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What's the goal of post-test training?
Over the years, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the goal of training after passing the motorcycle test. Obviously we want to improve the skills and knowledge that a rider gained on basic training. But what does that really mean in terms of what we deliver? Are we looking for perfection? Or should we be looking for a pragmatic approach to riding?
When I moderated a riding skills forum, we regularly used to get requests for help with a riding issue. In one instance, the request came from a very newly qualified rider on his new motorcycle:
"I passed my test 2 weeks ago tomorrow and am really a complete novice as I'd never ridden before I started my training which was basically 3 lessons. Anyway I bought a 6 month old Thundercat as my first bike after a lot of worrying that the bike was too powerful for a 1st bike. I want to know what tips you can give to a new rider... I'm really struggling with a few things in particular:
1. setting off I'm not sure what revs to use, and find it hard to keep the throttle steady... I panic that the the front wheel is going to fly up and throw me off
2. turning into a side road I was taught to use 1st but it just doesn't feel right as I'm very jerky on the throttle
3. which brake should I use? For example on country lanes if I want to slow down from a speed above 30 ish, is it the front? I worry that wheels are going to lock and start sliding"
Now, it should be pretty obvious that we have here a rider who has clearly identified some major problems with his ability to control the machine. So I responded with a series of practical suggestions.
I referred the rider back to some of the exercises he would have performed on CBT including some very simple straight line stopping and starting exercises to help get used to the clutch on the new machine. I also advised him to use a slipping clutch when turning into side roads (what would have been taught for the U-turn exercise, so nothing new) and a reminder about basic braking technique (front first, rear second, then a progressive squeeze of the front to slow at the required rate). I also suggested that the rider look for some personalised training to fix the problems sooner rather than later.
Of course, I wasn't the only one with advice. I generally try not to criticise other people involved in rider training too often but in this case the response of one of our IAM observers made me blow my top. He started by offering some useful - but theoretical - advice, but then qualified it by saying:
"Unless you really do feel that you can't manage I would delay any extra training until you've been riding 5-6 weeks or so. You'll be amazed at how different it will be then and you'll get more out of any training you do."
Of course, there's a very big assumption there. And that's that our wobbly novice is still in one piece after that period.
And then he suggested that at the end of this learning period the new rider would then be in a position to benefit from advanced training with the IAM.
As I've said many times, there are two ways of approaching rider training:
a pragmatic 'improve what's weak' approach
building standard skills to test against a set riding standard
Either are valid in certain circumstances. But which is more appropriate here?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. A client-centred course, of the sort offered by the Survival Skills Confidence: BUILDER one-day training course, is more likely to address the novice rider's needs.
The mention of the Thundercat dates the event, and since then I've been told "ah, but the IAM has changed a lot". That is undoubtedly true, there has certainly been a drive to improve standards and consistency but what hasn't changed is that the organisation still promotes a brand of training style of riding which has passing the test as its goal.
At the risk of provoking a chorus of "he would say that, wouldn't he?", if you think you have a problem with your riding, ask yourself where you'll get the better support; from an independent trainer who's prepared to focus the training on YOUR needs, or from an organisation that commits you to pursuing their own goal?
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