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The five most important things I learned as a courier

Some years back, I was challenged to put some tips together based on what I'd learned back in my despatching days. It didn't take much head-scratching to come up with the following short list.

1) Learn to use the brakes hard, then stay in practice... the last emergency stop that most riders make before they find themselves in the middle of a crisis is the one in front of the examiner. That might be ten years ago, and a very bad time to discover we've forgotten how is in the middle of an emergency. Practice practice practice. Practice wet and dry. If you change bike, see how it responds on hard braking. If you change tyres, find out how much grip they have. If you change pads, bed them in, test them out and discover whether they respond the same way as the last lot. There can be surprising variation between batchers.

2) Learn when not to use the brakes... we'll all experience an "OhmigodImgoingtodie" moment. Instinct is screaming at you "STOPSTOPSTOPSTOP". But hitting the brakes hard stands the bike upright which may take us straight into the very situation we were trying to avoid.Very often our best route out of trouble is not stopping but changing direction - bikes are pretty small, can change direction quickly and fit thru small gaps, and lean much further than most riders can cope with. But to change direction, we need to understand HOW to steer (counter-steering is the answer), then to practice adding more and more steering input to generate a quicker and quicker change of direction. Practice is the only way we'll learn this technique and just how much we can trust that front tyre (more than you might expect)

3) Learn to search... most road safety literature - the USA's MSF course excepted - talks about 'observation'. The problem is observation is passive. It implies we simply swing our gaze around till something interesting catches our attention. A few moments watching most riders and you'll see they don't actually look for anything in particular. They're hoping their attention is drawn to hazards - the danger is that if they don't see them until they are a real threat, they'll suffer SURPRISE! and then survival reactions kick in - see the target fixation tip for more on this. So what we need to do is turn passive observation into a focused and active search. We need to know WHERE to look and WHY we're looking for it. It's no good knowing that side turnings are a place that must bike collisions happen but hoping we spot them, we have to search for them - we need to actively seek out road signs, gaps between parked cars, breaks in the lines of house roofs, white paint at the side of the road, dropped kerbs and so on. Searching to either side of our path helps us being taken by SURPRISE!

4) Hang back to make better progress... as a courier, I always wanted to get where I was going with the minimum of delay conversant with keeping the risks down. Most riders follow far too close, and then they don't look any further ahead than the vehicle in front - next time you're following another rider look to see when his or her brake lights come on - if it's a moment after the car ahead, they're watching that vehicle. Opening up a gap not only gives us a safer following distance and opens up a better view of the road ahead, it also frees our attention to start searching beyond the car ahead. And this is how a good courier will make progress. Rather than simply looking to overtake it, the courier's planned where they're going next too. When filtering, the courier will know when to hang back as the impatient riders overtake into a dead end or get stuck outside traffic turning right. Hanging back gets you further ahead mentally and physically.

5) Discover that slow is fast... too many riders think that being on a bike means they should be at the head of the queue. Ever heard anyone say "if I sat in the queue I might as well be in a car"? I have, regularly. But it's not the right approach. Because they're in a hurry, they're stressed and prone to mistakes. And mistakes lead to spills. That's no good to a courier because a bent bike means no earnings. And no earnings meant no food or rent money. There's nothing wrong with using gaps where it's sensible to use them but I would also slip back into the queue when it got too tricky or too risky to overtake or filter. My aim as a courier was always to flow unobtrusively through traffic, neither wedging myself into impossible gaps nor forcing drivers to slow down to let me through. It might have cost me a few seconds, even minutes, but being restrained and patient minimised stress and anxiety and helped me to stay relaxed. Being relaxed meant I could ride for long hours. And that meant the tortoise nearly always overtook the hare in the end.

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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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

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