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Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Although I'm often told that what I teach on my Survival Skills post-test training course is the same as you'd find if you read the police handbook 'Motorcycle Roadcraft (the most recent critic called it "Roadcraft with lipstick and blusher" which made me chuckle), that's not actually correct. There are plenty of areas of commonality, not least that the aim of 'Roadcraft' and Survival Skills is to try to keep riders upright and that there's nothing any rider can do with a motorcycle except change speed and direction. But Survival Skills is most definitely not 'Roadcraft' under a different name'. The Survival Skills approach avoids seeing 'progress' as the goal of advanced riding and changes the 'do it the right way' approach to riding to a more pragmatic 'have we prepared for things to go wrong' approach. And in particular, Survival Skills has always offered a far more organised approach to cornering. In the mid-90s, the current edition of 'Roadcraft' barely covered the topic - steering wasn't even in the book. Even now, with a much-improved updated edition, it's my opinion that the Survival Skills Performance: BENDS and Performance: SPORT course go way beyond 'Roadcraft's' new content. Read on, and decide for yourself.
In the UK, and with just a few exceptions, most advanced training - whether it's delivered by the IAM, RoSPA-certificated instructors, or even in a watered-down form by the ERS (thanks to the connection with the DVSA) - has its roots in UK police practice - the police handbook 'Motorcycle Roadcraft' is recommended background reading and they all apply the 'Police System of Motorcycle Control' as a core component of their training.
However, whilst I make USE of 'Roadcraft' as well as the IAM's offerings and various books from the DVSA, my training certain ISN'T 'Roadcraft-based'.
Looking further afield than the UK, there are other training schemes around the world and many writers with valuable things to say about riding, so I have drawn heavily on outside sources. I've looked at the work of US rider coach Keith Code (of the California Superbike School) and his concept of cornering reference points. There's David Hough's huge amount of work, the laid-back approach of Nick Ianetsch, as well as ideas from Lee Parks (Total Control) and Reg Pridmore (CLASS) all to be found in my courses. I've obtained training material from contacts with the US-based MSF which have influneced my thinking. I've incorporated techniques from the Australian 'Ride On' programme. Even more recently, the internet has allowed me to swap ideas with and ride with trainers and other motorcyclists from all over the world. And I also have my not-insignificant time as a courier to draw on, something that taught me how easily things can go wrong on the road.
Survival Skills cornering courses have always focused on three aspects of cornering:
- hazard awareness, risk assessment and risk management
- a system of 'reference points' that allows any rider to navigate around any corner
- a method of mapping machine inputs - braking, steering, throttle control - to the reference points
Put together, Survival Skills has delivered the unique 'Point and Squirt' approach to cornering since 1997. So, is my Point and Squirt approach to corners "Roadcraft with lipstick and blusher"? Not in my opinion. If there's one topic I've always felt UK-based training at basic and post-test level has been lacking, it's cornering.
Almost as soon as I bought a bike - a lovely little Honda CB125S - and set off on L plates (no compulsory basic training back then) I wanted to find out more about cornering. Just a few months into my riding career, I got hold of the old 'Blue Book' police manual. I soon added an IAM book, and progressively added more - who remembers 'Superbiking' by Blackett Ditchburn? I thought not!
Unfortunately, despite learning about the 'Police System of Motorcycle Control', trying to apply it to corners didn't help much when nobody had told me how to steer - it wasn't in 'Roadcraft' back then. I actually discovered counter-steering thanks to a magazine article whilst I was at college. Turn the bars the wrong way? Madness! But it worked. I taught myself to 'push right, go right' and 'push left, go left'. Even though it wasn't in 'Roadcraft', it got me round corner and also I realised it could help me swerve out of trouble - something that saved me a number of times when I became a courier.
I also learned about how I should use "acceleration sense", matching the throttle opening (and thus speed) to the radius of a corner as judged by changes to the 'Limit Point'. Opening and closing the throttle as the radius of the bend changed worked OK on a 12hp 125, and reasonably well a couple of years later on a 37hp 400-F with stiff suspension when I passed my test. But when I added a CX500 to my collection of bikes in 1982, a bike with 50-odd horsepower and a shaft drive, I found any on-off throttle round corners destabilised the soft and relatively long-travel suspension. By trial and error, I found the best way to keep the bike going where I wanted was to slow down a bit earlier, then to keep the throttle steady all the way through the corner from entry to exit. If the bend changed radius, rather than try to change speed with the throttle, I changed lean angle instead. It also worked better on my 400-F, and the technique I've continued to use successfully on every bike from a Husqvarna 610TE enduro to a GSX-R sports bike. In short, it works on anything.
Another learning experience was that using a 'maximum radius' line that "works the tyres less hard" (that's a quotation from an early 2000s West Midlands BikeSafe video, one I have in my collection) could have its downsides. When I started riding, the advice in the Highway Code was that riders should still ride three feet (just under a metre) out from the kerb. But more and more riders were rejecting that. So what to use instead? Well, there were lots of magazine articles about the 'maximum radius line' where we exploit the width of our lane by riding a 'wide in, clip the apex, wide out' racing line. Even if not explicitly suggested, it was definitely hinted at in Roadcraft - just to check my memory was correct, I recently dug out my old 'Blue Book' edition of Roadcraft and it does indeed show near-symetrical maximum radius lines worked into the full width of the lane.
So I started using it. There's another article which goes into more detail but suffice to say, I discovered its drawbacks on the road when I nearly had my head removed by an oncoming police car in the middle of a right-hand bend. In retrospect I suppose 'racing line' should have been a clue. The driver didn't seem too impressed with it either. I'd also discovered that if I got it a bit wrong on a left-hander, I would (and did) end up in a field, I started to use less-aggressive lines that avoided both grass and oncoming police cars. Nevertheless, it's still being talked about in that much later BikeSafe video.
Although I was still reading anything I could lay my hands on, my cornering skills stagnated through the 80s, mostly because nearly all my riding was as a courier mostly in and around London. But then in 1990 I moved back to Kent. And now I was doing a lot of cross-country courier runs and clocking up a LOT of miles on twisty roads. By coincidence, a series called 'Survival Arts' began appearing in the old 'Motorcycle Sport' magazine.
In April 1990, the article on cornering jumped out at me. The diagrams showed the rider going much deeper into a corner, then turning tighter later in the bend keeping well away from the centre line (right-hander) or the kerb (left-hander) before exiting on a far less extreme line. It was very different line to the line I'd seen before. And yes, I still have that source too, to double-check.
I remember the day I tried out the Survival Arts line. I was on a run out to Wales on a nice sunny day, and finding it difficult to pass a tractor on a twisty road. I suddenly realised that taking a line on right-handers which went a little deeper in to the turn gave me a good view on the way up to the bend, kept me away from oncoming traffic mid-corner whilst using a quicker, more positive counter-steering input to square off the corners helped me get upright and lined up with the straights sooner. Coming out of a right-hander, I turned the bike tighter onto a straight long enough to pass the tractor. Having got past, I kept trying it, and found it made riding the twisty road a lot easier on left-handers too. It was an absolute revelation. I've got some notes dating from 1992 when I actually started to write up the 'on the road' benefits of what would become 'Point and Squirt'. Why Point and Squirt? Because that's exactly what we do. We wait till we see where the road is going next, then turn sharper, 'point' the bike at the exit and turn the throttle harder to 'squirt' the bike out down the road to the next hazard.
Soon after, I borrowed a buddy's copy of Keith Code's 'Twist of the Wrist 2' because I was about to do my first track day. Although a lot of the book was irrelevant to the road (and some almost incomprehensible on first reading), I did take away some postives. Code confirmed my 'open the throttle all the way through the corner' approach was right, and his thinking on stability issues and the need to keep the bike upright as much as possible, also confirmed the benefit of the Survival Arts deep in, quick steer approach. He also said "turn only when you see the exit" which I realised is what I was doing with my Survival Arts line. Code's "steer once" advice and his definition of the exit ("where you can do anything you want with the throttle - pull a wheelie if you want to") all made immediate sense given what I was already doing.
Code supplied a crucial missing link with his concept of 'reference markers' (repeating and easy-to-recognise points in bends). You won't find this in 'Roadcraft' or any of the books based on it. Yet Code's 'Two Step' technique (in short, an approach which gets us to search for one reference point, then when we see it, move our eyes further forward to look for the next) explained when to look, where to look, and what we are looking for. Code provided some crucial missing links and by putting Code's quick-steer approach, the 'Two Step' and the reference marker concept altogether, we have a way of timing braking, steering and acceleration inputs consistently.
By combining what I'd learned from Code with my Survival Arts cornering line, I developed a consistent style that used positively-timed (but NOT 'harder') braking to slow whilst upright, a slower, squared-off turning point late in the corner that gets the bike upright earlier, allowing early, positive and upright acceleration out of the bend. My cornering technique took another big step forward - rather than carrying corner speed using the 'maximum radius' line as I had on the 125, I was positively sacrificing it.
I got plenty of chance to polish Point and Squirt on long rural courier runs, so let's fast-forward to 1994 when I got online and began to discuss riding, including my Point and Squirt cornering approach with riders from all over the world. MSF instructor Don Kime sent me some training material which showed how to break down corners using the 'Slow, Look, Lean, Roll' approach (quite a few years before Thames Valley Advanced Motorcyclists hi-jacked the technique, incidentally). Now I'd added a way to break the corner down into easily-defined chunks which matched Code's machine inputs. I also got useful feedback from US riders who'd done Code's California Superbike School as well as Reg Pridmore's CLASS in the United States, where the ex-pat British former racer seemed to be teaching a road line not-dissimilar to my Point and Squirt.
By 1996 I was working down in Lydd as a CBT instructor, and I joined a local IAM group. Boy, Point and Squirt did not go down well with my observer. Braking, squaring off, then accelerating upright out of corners; nope, that was all wrong. Instead, I was told how the 'proper' approach to cornering was to "vary throttle and speed with radius" and to "smooth out the radius of the corner". OK, maybe not quite so close to the white paint as my old approach to right-handers, but essentially I was being shown the throttle control that hadn't worked on my old CX and a near-identical line to the one I'd discarded after the near-decapitation by the police car.
Just a few month later, I ran my own advanced course for one of our trainees who'd recently passed his bike test and turned up with a new machine. I got a day's warning from the boss, spent the previous evening roughing out a syllabus, and rather than the IAM line it was my own Point and Squirt approach that I showed him. When launched Survival Skills Rider Training in 1997, this reference point-based, slow in on the gas, quick steer and late-turn line was a key part of the two-day Survival: SKILLS course. I've continued to develop Point and Squirt, but the essentials were in place.
In early 2000, I was invited to run an advanced riding section on a national motorcycle forum. It rapidly gained members, and questions soon popped up about cornering. When riders had issues cornering, I'd describe the benefits of the Point and Squirt approach. And suddenly, I was being told that this was "the line you'd take if you'd followed the advice in Motorcycle Roadcraft" or that I'd "misunderstood Roadcraft and that if I'd taken IAM training, I'd have been shown how to 'interpret' it correctly".
I checked over my extensive collision of books, articles and videos which date from the early '70s to see if my memory really was failing but, nope. The Survival Arts line is quite obviously different from diagrams in the 'Blue Book' edition of Roadcraft. And there's that 2000s West Midlands BikeSafe video too (even if the footage clearly shows the rider demonstrating what I'd call Point and Squirt. With hindsight, I'll concede that there IS a written warning to "tuck in tighter and not to exit too close to the white line on left-handers" in the Blue Book, and the "turn only when you see the exit" advice IS in the mid-90s editions of Roadcraft. But in neither book is the message given any great prominence, possibly because - as is also regularly pointed out - the book was intended to be read alongside the police practical training. However, my response to that is "why write a book with half the story?"
A less charitable suggestion was that I was trying to "score points over other trainers", or wanted to be the "sole Guardian of the Truth" - if that were true, I'd hardly be explaining how Point and Squirt worked, would I now?
For what it's worth, a few years after the first "Point and Squirt is just Roadcraft properly explained" bun fight, I met a very nice bloke on a group trip in Europe. He'd had his IAM pass for 20 years but was active in his group. At the end of one of our rides, he quizzed me on the lines I was taking. I explained Point & Squirt. "Nah", he said, "I don't like that... it's all stop/start and sudden jinks... I like match the throttle to the bend mid-corner... and I like to lean the bike and use wide sweeping lines because the bike's more stable... it's how my two mates who are both ex-police riders ride too". Next day I followed him. He was rolling the throttle on and off mid-corner and taking the maximum radius line round bends.
So if Point and Squirt really isn't 'Roadcraft-revisited', does anyone else teach something similar? Some years AFTER I'd talked about Point and Squirt online, Andy Ibbott - then director of the UK outlet of Code's California Superbike school - wrote about Code's cornering in 'Motor Cycle News'. Without calling it Point and Squirt, Andy Morrison of Rapid Training explained it very well indeed in a series in 'Bike' magazine between 2005 and 2006, more than ten years after I first started writing about Point and Squirt online, and almost as long after I started teaching it.
So I think I've shown that there is a significant difference between the Point and Squirt approach to cornering and what's covered by Roadcraft-based training. If you're still struggling to accept that after reading my explanation, maybe book up a course and see for yourself.
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