Today, as we enter a new year, I’m starting a major new series of posts and relaunching the WordPress blog at the same time. I’m going to be looking at riding from the perspective of the beginning or novice rider.
I spent over a decade working as a basic trainer and was one of the very first qualified DAS instructors in the country. In that time, as well as doing CBTs and 125 tests, I also put somewhere around 1200 riders through their bike test on the bigger DAS machines.
Over the years, I put a bunch of tips together to help new riders decide how to get trained, what to look out for on CBT, and how to adapt to the DAS bike from the smaller 125s. These tips are head-up alerts (and solutions) to the kind of problems you may encounter during training, or the mistakes that happen on test and pick up faults and possibly cost you a test pass.
Although there have been a few changes to the test regime, including an extra ‘middleweight’ license tier and the off-road module rather than the old on-road emergency stop and U-turn, these tips are as valid today as they were. I’ve also added some extra tips about how to decide on your training course and what to look out for on CBT, before you get to your training for the motorcycle test itself.
And so, to make it easier for you to absorb, the page has been broken up into three sections – before your course, on CBT, and during the ‘big bike’ DAS training. Here’s the first:
BEFORE YOUR COURSE
- If you possibly can – ie, if you are the right age and you can afford the training – avoid going down the ‘buying and riding a 125 to pick up experience’ route. There are two reasons.
- Firstly, CBT is a bare-bones course. It’ll teach you just enough about riding to get on your 125, ride it away from the school and get home without killing yourself but… the next six months spent learning on a 125 is the time you are at the highest risk of having a crash. L-plate riders are a high-risk group. If you have no choice – ie, if you are at the age where you cannot train on a bigger bike but have to ride a 125 – at least do some extra training. Just a day spent with an instructor, even booking onto a BikeSafe course, will give you a much better insight into the hazards of using the road and give you a better chance of getting through your first six months unscathed. Some riders get put off bikes for good whilst trying to learn on the job.
- Secondly, it won’t help a great deal when you transition to the bigger DAS machine. I put around 3000 candidates in for the test over the years and almost without exception, the most difficult to teach were the trainees who had ‘taught themselves’ on a 125. In the efforts to stay in one piece, much of what’s taught on CBT is promptly forgotten. And then ‘picking up experience’ usually means learning lots of bad habits. It’s MUCH easier to teach a complete novice to do the right things, than it is to correct someone who’s picked up bad habits like ignoring mirrors, using the rear brake too much, or cutting corners on roundabouts.
- Don’t pick a CBT or any other course on the cheapest price. Everyone wants to save a bob or two, but this is the rest of your biking life you’re talking about. Whilst more expensive doesn’t automatically mean better, a school that offers cheaper courses than anyone else in the area is going to have to make those savings somewhere. Take a look at what’s on offer. Have a look at the bikes and the kit they loan out – is it recent, is it in good condition? Whilst older machines aren’t necessarily a bad thing and scrapes and dents are a fact of life for training bikes, do they look well-maintained? Find out what the retest policy is – do they offer free re-training? If you’re moving onto a DAS course, find out how much training is carried out on a 125 and how much time you’ll spend on the bigger machine – you should be on the bigger machine as soon as possible and not at the last moment a couple of hours before the test. If you are going to do more than just CBT on the 125, how many trainees are there going to be on the 125s at the same time? The legal limit is 2:1 on the DAS bikes, so if they offer you 4:1 on a 125, the school is saving money and you won’t get as much time under instruction. Will you keep the same instructor all the way through?
- Don’t cut corners on the length of course. Back in my basic training days, I always liked to get a trainee well beyond test standard. Few riders manage to avoid test day nerves and that usually means a few extra mistakes. If your riding is only borderline when you take the test, then the extra errors often add up to a fail. I’d say that starting with CBT, another four days (making five in all) isn’t too much to take a complete beginner from non-rider to ‘competent test standard’ where you should be capable of a ‘clean’ ride on test. If you’re only 50/50 to pass after a short course, factor in the cost of more time off work for a retest versus the initial expense of a longer course… you MAY get lucky… or you may not. If you’ve already some riding experience, then shorter courses may be appropriate.
- Full day, intensive course? Half-day lessons? Or two hours at a time? Ultimately, the decision is yours on this one, but my preference was always for the intensive course rather than lessons spread over several weeks. Yes, the long days are knackering – you certainly won’t be out partying every night – but for however long the course lasts, you eat, drink and sleep motorbikes. Shorter half-day sessions? Maybe but check the cost. Two-hour lessons? I’ve run a few courses like that for shift-workers, and found the trainees usually arrived tired from a long day at work or needed to go into work later. Another issue is that if you take too long a break between sessions, you’ll forget what was covered in the previous lesson – I found we wasting time going over the same stuff more than once. You also waste time kitting up, warming up generally, and getting to the training area on short lessons.
- Buy your own kit or use the schools? Personally, I’d prefer to wear my own helmet and gloves, rather than use kit that’s a couple of years old and been worn by dozens of trainees. For the rest you don’t need to break the bank. Check with the school about what’s acceptable – not everyone’s definition of ‘stout clothing’ is the same. But do make sure that whatever you wear fits and is broken-in. Years ago, I had a pair of friends turn up in brand-new and skin-tight leather suits. They very quickly discovered that they couldn’t sit down in them. We had to make a detour via the bike shop to get them some inexpensive fabric clothing they could wear sitting down.
All work on this blog is carried out in my own time. I don’t have sponsors, the content is not hidden behind a paywall – access is entirely free, and I don’t skim off revenue from advertising. Although I don’t expect donations, if you feel the content has been useful to you, why not buy me a coffee? It’s much appreciated and keeps me awake and writing! Thank you.
Watch out for the next section – what to look out for on CBT!
Who am I? I’m Kevin Williams, a full-time BTEC qualified post-test instructor with experience at advanced and basic levels who is also an MSc in science and a qualified e-tutor with an NVQ in Distance Learning Techniques.
It often a big surprise just how much diagnosis and correction of riding issues it’s possible to do online. A lot of it is down to my experience – if there’s a riding problem, I’ve almost certainly seen it AND know how to fix it. If you’ve got a riding problem drop me a line direct for free advice. I can help with all aspects of riding from novice to experienced.