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How to improve your motorcycle riding skills

by finding the training that’s right for you

October 21 2019
By Kevin Williams / Survival Skills Rider Training

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Advanced training checklist graphic

Done your UK basic training?

Passed your motorcycle test?

Thinking of improving your riding?

Here’s a crazy idea: take some more training!

Advanced training has been around for decades and is now more popular than ever.

However, finding the right course for you isn’t always as easy as it sounds but some research could be very useful to help you find the kind of training that works for you.

I’ve started the process for you by listing some of the obvious – and not so obvious – places to take training.

What kind of training are you looking for?

Here in the UK we all have to start out by passing the DVSA’s motorcycle test. The great thing about the bike test is that it gets everyone to a reasonable standard of riding. I spent over a decade as a basic trainer, and I know how much effort basic trainers put into producing riders who are surprisingly versatile and able to cope with most riding environments. Those skills will last forever.

But don’t count your blessings just yet.

The DVSA test – and the training that leads to it – isn’t perfect, and whilst it pitches the training at a level that means that new riders have 90% of the skills needed to cope with 90% of the riding they’ll do, there’s always room for improvement, to fill in the gaps and generally give your riding a boost. If there’s one thing I can guarantee, the less you stress about riding, the more you will enjoy it.

Why might I want more training?

If you already know what you are looking for, then you can scroll on down a couple of paragraphs. But since you’re reading this article I’ll just assume you’re just starting to think about how to continue your personal development as a rider.

To avoid wasting your time and money, it’s important that you have a think about your needs and what areas of riding you want to master. To help you decide, here’s a list of the reasons a rider might be looking for some post-test training:

personal satisfaction
insurance discounts
to gain new skills
to gain confidence after passing the basic test
to gain confidence with a new machine
to gain confidence after a long lay-off
to regain after a near-miss or crash
to address a specific area of weakness
to have an objective riding assessment
to gain experience of a different approach to post-test riding
a refresher or ‘sanity check’

What can training do for you?

IF you pick the kind of course which addresses YOUR needs – and we’ll see more about that in a moment – here are the sort of areas that further training can help with your riding.

Basic training doesn’t cover the knowledge or skills needed to negotiate corners sufficiently well and newly qualified riders can struggle on twisty rural roads. If there’s one technique often overlooked by basic training it’s steering so that’s something most advanced courses will seek to improve. But if you’ve trained in a rural environment, you might find commuting something of a struggle as you’re unlikely to have encountered heavy traffic. Most trainers should offer help in how to approach busy urban environments, and specifically, filtering. Or maybe you now want to ride on motorways, an area that cannot be covered on basic training. Now the L-plates are off, it’s a good time to learn the tricks and tips to deal with the high speed traffic and issues that arise on our fastest roads.

But what else might be on offer? Basic training will have got the vast majority of riders up to a decent standard of machine control but there is always room for improvement, and most training courses will at some point focus on technical skills – how we get the motorcycle to change speed and direction by accelerating, steering and braking. And we also need a healthy dose of hazard awareness, risk assessment and risk management skills to ensure we make those changes in the right places.

What should I ask when looking for training?

The most important person on a training course is YOU, not the trainer. You’re the customer. When choosing a training provider, start by deciding what YOU want from the course. There’s a good chance that a decent trainer will see areas that can be improved that you weren’t aware of, but it all starts from deciding YOUR needs. When you know what you want, it’s easier to make a clear-sighted decision as to which training provider is likely to do that best job.

However, you do need to look carefully at the kind of training on offer, and the trainer offering it. Perhaps you can find a trainer with a qualification such as my own BTEC or an advanced instructor’s diploma from RoSPA. A police riding qualification means you can expect a high standard of riding from the holder, but it doesn’t imply teaching experience or even teaching ability. Although we all have to start somewhere, prior experience as a basic trainer at least gives a new advanced instructor an understanding of how to deliver training effectively.

How much experience does a trainer have? Ten years full-time will be considerably more than ten years at weekends. Is there evidence that the content is well-researched? ‘Roadcraft’ is just one of many sources of information on advanced riding and post-test training, and awareness of books like Keith Code’s ‘Twist of the Wrist’ indicates the trainer has spent at least a little time trying to gain a wide perspective.

Does the training have a structure? Training that is ad-hoc – “we’ll just go out for a ride and I’ll giving you some tips” may sound ‘user-friendly’ but it’s unlikely to provide real help.

Have a talk with the trainer, perhaps by email because we’re often out on the bikes. Look to see if the trainer asks YOU intelligent questions – your riding history, where you ride now, the sort of riding you want to do in the future, what strengths and weaknesses you think you have. The more the trainer wants to know about YOU – as opposed to telling you about their course – the more likely the training will be truly client-centred.

How do I pick a suitable training course?

Over the years the range of post-test training courses has increased, so you have plenty to choose from. Take your time and have a good look at what’s on offer. To help you, I have already done a little detective work. One thing you’ll find is that most advanced training providers concentrate on a particular niche, so first and foremost remember that what YOU are looking for is a trainer who can meet YOUR needs. Whatever the claims of each provider, as no two riders are the same, that means that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to training may NOT be what you want; it’s up to you to decide which trainer and which course provides the best service for YOU. The training needs to be pitched at YOUR level, it needs to be relevant to YOUR needs and ideally it should be entertaining at the same time – you’re far more likely to learn if it’s fun. It’s a combination of all three of these characteristics that is most likely to guarantee you’ll improvement in the way you desire.

There’s a surprising amount of choice

So let’s have a look at what’s on offer:

ERS
IAM
RoSPA
Diamond
Survival Skills
BikeSafe
Off-road training
Track-based training
Online training
Do-it-yourself

ENHANCED RIDER SCHEME

The Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) is the DVSA’s official post-test training course and it can only be delivered by DVSA-approved advanced instructors. At the end of the course you’d be awarded the Enhanced Rider Certificate (ERC) which is accepted by many insurers in exchange for a discount. The trainers delivering the ERS are often CBT / DAS trainers working for a basic training school. Some are independent advanced trainers. But they must all be DVSA enhanced rider scheme trainers (formerly known as the Register of Post-test Motorcycle Trainers (RPMT)). The DVSA themselves previously said that the ERS was below IAM test standard and was intended to be more of a check-up after passing the bike test. In line with the re-branding of the trainers register, the course too has been overhauled. It is now module-based, and is claimed to offer a more flexibility and a ‘client-centred’ approach in which you have input into which modules you’ll be taught. You can go as far as to bring in modules such as track-based and off-road training. However, the core of the on-road training is still based on a DVSA-mandated syllabus and there appears to be some overlap with current basic training. Historically, take-up of the ERS through basic schools has been poor, which means that ERS-qualified instructors may not have much experience running these courses, although they will usually have plenty of basic training experience. The course is likely to be useful to a returning rider or someone who trained years ago, but a competent rider may find it less of a challenge; the IAM, RoSPA and training courses like those offered by Survival Skills are all likely to be to a higher standard.

IAM

It’s hard to look for advanced training in the UK without encountering the IAM. They are a nationwide organisation with numerous groups all over the country – you’re unlikely to be far from one. The IAM use a mentoring approach, where you’ll be assigned an ‘observer’ who will look to see how you ride, then train you in the principles of advanced riding as found in ‘Motorcycle Roadcraft’, the police manual. The IAM approach is geared to passing the IAM test, as laid out in their own book, “Pass your advanced motorcycle test”. As you approach test standard, you’ll be ‘cross-checked’ by more experienced observers to ensure you’re ready for the test which is usually carried out by an ex-police rider. A recent innovation from the IAM are tests at higher standard – the ‘Masters’ programme. The observed rides are spread over a number of sessions, and this ‘drip-fed’ approach means there should never be too much information to take in at any one moment. The observers who deliver training have themselves undergone IAM training. Whilst that ensures a reasonably consistent approach to riding across groups (something the IAM have worked hard to improve), it does mean trainees tend to fitted to the IAM mould rather than offered truly individualised client-centred training. The observers are all part-timers and volunteers, and whilst this system can deliver the test-centred training effectively, IAM training is at its weakest in dealing with riders with specific riding issues. Considering it’s a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation, there is a moderately hefty sign-up charge of £149 (at the time of writing) for the standard test, and depending on your local group policy, you may be expected to contribute to the observer’s fuel expenses. Added up over a number of sessions, the total can climb close to the cost of a paid-for training session. The Masters course (at the time of writing) costs £299, plus five-yearly retests at £149, and is said to represent the highest possible standard for a civilian rider.

RoSPA

The honour of highest standard is also claimed by RoSPA. They state that their version of the “advanced test is regarded as the most comprehensive and challenging available to the public”. The RoSPA test grades riders as Bronze, Silver or Gold, with the gold award “the highest civilian riding standard available”. It’s often claimed that a Gold pass is approaching the level of a Police rider. RoSPA has around 60 local groups who can provide voluntary free advice and advanced training for rider (and driver) in preparation for your test, although some groups cater only for drivers, others for riders and some for both, so you’ll need to check what your local group offers. At the time of writing, there is a small joining fee to cover costs which varies from group to group, but may be as little as £20. Training is free and performed by volunteer tutors who have all passed the RoSPA advanced test themselves at a high grade, and have also been trained and assessed in their ability to provide training for the advanced test. The test itself lasts around 60 minutes, and is taken with a RoSPA Examiner, all of whom are serving or retired Police Officers, and to maintain your test pass, you must re-take the test every three years. The test costs (at time of writing) £68 for riders 25 years and younger, and £73 for those 26 years and over. The three yearly retest fee is included in annual yearly subscription costs.

DIAMOND

A little-known option is the Diamond riding test. Run by a commercial organisation, Diamond training, it appears to have been spun-off from the DIAdiamond test which was run by the Driving Instructors Association. Diamond training states it is the UK’s only government-accredited programme. Whilst much of its work seems to be aimed at fleet and drivers, and is more concerned with testing rather than training, there are two levels of motorcycle test available. If you need it, you can be put in touch with a trainer in your area. All Diamond trainer and examiners are registered with the DVSA’s RPMT scheme. When you book the Diamond test, you’ll be assigned an examiner local to you. Starting from a mutually convenient meeting place, the Diamond advanced test lasts for an hour, covers a variety of roads including motorway (if possible) and rural areas, and you may be asked to carry out an emergency stop, a figure of 8 and a slow riding exercise. If you avoid “serious or dangerous faults and you do not exceed six rider faults”, then you pass. The higher level Diamond elite test requires a level of riding similar to an IAM Masters or a RoSPA Gold pass. The test itself lasts for 90 minutes and as well as the emergency stop, figure of 8 and slow riding, you’ll be asked to carry out a commentary ride for approximately 15-20 minutes. As well as zero serious or dangerous faults, the elite test requires no more than two rider faults in the same category. The advanced test costs £88 and the Diamond Elite test is £150. And finally, the Diamond certification is valid for three years.

SURVIVAL SKILLS

I know it’s not ethical to eulogise my training here so I won’t. The reviews my trainees have posted already do that for me*, but I’m also aware that Survival Skills is not the most famous or the most well-known training school so I will just tell you a little about what I do. Before becoming a trainer, I spent sixteen years riding for a living as a courier, trying to understand why riders crash, and how to avoid the same mistakes. In my opinion, the ‘glue’ holding good riding together is a pragmatic approach to safety and a greater focus on more effective ‘decision-making’ than on ‘technical mastery’. Knowing where, why and how accidents happen, it’s easier to avoid them. It’s termed ‘insight training’ and it’s the basis for Survival Skills training. As a former CBT and DAS-qualified trainer, and holding a BTEC in post-test training and an NVQ in adult and distance learning, I have the ability to work with trainees at all levels from complete novice to highly experienced – including the occasional off-duty police rider. I’ve written a series of books on advanced riding and provide a vast amount of online material via Facebook, blog and website. I’ve worked with Bucks County Council and Somerset Road Safety Partnership on rider safety schemes. Currently I help deliver the international road safety award-winning ‘Biker Down’ course for whom I created the ‘Science Of Being Seen’ presentation, and present a module on the ‘Ride Skills’ courses at Brands Hatch. In 2018 and 2019 I spent five weeks in New Zealand as a keynote speaker on the official ‘Shiny Side Up Tour’ promoting rider safety all over the country. For more than over twenty years Survival Skills have offered what is arguably some of the best post-test and genuinely client-centred training in the UK. Courses start at £80 for highly affordable two-hour short courses covering modules such as slow control, and night riding, one-day courses are £235 and a two-day course is £435. There are discounts available for two riders who want to train together.

“I have passed IAM and RoSPA tests, but the Survival Skills experience opens up another perspective on the whole ‘bike skill enhancement’ arena providing both practical help and ideas to reflect upon. Keep up the good work!” John Challis

Looking for advanced motorcycle training? Why not check out Survival Skills?

BIKESAFE

So here’s a question. Is BikeSafe training? Or is it an assessment? An assessment is an opportunity to have your knowledge, skills and judgement MEASURED, with constructive feedback for future development. By contrast, training is a structured activity that focuses on DEVELOPING knowledge, skills and judgement beyond what the rider already has – in other words, offering a ‘learning opportunity’. The answer is “it’s a bit of both”. If you’ve not taken any advanced training, then there are element from the classroom session that will probably be new to you. So that’s the training. But out on the road, the ride is used almost entirely as an assessment with a some constructive feedback. The courses are usually delivered by serving police officers although some forces have drafted in assistance from local advanced riding groups. It’s usually a one-day affair though there are forces which make it a two-day course. The course is billed as suitable for riders with no prior experience of post-test training. If you already have advanced experience, you can use BikeSafe as an inexpensive refresher, but the main aim is to act as a ‘toe-in-the-water’ to discover what advanced riding is about. However, the standard against which riders are assessed seems to be that required for a RoSPA pass. Whilst there’s no point pitting yourself against an inappropriately low standard, there is a potential drawback that you might come away feeling that you’ve not measured up. Constructive criticism is good, but how many riders will be able to take that criticism and by themselves turn it into a learning opportunity? At the end of the session, BikeSafe attendees will be informed about the desirability of further training pointed at the ERS, the IAM and RoSPA. There is no mention made of independent trainers because (I was told) “standards cannot be guaranteed”. The big pluses for BikeSafe are that the police officers involved are genuinely committed and that it’s affordably priced whatever your budget.

INDEPENDENT ADVANCED TRAINERS

Some riders choose organisations such as the IAM and RoSPA because of the guarantee of standards and consistency. But the very uniformity has a downside. You’ll hear the same arguments in favour of the same techniques proposed in the same ways wherever you go. The IAM and RoSPA are biased towards police-style riding and their own flavour of test, so for some riders, the biggest factor in choosing an independent trainer is the ability to look beyond ‘Roadcraft’ and find a broader perspective to advanced riding. If the main two organisations have a weakness, it’s when dealing with a rider who has some special needs. For example, a trainee with a confidence issue often finds difficulty in riding fast enough to keep up with traffic. In that case, being trained to ‘make progress’ to advanced test standard is unlikely to be the right approach. It unlikely to get to the bottom of the confidence issue and a common result is even greater stress. So find training which can ‘treat’ the source of the problem. Don’t discount an independent trainer. They can be just that – independent – and thus more truly client-centred.

OFF-ROAD TRAINING

Some courses in post-test training are run off-road, in the manner of the first part of CBT. The big plus is that the environment is safer, and using the safe off-road environment can help develop a feel for the bike and better machine control without having to worry about negotiating the roads and other traffic at the same time. So these training courses will focus on the technical skills of throttle control, steering and brake use. So if you know you have a specific machine-handling issue, such as slow control or emergency stop technique, then such a course might well be a very good choice. But be sure to ask youself about your training needs. If you wish to develop a balanced all-round approach to riding or your issues relate to the on-road judgement and anticipation needed to use skills effectively on the road, perhaps in a very specific condition like a hairpin bend, then an off-road course won’t provide the full answer. You may be better-advised to look for a course which offers both sorts of training.

TRACK-BASED TRAINING

If the usual selling point for off-road training is that the environment is safer, then that what you’ll also hear about track-based training aimed at road riders. On these courses, the course is not simply off-road training in a car park – or even on PART of a race track – the track IS the training ground. The usual explanation is that the environment allows you “to get more comfortable handling the bike at extreme lean angles and under hard braking”. In theory, that’s supposed to make you more confident on the road. But you have probably realised that any such improvement pre-supposes that you are already happy with the basics of riding. The big question is whether you can find a way to use that extra confidence. If you’re simply looking for a way to ride faster on the road, you need to look into your motives. If you do develop wider comfort margins on the track then use it to ride faster on the road, any benefits in terms of improved machine control are likely to be cancelled out by the higher speeds. If it’s because you’re struggling to keep up with your riding buddies (a common problem), do you actually want to ride as fast as them on the road? If they are riding very quickly, a better outlet for your enthusiasm might be a proper trackday – in this case, some controlled training on a particular track can help a novice track rider find their way around the circuit as well as get used to riding at speed with other riders. Training that is solely track-centred cannot help you develop the judgement and anticipation needed to use those skills on-road. But ask what you want. If you’re already a confident road rider, and you want to learn your way around a track or want to be able to ride harder than you could on the road, then a track-based session is a great way to push yourself and your machine towards the limits. Just remember not to crash – your insurance will probably be invalid.

ONLINE TRAINING

You may be able to improve skills one step removed. What’s known as ‘distance learning’ is an accepted part of many training courses. So can it be applied to a highly-practical task like riding a motorcycle? The answer is “yes, just so long as you’re prepared to put the work in”; after all, we accept that we can learn from books, why not over the internet? In fact, Survival Skills pioneers online training and will be reopening online training soon. So what are the pros and cons? Just like a book, an online course allows you to learn from a trainer who you may not be physically be able to meet. The big plus over a book is that an online course offers the opportunity for interaction between online tutor and student. The downside is that there’s no direct feedback on your achievements. It may be left to you to decide for yourself if you’ve grasped the concepts of the lesson (although clever design can minimise this problem) or you may have to upload material for the course tutor to assess – perhaps a video of your own riding. But you probably get to pick and choose when to work on your training, rather than haver to fit around the dates a training school has available. And it’s likely to be cheaper too.

DO-IT-YOURSELF

Is it possible to teach yourself to ride to a high standard? Well, anyone offering training is likely to tell you that it’s a lot easier to learn on a course. I’d tell you that myself. But here’s something to think about. It’s often said that police training is the best in the world. But someone had to write that course in the first place. By definition, someone MUST have started the process, and that person MUST have been self-taught. So it IS possible. Back then, they were starting from scratch. But now, more than ever, there’s a huge amount of self-help material around. There’s ‘Roadcraft’ of course, the police manual. There’s the IAM book. I have written some books on better riding myself. There are US authors such as David Hough, Pat Hahn and Nick Ienatsch. And there are online forums, websites and videos galore from all over the world. The problem nowadays is not ‘where’ to find information, but ‘how’ to filter out the dross and the occasional piece of downright bad advice, whilst gathering together some gold nuggets. It’s not always easy when the internet can make an apparent expert out of anyone. But you can at least start by applying the Farmer Brown Rule. “If it sounds or looks stupid, it probably is.”

Final thoughts

We all want riding to be stress-free and enjoyable. It should be self-evident that if you’re feeling stress or a lack of confidence, then the right kind of training can definitely help, and hopefully you now have some pointers about the kind of routes that are open to you.

Although if you take the DIY route, you can keep the costs to an absolute minimum, a course of training and the the help you’re looking for will have a price attached. Whether you think the cost is steep or whether you find it fair is down to you but be aware you’ve already paid a lot of money to get a license, to buy your bike and kit yourself out. In comparison to what you’ve already spent, some post-test training really ISN’T expensive. Spending just a little more could make the crucial difference between struggling and smiling as you ride.

But if you are already having fun out on the bike, then why take more training?

Simple. “The more you know, the better it gets”.

Why not share your experiences of post-test training us in the comment section below?

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