On Monday night I set off from work to attend my first ever advanced riding course. I have never embarked any any type of training what so ever. Apart from doing my basic handling certificate 12 years ago, the only training I have ever had is to read a few chapters of a couple of books, watch, listen and take advice from other riders. And who is to say that even that advice is correct.
I was apprehensive from the outset. I am well aware that I am an average rider, and I was sure my technique and skills are below par. What became obvious to me during the entire training is how little I really know. Just because you are passionate about some thing does not mean you are good at it. Passion alone will only take you so far...
I went with a completely open mind, and was eager to learn and soak up what ever I could. Anything that I all ready knew, or considered gospel, I decided I would put on the back burner. I would take a completely fresh approach,and see how it would end up. Someone once said to me "a wise man who thinks he is wise is in fact a fool"
I left work early and after fighting the dodgems that is Auckland peak hour traffic I arrived in Orewa. Meeting Tricia
for the first time we set about completing the formalities. She commented that as I had entered the car park my left foot was dangling.....off to a good start!
Once fitted with the radio we set off for a 20 minute ride through Orewa, up into Waiwera and back to Orewa, stopping in a car park. It was here that we began to work through some riding techniques and obvious mistakes I was making.
Position on the Road. One of the few things I was doing right was where I was positioning myself on the road in relation to the vehicle in front. Riding just to the left of the cars right wheel ensured that the driver could see me, but more importantly I can see the driver and what they are doing. You will also be able to tell if they are on the phone, doing make up, or even if they are wearing a seat belt. As the saying goes, if they are not worried about their safety they certainly are not worried about yours. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, eg; an oncoming truck with the vortex of wind that it is pushing will greatly affect you as it goes pass. Moving to the left takes you away from this, but once pass you move into the correct position. Being aware also on wide road's that you are not leaving to much space to your left that a car or bus 'undertakes you" Controlling your presence on the road, you are after all entitled to be there just as are the buses and other vehicles.
Position of my feet was the first obvious error. Riding with my feet on the foot pegs but on the ball of the foot as opposed to the heel.. This created a delay in the time for me to access my back brake and also my gear peg. Very much a racing stance, but not practical or safe for the road. On the road you can never be sure when you need to brake and change gear etc, on a track this is not an issue as you are aware of up and coming corners and braking points. It did feel very weird the first time I adjusted this, but I could feel almost immediately how quicker it was to access my rear brake and gear lever.
Braking. This was perhaps my biggest revelation during the whole three hours. For some reason years ago when I got back into biking a friend of mine who is a very good rider told me to never use the back brake, "you'll just end up locking up the back wheel". So for as long as I can remember I have never used it.
Using the new technique of applying the front brake and then some of the back brake steadies the bike immensely and settles the bike down, and gone are the head jerk forward and back reactions which are classic signs of to much pressure on the front brake and forks. By applying some back brake momentarily after the front forces the back of the bike down and increases the amount of contact the rear tyre is having on the road. Now some you of you may laugh at this and my ignorance on such issues. But I must emphasize no one has ever told me how to brake correctly.
The first time we left the car park and I tried this new technique I stopped two metres short of the entrance way. It was then that I realised how my stopping power had suddenly increased by at least 30%. In fact the next few times I found my self, either slowing down or stopping way before my intended stopping point. This came as a huge revelation to me. How some thing so simple can completely change the way I ride my bike, and the added safety factor that was now built in.
Slow Speed Manoeuvring. Did a U turn once to pass my basic handling certificate, and to be honest always just winged it since then. Now I was suddenly being asked to do one on the 210kg sprint, and I wasn't confident. Yes I now about looking where you are supposed to go, but controlling the bike plays a huge part in this. Using a bit of throttle and the rear brake to control speed gives you an enormous amount of control and feel of the bike. It took me at least three times to get it right the first time and what a difference. This same technique when riding in slow traffic or coming to a set of lights, means you can control the bike to the point that you are almost travelling at less than walking speed, but travelling you still are. This is one area I will work at a lot, as it is not easy to master, yet at the same time not difficult to do. Once you start doing it you feel far more empowered and in control of the bike at extremely slow speeds. Before I would "drift " up to stop signs and traffic lights using only the front brake.
Feet position when stopped. Another simple exercise that I was not doing. When stopped at lights I would often have both feet on the ground. All that has chnageed, Now the bike is placed into neutral when at lights, and the left foot is on the ground the right foot is on the rear brake holding the bike firmly in place. Anticipating just before the lights change I swap feet, put bike into gear then swap feet again, pulling of and having to move only my left foot back up onto the peg the moment the bike is in motion. Compared to my shocking habit of often leaving the bike in gear and with both feet on the ground, then pulling a way, taking my time to get both feet back onto the pegs. One of the highest reports of bike related injuries is to the lower feet and ankles, feet getting trapped beneath the bike or caught on a car etc. The new techniques removes this danger. The fact that I would often keep the bike in gear is not only bad for the clutch, but the risk of some one rear ending you would result in you immediately lifting you hands up and off the bike, the bike shoots forward into the very intersection you are waiting to cross. That is not to say that in the event of big shove you will still get pushed, but the fact that the bike is not in gear so has no forward momentum on its own limits the distance you would travel.
Blind Spots. I have always been aware of blind spots, but not until Tricia did an exercise showing me just how big the blind spot is did I realise I was not covering this area enough, and certainly was not paying enough attention to it. While sitting on the bike Tricia marked out an are where I could not see using my mirrors. When I turned around and saw the actually size I was shocked. It could have been a good 7 x 7 metre square are behind me. I am now far more conscious of turning and looking at these areas before I merge or change lanes. A simple but very effective exercise
These were the main areas that we covered. All of them with out a doubt has impacted on how I am riding my bike and the skills required to do so safely. I will admit I was embarrassed by my ineptitude, and complete lack of understanding on some very basic yet essential skills needed to ride a bike. I mentioned to Tricia how embarrassed I was, she just laughed. She told me how she had had some riders come in who considered themselves excellent and top riders, only for them to never get out of the car park during the entire session.
style of teaching is forth right and to the point. She explains in detail why we are doing what we are doing , and how. She does not play to egos and deals with the most immediate issues that are at hand. She is not afraid to tell you what you are doing wrong, but in the same breath explains why and how best to fix it.
In the last few years I have done around 80000km;s yet the amount of mistakes and basic handling errors I was making was scary. I have taken a awful lot out of this first session and have made plans to go back and complete more until I feel that I am at a satisfactory standard. Yes, it was ego busting, as is writing this blog and admitting to every one my obvious failings. The session has certainly not made me a faster rider, but that was never my intention. It has made me a far more safer rider but most importantly has given me the tools to work on my own skills.
Now perhaps you have read this and consider yourself an excellent rider, and perhaps you are. But you can only benefit from attending a course like this, and improving your skills no matter what level you are at. For me it has been a revelation, no other word can describe it really. Even though I felt like a complet num skull, the benefits far out way this feeling.
If you want to contact Tricia
just click on her name and it will take you direct to her web site.