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Developmental Training, Learning to ride

Some tips for Direct Access!

One here from the archives! For people thinking of starting rider training in the spring, here are some top tips I put together as a trainer. They’re all based on the things that real live trainees do or don’t do that often cost them a test fail.


  • Don’t expect everything to come together at once – give yourself time, don’t get disappointed or put yourself under pressure by saying “everyone else can do it, why can’t I?”


  • Don’t be afraid of the DAS bike – the big bike is easier to ride in many ways than a 125 – it’s more stable, handles bumps better and the switchgear, brakes and gears are just generally a bit nicer.


  • The DAS bike does weigh more than a 125, so will topple if you stop off balance – try to come to a halt with the wheels in line and the bike upright, and don’t be afraid to use either foot on the floor – the safety position (right foot up on the brake) has its uses but sometimes right foot down is better (steep camber, puddle of diesel) and on a windy day both feel might be better.


  • Get into the habit of “squeezing then easing” rather than grabbing then letting go of the front brake. They are powerful but very progressive if you squeeze them. If you ease them off, the front suspension won’t suddenly rebound and catch you off-balance.


  • Get into the habit of covering the rear brake and using it for downhill bends, slow turns and smooth stops – as you get down to walking pace, ease the front off and to come to a smooth, level stop, apply a little rear brake.


  • If you are stopping in a curve (perhaps at a junction with a main road) turn the bike early then get the wheels inline for your final halt – that way the bike will be upright when you stop. If you try to come to a halt whilst still turning, it will be leaning slightly and will fall into the turn when you do stop.


  • Brake early rather than late – it’s much easier to speed up than slow down if you misjudge it. When slowing for junctions and roundabouts, aim to get all your front brake work finished 10m or so before the line – that way you’ll find you won’t be concentrating on just stopping, but will have more time to look at the junction and work out where to go next, and to make your observations in good time.


  • Get used to slipping the clutch – you won’t break it. If necessary get the cable adjusted so it’s an easy reach to the lever.


  • The DAS bikes may “only” have 50hp, but they’ll accelerate faster than most cars and respond very suddenly indeed to the throttle. When you pull away from a junction, it’s a good idea to keep the clutch slipping all the way round till you are pointed where you want to go next – that way a mistake with the throttle will only make the engine spin, it won’t send you shooting into the hedge or an oncoming car.


  • Use the gears properly. The 500s commonly used for training will do around 50mph in first gear. Get out of the car driver habit of sticking it in 2nd as soon as possible – you can drive the bike easily to 20 or 25mph in 1st way from lights or out of a junction.


  • Don’t try to get up to top gear as soon as possible either – the bike will be nice and responsive if you keep the rev counter in the middle of the rev range. Learn to listen to the engine note for guidance.


  • Don’t change gear in the middle of a junction – you or the bike might make a duff change which won’t be good, and even if you do a good one you’ll slow down just where you want to get going. Use the revs of the engine to drive the bike through and out the other side of the hazard.


  • Let the clutch out slowly on down changes or the bike will jerk suddenly – see the above tip too.


  • Change down gears in plenty of time – the twins don’t like running at low revs (you’ll feel it when the bike isn’t happy) and may stall. If it feels like it might, use the clutch, regardless of which gear you are in.


  • Use your mirrors – before you change speed (slowing or speeding up) or direction (use with shoulder checks) or when approaching a hazard (good idea to find out what’s behind you before things get complicated.


  • Don’t try to look too far behind on a shoulder check – you’ll wobble and take your eyes off the road for a long time. Time checks so they show you what you need to see and you don’t do them when something more interesting is happening ahead of you. A lifesaver is just a shoulder check timed before you turn right into a side road, left off the island after a right turn on a roundabout or when changing lane – don’t look any further than normal.


  • Don’t overdo caution at a junction. Sitting looking a dozen times at an empty road doesn’t show care, it shows lack of confidence.


  • Don’t try to ride out of a Give Way junction without looking properly. It can be difficult to do this if you try to trickle out of junctions without stopping, if necessary put your foot down to balance the bike at the give way line, look both ways from the stopped position then pull away when you can see it’s clear.


  • Don’t rush out of a junction where you are turning left into a narrow road and there is a car coming from your left – it’s often safer to wait for the car to pass and then pull out. As you get better at tight turns, this should get easier.


  • Know what a stop junction means.


  • Know how to spot a one way street and which side to turn right from.


  • Don’t forget to turn your indicators off. Cancel them before you change gear out of a junction, cancel them after you check your mirrors and cancel them again a bit further up the road – that way you should remember to cancel them!


  • Learn the speed limits. And then learn how to recognise them. Remember that urban 40s and 50s as well as rural limits that are lower than the national limits have repeater signs. Don’t forget the national limit on a dual carriageway is 70, the same as motorways.
  • The examiner wants to see 30 in a 30, and 70 in a 70, if safe. Don’t creep round at 25 or 60 thinking you’re showing him how safe you are. You’ll fail for lack of progress.


  • If you catch an articulated lorry up on a dual carriageway, don’t follow it well below the speed limit. Overtake it if safe to do so.


  • If you get caught in the middle of an overtake on a dual carriageway by car that sees your L plate and decides to speed up, finish the manoeuvre by accelerating hard – you should be able to outdrag it fairly easily. Then when safely ahead, move back to the left and slow down carefully. You should only get a minor fault for poor planning. Slowing down in the outside lane to move back will almost certainly pick up a serious fault and fail you.


  • On multilane roads, change lane in plenty of time. The longer you leave it, the more likely someone is to try to outbrake you.


  • Read up on counterweighting and countersteering!


The second edition of Survival Skills “Getting Started” e-book on CDROM is about to be published in March 2010. Everything you need to know to pass your UK motorcycle test. Order now from the Survival Skills shop!


About Kevin Williams / Survival Skills

Motorcycle trainer, motorcycle author, motorcycle safety consultant, motorcycle forum moderator, former courier and ever a recreational rider. Is there a common theme here?


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