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How are Survival Skills Courses constructed and delivered?
If you want to know more about Survival Skills advanced motorcycle training courses, how I created the content, and how I deliver them, then you're in the right place.
Here's a little about my background. With no prior training I learned to ride when I was at university. After graduating, I spent sixteen years as a motorcycle courier covering around half a million miles in all weathers, and on roads as different as central London and the wilds of Wales. Subsquently I trained as a CBT instructor, then qualified as a Direct Access trainer. I've also ridden extensively in Europe, the USA and most recently New Zealand. That's a background that's unlikely to be matched by many trainers.
About my sources. Much of what I have incorporated into my training comes directly from 'The School of Hard Knocks', but I personally learned a lot from magazine articles and books and I've not been afraid to incorporate that material where I think it is useful and relevant. So back in 1997, the original two-day Survival: SKILLS course was based on three main sources; an excellent series in a long-forgotten weekly publication in 70-odd weekly parts, the Police manual 'Motorcycle Roadcraft', and Keith Code's 'Twist of the Wrist' series. A minor source was literature published by the American "Motorcycle Safety Foundation" or MSF. Over the years, I've incorporated ideas from many other sources, including (but not limited to):
- the 'Ride On' programme from New South Wales in Australia
- the excellent book 'Ride Hard, Ride Smart' from US author Pat Hahn (whose thinking on risk assessment and risk management largely parallels a lot of my own)
- another great book called Sport Riding Techniques by another American Nick Ienatsch, plus his online publications
- books by Lee Parks, Reg Pridmore, David Hough, Ken Condon, Berndt Spiegel, Blackett Ditchburn, various IAM handbooks, and more
- BikeSafe videos from Thames Valley and West Midlands police forces
Most recently, I've looked at the 'Ride Forever' courses in New Zealand, thanks to my active involvement with the NZTA and the ACC in 2018 and 2019 on the Shiny Side Up Tours in those years. I also moderated a rider safety forum, which was an excellent source of new information, and I have swapped ideas with instructors from the UK and around the world including Pat Hahn and David Hough. I've even incorporated some ideas from the track. I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to update the content and improve my training techniques to ensure that you, the rider, get as much from a course as possible.
How is my training delivered? As much as the content matters, the way in which the information is delivered is equally important. There are two common approaches to post-test training here in the UK:
- the observed ride with debriefs - this was traditionally the method used by the IAM. Although they have begun to move to a more structured approach, BikeSafe courses still use this approach, and whilst BikeSafe says their courses are not 'training', as the aim is to improve riding standards, I think it's valid to mention them.
- structured goal-based training - virtually all basic training is highly-structured. If you took CBT, you'll know what I mean. Structured training is broken up into topics which can be delivered and learned individually, but which are delivered in a careful progression where each new skill depends at least in part on the previous one. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, the various topics build up into a complete riding system.
Observed rides tend to be informal and can be a good way of assessing a rider's ability, but if I'm honest, I'm not a great fan of this technique to deliver new knowledge. Firstly, few trainees ride "like you normally do" and most put on a show - I know I find it difficult. And that means constructive criticism may not be relevant to how the trainee normally rides. The biggest drawback is that it's difficult to structure training because it's essentially a reactive approach - we discuss something after it's happened. And weak areas can go unspotted if the trainee avoids errors.
By contrast delivering new skills and knowledge in a carefully pre-planned order has many advantages. Firstly, it's pro-active. A trainee should never be set to practice a new skill without an adequate foundation of prior knowledge, skill and (importantly) confidence, because each new skill builds on the previous task and is achievable. Structure allows the trainee to see clearly what he/she is trying to achieve at any one moment, with the confidence to attempt it based on previous success. Structured training lends itself to briefing notes and aides-memoire. One potential downside is that a too-rigid structure lacks of flexibility - this is a weakness of CBT.
So how do I structure my training courses? 'Must Know, Need to Know, Nice to Know'. That's how former instructor and buddy Malcolm Palmer structured training. The 'must know' level covers the absolute fundamental skills and knowledge. So it could be understanding how the clutch or traffic signals work - if we lack that understanding, riding the bike on the road is next-to-impossible. At the next level 'need to know' our safety in specific environments - perhaps coping with hill starts or being able to negotiate complex junctions easily.
With the notable exceptions of steering and cornering, basic training focuses on the 'must know' and 'need to know' levels. Post-test training should fill in the missing cornering skills and then tends to focus on 'nice to know' - the 'gloss' or 'polish' as it's sometmes referred to - maybe understanding clutchless gearshifting or how to 'time' our approach to traffic signals so we can avoid stopping at a red light. But never forget, post-test skills BUILD ON basic skills, they don't replace them.
In particular, I try to give my trainees "more tools in the tool box". It's rare that there is only a single solution to a riding problem, so it makes sense to understand - and be well-practiced at - the alternatives. A good example is how we slow down for corners. If we belief that a good rider shouldn't need to use the brakes because of accurate assessment of the road ahead (the concept of 'acceleration sense'), then we'll get out of the habit of being fully ready to use the brakes if we need them. The answer is to be fully proficient at BOTH approaches, to use whatever works best in the circumstances, and to remember different riders on different bikes approaching different corners at different speeds will NEED different solutions.
And that means understanding the pros and cons of different alternatives. Only if we know both the advantages and the disadvantages can we make better-informed decisions. What we shouldn't be doing is blindly following a rule "because I was told to...". Personally, I like to know where, how and why, so I work on that principle when teaching others. There's a point where too much detail can confuse, but if someone wants to know it's important to be able to explain to them.
Consistent and evidence-based. The message needs to be consistent AND well-supported by our own knowledge. Some years ago I had a trainee who'd been told by various trainers either not to worry about steering "because you are doing it or you wouldn't get round the corners" to "push those bars right over and whizz round". The first was no help at all because she WASN'T getting around corners, and having tried the latter advice, she'd scared herself silly. Her questions hadn't been answered. No wonder she was confused.
How do I deliver my training? I use well-proven teaching techniques such as:
- Question and Answer - standard teaching technique which aims to draw out the student's level of understanding, both prior to the exercise to discover what they already know, just before the exercise to confirm they understand what they are about to be attempt, and finally after an exercise to confirm they learnt the lessons intended.
- Explain Demonstrate Imitate Practice - sometimes known as the EDIP loop, this is classic teaching practice. Whenever we start a new topic, I will introduce it in a mini-lecture, with visual aids as necessary, including demonstrating what I mean if that's appropriate. The trainee then tries it out, and I will observe the results and correct and / or re-explain as required. When the trainee has reached a satisfactory standard, I will go over the main points again, emphasise what's already been achieved and note areas for improvement.
I hope this short article has given you an insight into how Survival Skills courses are put together and taught.
Survival Skills Rider Training
...because it's a jungle out there
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