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How far is too far?

There is undoubtedly a fine balance to draw between theory and practical time on the bike but good teaching demands both. Genuine riding exercises have a definite place but they require explanation. Simply piling on the miles is not good teaching technique, just as endless 'chalk and talk' offers limited opportunity to practice the theory.

Reading an industry mag some years back, the star letter writer - a training school owner - referred to a discussion with the owner of another school who, he claims, boasted of controlling his costs by: "padding out talks and never covering more than 50-60 miles during a full day's training". The letter writer, by contrast, claimed to offer "maximum on-road instruction" which reminded me of an ex-police instructor who claimed never to cover less than 200 miles in a day when out with his trainees.

So how far is too far?

There's a simple answer to this. If the trainee is getting tired, then the session has gone too far.

Fatigue is dangerous. When we're tired we make mistakes. Think back to your car lessons and remember how knackered you were after a two-hour session behind the wheel. Or remember how exhausting CBT and each day's subsequent training was. As concentration slips, learning deteriorates and far worse, the risk of a riding error is magnified manyfold.

An experienced WORKING rider (such as a police rider, an instructor or a courier) may well be able to ride all day, but I worry when I hear of trainees doing eight-hour days and 200 mile rides. If the rider averages a reasonable 40 mph, that's 5 hours riding time. 200 miles would have been a fair distance to ride in a day when I was despatching. These kind of distances will push typical commuting or recreational riders to (and possibly beyond) the limit.

And we still have to fit in the theory training, any off-road exercises and some breaks. Given the need for rest stops, I really wondered what the 200-miles-a-day instructor was actually managing to deliver in his eight hour day. It's a lot more informative to ride short stretches for ten or fifteen minutes with interim debriefs whilst everything is still fresh in the trainee's head, than hack fifty miles up the road between cafes. Well-designed theory sessions, as well as short off-road practice sessions, give the trainees a physical rest and a mental change of gear.

It's also often overlooked by training schools that whilst the instructor is likely to be close to home, the trainee may well have had an early start and a long ride to get to the school. Even starting from an inn just ten minutes from the circuit, I had to set off at 7am for a race school to arrive in time to complete the formalities. By 1pm - six hours later - I'd spent two hours on track and another two hours in briefings and debriefings, and I was shattered. That's why my own Survival Skills advanced rider training courses are pegged at five hours; beyond that fatigue sets in and learning drops off. And trainees have to get home again! I had 170 miles to ride back after that session. I left at 2pm and missed the afternoon session completely.

The perfect balance will vary from rider to rider since different trainees respond to different approaches. Too much talk is a turn-off for some, who want to get on the bike and ride, but others actually want to talk - they may want to discuss particular issues at length or be willing and able to learn from in-depth question and answer sessions. It's up to the instructor to vary the lesson to suit each client, and not to make a teacher-centric decision about how the course should proceed.

The least charitable view would be that trainers running high mileage courses are actually padding out the lack of theory by simply keeping the trainee sitting on the bike all day! After all, spending a few ££s on another five litres of unleaded is much easier than actually writing a decent syllabus and putting together a lesson plan for the day. But mostly I get the feeling it's simply lack of imagination and a case of "that's the way it's always been done" and yet another hangover from police training.

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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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. 

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