Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Advanced Riding..Part 1

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. 

Tricia's 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.


  1. You are not the first one to not use the rear brake, I have had lots of people tell me they never use the rear brake :-0 so what the hell is it for?? Of course you have to be careful not to lock the wheel specially when you enter a turn but that also applies when you going in a straight line, you never want to lock the wheels. Having said that, I always use the rear brake and sometimes I ONLY use the rear when I'm slowly approaching a traffic light.
    "Trail braking" is very important and when you master it you will be a much better rider. It takes practice to be able to judge just the correct amount of rear brake when entering a turn which is the most dangerous. You have to analyze the road too, lots of things will affect the adhesion of the tire to the road.
    My new Tenere will automatically apply rear when I apply the front brake but obviously it has ABS so there's not much problem of blocking it ;-)
    Everyone should read this:
    Safe riding to all :-)

  2. Roger:
    Your post is an absolute gem on so many levels. Sincere congratulations on putting it together so superbly.

    I know what you mean when you talk about ego/embarrassment but I only have the greatest admiration for you in taking this step. I think it takes a lot of courage and humility too to do what you've done and to bare your soul about it. I'd certainly be proud to ride with you.

    I also want to thank you personally. After we talked about it on the phone, I did a 300km ride yesterday morning, and did a very thorough check of my riding habits. Found a few things too so very grateful for that!

  3. George; Thanks for your coment. "Trail braking" was the term I was looking for, it was certainly a revelation. I iwsh I had know about it earlier.

  4. Geoff, Thanks for your comments. It has indeed been a revelation to me, The post is a long one so I hope people read it, although it is good to write it, as it gives me a reference to go back to and refresh myself. I am very much looking forward to future sessions.

    The fact that you got some thing out of it, has encouraged me. Thanks mate.

  5. Great post Roger. We should all brush up on our skills.

    I have plans to take some extra training this year as it has been about 9 years since I took my Team Oregon class.

    It shouldn't make you feel like a num skull, you should be proud that you have recognized we all are continuously learning and need to continue to learn thoughout our lives. It is what helps keep us alive.

    Ride to arrive.........

  6. Trobairitz; I think you have touched on a valued point that I hopes get ascross to any rider....continual training, you can not go wrong.

  7. Bravo, Roger. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I have certainly learned a lot (especially the blind spot topic). Some things I knew, but that doesn't mean I do them right. That was a nice refresher. I will take a rider's course this year with my hubby, for him to hopefully get into riding, for me to refresh my skills.
    It is awesome you did this!

  8. Great post, Roger! You have compiled the information and presented it very well. You have to stop worrying about what others think...which you did since you actually went through with the class. Feeling dumb vs learning new skills to keep you safe... No brainer.

    However...I will have to disagree on the stance while stopped. I do understand the principle and will agree with the use about 10% of the time. This is actually a discussion that I brought up on a forum after Chris was rear-ended on his bike in 2009. It was a mix on opinions, and this was also from many advanced instructors.

    When you are in neutral you remove any possibility for a quick escape if you see danger coming at you from any angle (rear or side especially). Any escape would have a built in time of swapping feet and putting into gear.

    And given the hills here, I would not feel confident of having only one foot down on a regular basis. But I do believe in bringing feet up immediately to pegs upon movement. Leaving them down just screws with your center of gravity and your control of the bike. Hence, no foot dragging!

    But I do believe in rear break usage when attempting to start from a stop on an uphill slope. Not many people can finesse the front brake and throttle well enough.

    Great fodder for discussions. Maybe that is something we can bring Geoff into when he starts working on his certifications! :)


  9. Sonja, Thanks for the encourageing words. It certainly took me ages to write it, good luck to hubby on his riding course.

  10. Lori, Thanks. There seems to be a bit of disagreement with the stopping in neautral theory. I had a few negative comments on a american web site. I can see both schools of thought on this.

    I had a few discussions with Geoff all ready, so I will be interested on his views on this when he starts his course also. This has turned into a most fascinating topic. But well worth and learning all the way...

  11. Yes, as you have discovered, many differing opinions. :) I also see both sides and might have a different opinion if my first encounter with stopping in gear was a broken clutch cable, causing the bike to shoot into traffic. But it wasn't.

    I was already scheduled to take my Advanced Rider Course when C was rear ended. I had to take the course exactly 2 weeks after the accident. It doesn't sound like much, but when you learn that I was sitting on my bike next to him at the stop light and the vehicle hit him and miraculously missed me...

    We were not the first at the light. We were highly visible at noon. The impact was so hard C was pushed into the car in front of us and then the guy hit him again. All the while sliding past my bike inches away and C and I had helmet communications so I got to listen to the entire thing. But if we hadn't been there, we are pretty certain there for have been an accident anyways.

    In class, the instructors dismissed accidents coming from your "6" as not really noteworthy and not to worry too much about them. Accidents from the rear make up a small percentage of all accidents. That set me off a little and we had a long discussion in class.

    See?? And another one here!?! LOL.


  12. I also disagree with keeping the bike in neutral when stopped at a light. This essentially takes control out from your hands and puts it into wishes and hopes that drivers coming up from behind will see you and stop in time. A google search for "Anita Zaffke" will be illuminating.

    This discussion also means I get to trot out my very favorite animated gif: CLICK HERE.

  13. Lori and Stacy, It seems some what a point of contention among many people. I will look in to it further with the instrcutor and see what she thinks about your argyments. It seems to me an over whelming group of motorbikers prefere to have the bike in gear.

  14. I have to agree with Lori (BeemerGirl) and Stacy, I am always in gear until a few cars have stopped behind me, then if the damn traffic light takes forever to change I might go into neutral just to relax the hand ;-)
    Another thing I do is TO NEVER STOP in the middle of the lane behind another car. I keep the front wheel pointing to either the left or the right of the car in front of me, the last thing I want is to be squashed between two cars or worse, a truck.
    If a car comes speeding down the lane I want to either take off fast (if I hear him coming and I'M IN GEAR) or at least to be shot forward but next to the car in front :-)
    Another thing I do while stopped is keep my right foot on the brake (or the hand break) so my flashing brake lights are flashing.
    If you notice on Stacy's animated GIF, the poor guy had his brake lights ON but the MORON still didn't see him.
    If he had been looking in the mirror for approaching traffic, maybe, just maybe he could have taken off and at least alleviate the impact.

  15. George; Good points you have raised there. The instructor did say to keep your foot on the back brake, but not about pointing the front wheel. It seems some peopple are quite against the whole back brake thing. This entire exercise has been most fascinating.

  16. Like George, I am always on the brake at a stop. I have flashing brake lights that do not stop flashing while the brake is engaged. (They do stop when I don't have the brake engage). Screw the law, let them ticket me for being safe. (Only emergency vehicles are allowed to have constantly flashing brake lights.) It is completely legal for the to flash something like four seconds, then they are supposed to go solid. I don't care. Mine flash for the duration. I always pay attention to what is coming up behind me. If I feel uncomfortable then I will release the brake and re-engage to "wake them up". Also like George, I leave a reasonable sized gap in front of me and the car I am behind in case I need to maneuver around them. C taught me to keep an exit strategy in mind.

    Stacy, is that gif real?? OMG!!

  17. I'm with you, I added LED lights to the back of my bike wired to the brakes that also flash all the time as long as I'm holding the brakes, I know it's illegal but (Screw the law, let them ticket me for being safe) ;-)
    No ticket until now :-)

  18. Lori + George; I am not sure what the law is over here, but it is a good idea doing what you have done. I doubt very much you would get a ticket for something like that any way.

  19. I highly recommend my flashing LED's (Hyperlites, 16). I've noticed that 95% of time people stop farther back. Love 'em!

    "I doubt very much you would get a ticket for something like that any way." That is what I was banking on! :) I didn't think they would mind too much.

  20. Awesome and humbling at the same time, eh! I learned so much in my advanced class, yet felt like an idiot the whole time I was there. Survived and improved a lot. Still, I'm not satisfied with my skill level and want to be better. I suppose that means more classes, but I don't want to ponder that now. :)

    I didn't use the rear brake much when I first started riding either. It felt awkward to me, but eventually I got past it.

    Like some of the others here I was taught to keep it in first gear at stops. I feel too vulnerable in neutral. Interesting the different viewpoints.

    Looking forward to hearing more!

  21. Bluekat; You have summed it up pretty well. I hope my blog was of some help and gace u a bit of a refesher. Thanks.

  22. Hello Rogey, this is a great post, people should be reminded on safety issues more often. It's great to know that you guys have such advanced riding/driving schools over there. Here we have none, except the basic ones required for getting the licence. Since I'm looking forward to move into NZ, attending an advanced riding course will be at the top of my list. Thanks for this post. And...love your bike, love Triumphs and love triple cylinder engines. Best regards!

  23. Plenty of different view points about being stopped at lights and whether to stay in gear or in neutral.
    If you were to stay in gear, watching constantly in the rear view mirror in case someone wasn't slowing down behind you, would you have a) the time and b) the presence of mind to pull away out of the "danger zone"? Assuming that you have somewhere to go, that is.
    I haven't ever heard of anyone successfully managing to avoid a rear end shunt in this way. When stopped at lights, I always leave enough room in front as a safety bubble.
    I am wondering if anyone who has been in this scenario can share their view point.
    I am always keen to learn about other view points, and experiences, because at the end of the day, it is still education, and also healthy debate.

  24. Very comprehensive post, will have to spend some time reading it. Good luck in your quest to be come an advanced rider. I have just connected up with Geoff James and he had some links off Youtube.
    I have also done a link page on my blog for both yourself and Geoff.

  25. Motocraze! You are now my best friend after your comment about my bike. Thanks for commenting, lots of mad keen bikers over here you will make lots of friends. Rider training is there if youwant it sadly I dont think as many people as should take it up.

    BTW loved the pics of the new MV3 triple, amn that is a very nice looking bike. Also the 675 daytonaR looks pretty awesome.

  26. Frazer: AFter much though and discussion I have to agree with you, the points you raised were the very ones running around in my mind. Where will you escape to? I wonder what is taught at other places around the world?

  27. AMT, Thank you Nigel, I hope I have covered the topocs successfully and nt to much waffle! Geoff is a true character and a great kiwi, strange he has a pommie accent though?

    Looking forward to reading and watching some of your stuff.

  28. Thanks Roger,

    I must remember the time difference when chatting on line, it was 1am this morning when I finished a chat with Geoff...

  29. Hello Roger

    Your comments about the use of the back brake, very interesting. How did you manage if your speed was too high in the bends. I use my back brake.

  30. Roger , just sent you a friend request on Facebook,

    aka advancedbiker on Youtube

  31. Nigel: Havernt got into cornering speeds and braking yet. I know from the traing that using the back brake helped immensley with slow speed manouvering. And stopping in general. At present I use mainly the front brake on cornering, normally well before the corner. No doubt I will learn some thing new next time.

  32. Roger

    Tracked you down at last!

    Your comment on braking made me laugh... a colleague (Harley rider) admitted quite openly that he has never used the front brake!

    Here is a question for the gathered experts - when performing an emergency braking manouver do you declutch?

    Best wishes, N

  33. Nikos, Hello....now never using the front brake is scary! I have no idea on the answer to your question, Perhaps Geoff might pop in and be able to answer that for us.

  34. Nikos and Roger:
    I've seen advanced courses which recommend both. I was taught to pull the declutch in case I accidentally rolled the throttle whilst braking.

    However, the effect of either is small in comparison to making staged braking second nature - this is an absolute life-saver. If you need more of an explanation, I'll do so. something to practice, practice and even more practice!

  35. Thanks Geoff, I will need more explaining , so when u get more time.

  36. I asked this question as I have just been reading Ken Condon's "Riding the Zone" book where no mention whatsover is made as to what to with the clutch.At HOPP Rider training last October, I was told to declutch and block change down so as to enable rapid escape form the scene. This is probaly good practice on the race track(or M6 motorway) to avoid being rear ended!

  37. PS

    I have just played the DVD that is included in Ken Condon's book , and he most obviously pulls the clutch in at the start of the emergency braking sequence demo, thus decoupling the engine inertia from the system (thought that sounded as tho' I know what I#m talking about...).

  38. Raftnn, no problemo, man. Now, am I allowed to tell to someone else that his/her bike is cool?
    Haha, I really hope Sprint is not jealous! :D
    And thanx! :)

  39. Nikos; I think you are wright...and you do do sound like you knwo what you are talking about!

  40. Motocraze: The sprint will only get jealous if I park another bike next to it! When do you plan to visit NZ, or are you thinking of movinhg here.

  41. Following on from the interesting discussion on stopping in traffic, I did a search on the 'net and there is even debate among experts! I then contacted a friend in the UK who is an Observer (Instructor) for the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists and here's what he had to say about Roger's comments and traffic riding in general:

    Just read that Blog....well composed and put forward. It's quite funny in many ways as to how someones track day training gets wrongly applied to road riding techniques, The front brake only use and the balls of the feet on the pegs to allow knee down position., Made me chuckle as I come across this regularly. Trouble is track/road riding are different animals hence as I tell a lot of riders learning from a mate is not always a good idea.

    Right the stopping technique.......At traffic lights. Approaching the lights on red reduce speed with both brakes and making rear obs so as not to become meat in a sandwich if the following driver is reading the morning paper. The final 15mph is lost by applying the rear brake only this has the effect of not unbalancing the bike by fork dipping and also is an excellent trainer for stopping on loose gravel at other times (reduces the panic grab of the front lever that is the cause of most gravel spills). With good observations it will become apparent if the other direction lights are on red or green (reflection) so if red there is an excellent chance yours are going to change to green very quickly so stay on the clutch. If not visible snick into the gear into neutral at the last moment before stop which will be done on the rear brake. The stopping position will be such that a quick exit is possible if rear observations show danger coming up behind (enough room to pass the front vehicle in case a collision is about to happen). The right foot will then cover the rear brake (also shows rear brake light)(or left if you are on a Tiger Cub) until a light change where the "Hendon shuffle" takes place, right foot down left foot engage gear left foot down right foot back on the brake. With an advanced (further up the line) rider in front of me I would expect him/her to have the ability to read the light change sequence and if the light change is imminent then be able to approach in such a manner that by speed reduction and balance the traffic moves off without the bike having to stop at all (safest manner, no feet down and still perfectly balanced).
    So the simple answer:
    1) Reduce speed with both brakes.
    2) Reduce 15mph to stop on rear brake only.
    3) Either snick into neutral at last second or stop on rear brake "hendon shuffle" bike into neutral and foot back on rear brake.

    The advanced test training used to very rigid about which foot is used for what but over the last 2-3 years the emphasis is moved to what is the safest technique for the individual rider. If you had the Blackbird fully laden with camping gear, Jennie on the back, was in a traffic stop situation up a very steep hill going up then which foot does what soon sorts itself out!

  42. An excellent comment Geoff, exactly as I was taught. The 'Hendon" move was also mentioned during the training but I did not mention that in the blog. I think to the last paragraph sums it up nicely, common sense prevails in any situation.