evasion')

Although I spent six months in a secondary school teaching (and discovered just how horrid teenage schoolkids are) and had also found time to gain a Masters degree (which still didn't get me a job), courier riding became my career. At the time I transitioned to rider training, I'd worked for sixteen years as a courier, covering around half a million miles.

I took steps to improve my riding. I read anything about better biking I could lay my hands on, including the police manual 'Motorcycle Roadcraft', but also numerous other books including Keith Code's works from the USA - there's more about this in another post. I also signed up for the IAM in 1994.

By that time I was looking for a change of career. A year or so earlier, I'd done a bit of informal bike training with the Kent University bike club. Finding I enjoyed it, I started looking to get into bike training full time and in 1995 I landed a place on the excellent week-long and very intensive instructor training course run by CSM. CSM were, at the time, the biggest rider training school in the UK and these courses were difficult to get onto. Short though it was, I discovered a great deal about teaching and riding technique on that course. By February 1996 I was working full time as an instructor at Lydd in Kent for Cinque Ports Motorcycle Training, one of the best independent training schools in the country, and I continued learning on site. The following year, I became one of the first fully qualified Direct Access instructors in the country.

I spent three years at Lydd, and I learned a lot more. But there was an unexpected consequence. The high hopes I'd had for the IAM's advanced training evaporated. Whilst 'Roadcraft' offered sound thinking on 'defensive riding', my observer's 'need for speed' turned that on its head. Viewed through the twin lenses of my previous life as a courier (a job not exactly known for its cautious approach) and my new role as a CBT and DAS trainer, I became increasingly unhappy with the constant emphasis on 'making progress' in a way I would not have considered even when delivering an urgent parcel! Recreational riding is supposed to be enjoyable, and I wasn't enjoying it. There also seemed to be an overwhelming belief that if it wasn't in Roadcraft it didn't matter, yet I'd already found that Keith Code had some excellent ideas on cornering.

At much the same time, I was asked to run an advanced course at Cinque Ports. I was told: "just take the guy out for a day, show him some nice roads, give him a few tips and he'll be happy". That was a bit of a shocker, and the only time I saw Cinque Ports training as anything less than 100% professional.

In both cases I believed I could do better.

So in early 1997 I set up and began delivering Survival Skills advanced motorcycle rider training courses, offering carefully designed and structured training that looked beyond Roadcraft and didn't focus on progress as an outcome. That's what I've been doing full-time ever since. Initially I was based on Kent, but now I'm based in London, I deliver training from four locations around the M25 in Buckinghamshire, Essex, Surrey and Kent, as well as from the Ace Cafe in London, and from Oxford too. I have also regularly run courses in Devon, mid-Wales, the Peak District and Yorkshire, not to mention many one-off locations all over England.

Now, if you've got this far, you may be forgiven for thinking that I'm about to "sell you something new by telling you how awful the training was in the bad old days" pre-Survival Skills. That's not the message, nor am I simply repainting Roadcraft "with a splash of lipstick and blusher" as someone suggested recently. So what have I incorporated into my Survival Skills courses that really is different?

Firstly, I use proven teaching and coaching techniques to put my ideas over to my trainees, I've gained independent qualifications to ensure you get the best experience (there's more about my teaching experience and the work I did to gain my advanced instructor BTEC elsewhere). Secondly, the training is highly structured (and more on that too in another article). Third, I have looked across the globe to see how motorcycle training is delivered (that's also in another post).

The glue holding it all together is a pragmatic approach to safety. Even back in my courier days, I began to see that the riders around me kept having the same crashes, so I tried to figure out how to avoid them. That enabled me to survive as a courier for sixteen years. When I got online in 1994 or 95 and could begin to access official statistics and reports, what I found confirmed that my personal observations were absolutely correct. Most recently, I've looked outside motorcycling and even beyond driver training for understanding of how to prevent human error - I've investigated safety training in other fields such as airline pilot training (and that's my science background at work).

The subliminal message underlying 'Roadcraft' is that if we do things right, we'll stay safe. I've always thought the idea we can 'ride in complete safety' is entirely misleading - we can reduce risk but it cannot be eliminated. My message is rather different - excelling at the technical side of riding is only of any use IF WE CAN AVOID ERRORS. And as even experienced riders crash, that means our own errors as well as someone else's. And that is what is incorporated into my training - it's termed 'insight training'.

So the fact is that Roadcraft-based training and Survival Skills are not in conflict, but by aiming to bring 'insight' to riding, Survival Skills moves from a focus on 'technical mastery' to more effective 'decision-making'. Specifically, I want trainees to gain a solid understanding of how, where and why things can go wrong on two wheels so they too develop a sound understanding of driver and rider error and the strategies to stay out of, and get out of, trouble.

My training isn't called 'Survival Skills' by chance.

Post-training, we need to maintain what was learned. it's easy to become overconfident and 'talk the talk' whilst losing the ability to 'walk the walk'. We must think about what we have learned, how it fits with what we already knew and how it integrates into the kind of riding we do. And vitally, to continue to develop after training, we need to KEEP PRACTICING what we have learned. Contrary to the popular saying, practice does NOT make perfect - it makes PERMANENT. So it's vital to keep practicing the perfect! My courses are structured to encourage continuing personal development AFTER completing the session.

Don't think that applying Survival Skills to our riding means we cannot achieve enjoyable and challenging riding. In fact, the opposite is true. With the right techniques PLUS the knowledge AND the insight which make for a less-risky ride, you'll not only be a far better rider, but you'll discover a far more enjoyable way to ride than lurching from near-miss to near-miss.

Last point. We need to ride within our own limits at all time and, whatever riding techniques we use, we should never sacrifice safety. And just to prove I have not deserted Roadcraft, let me quote what it says in that book:

"Always remember advanced techniques of machine control can only increase your safety and reduce the risk of an accident if they are supported by positive attitudes, concentration, critical self-awareness and above all, by self-control."

I won't argue with that.

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


If you have enjoyed these Survival Skills articles, you can help me stay awake and keep writing. Just click the button below to buy me a coffee!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

* follow Survival Skills on Facebook and find new tips every week.
* discover Survival Skills books 



Subscribe to our Newsletter

Book a training course

What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This archive of articles is provided free to read and download, but is not for commercial use. Contact me for re-use rights.

IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

 Copyright © 1999 - 2019 Kevin Williams and Survival Skills Rider Training