"Advanced riders are unobtrusive. All kinds of traffic and road conditions are dealt with quietly and efficiently. There are always gaps in the traffic just when required. The lights go green just as these riders roll up to the line, and you really hardly notice their presence before they are safely away out of sight on the open road"
Tonight, no wait, technically last night as it's now about 0200hrs on Thursday, I attended my first bike ride at the Glasgow North Group of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). I was paired off with an observer who followed me and rated my riding, and I was given an A4 sheet on which will be charted my progress over the coming weeks. There are spaces for 20 sessions, but I was told beforehand they aim to have you prepared for your Advanced Test after 10. After the observed ride I was told I should be ready well within 10 rides, which is encouraging and flattering. Apparently I am a good rider, or so I was told.
They rate you on about 20 or so different attributes, and the ratings go from A to D.
A = Test Standard
B = Good
C = Fair
D = Requires Improvement
My scores, with no previous instruction or experience of Advanced Riding, were as follow:
A - Check Bike & Rider (I was dressed properly with protective gear and the bike was in good condition)
A - Starting Drill (I moved off smoothly, performing proper shoulder checks to ensure nothing was overtaking/undertaking me)
X - Slow manoeuvering (not rated - we didn't do any)
B - System (can't remember what he said this was, but I think it's something like anticipation, line, gears, acceleration, or something like that!)
B - Braking (I used the brakes a bit too often, although usually as a matter of course I try not to use them if I can avoid it, using the engine to slow me down instead which I discovered happens to be the right way to do it!)
A - Acceleration (apparently I wasn't hanging about, which was fine)
A - Signals (used them properly I presume, it wasn't mentioned)
B - Safety Position (I think I occasionally moved from the right hand side of the lane too early before corners)
A - Hazard Awareness (I pride myself on this, and always have done. It was very rainy and there were lots of puddles, or "casual water" as a friend, ex fireman Dougie, used to call it but I negotiated them easily and safely)
B - Rear Observations (I didn't like to argue about this, but I was fully aware at all times of what was going on behind me. I guess in future I'll have to move my head more when looking in the mirror to make sure the observer sees me looking!)
A - Safe Distance (needs no explanation)
A - Progress (as I mentioned, I wasn't hanging about)
X - Highway Code (it wasn't mentioned, but at the risk of sounding over confident, I know the Highway Code quite well)
B - Roadcraft (this, apparently, will be explained in the book I'll get next time I attend, in exchange for £85 joining fee, but I suspect it's a nebulous, slightly undefined concept of motorcycle control)
B - Forward Observation (several times I ploughed on into a lower speed limit zone without slowing down quite enough to drop down to the new limit as I reached the start of it so had to brake as I entered it, which demonstrates bad forward planning. Must do better. Stop using those damn brakes!)
X - Overtaking (the opportunity/necessity never presented itself)
B - Cornering (I need to work on my positioning. Extreme far left of the lane when entering a right hand bend, and vice versa, which enables a good view further round the bend and the ability to progress quicker and smoother through the corners. I am doing it, and pretty well always have done, but I need to be more consistent)
B - Limit Point (connected to cornering. Seeing the corner open up in front of you and aiming for the point where it opens. Strangely I think I first fully appreciated and understood this on the way home when I was on my own and travelling, ahemm, slightly faster than I was when being observed. I can now work on this)
B - Speed (the IAM are strict on observing speed limits, and rightly so. I am not a hugely fast rider, and while I managed to stick closely to the limit in 60mph and 40mph zones I seemed to find trouble stopping reaching almost 35mph in 30mph zones. To be honest 30mph feels incredibly slow on a motorcycle, but I need to get this under control)
A - Dual Carriageway (it was a dual carriageway. What's difficult?)
A - Stopping Drill (managed to stop without falling over, and properly covered the brake as I did so. I need to try to stay in the right hand side of the lane position a bit more though, instead of sometimes stopping on the left of the lane)
X - Motorway (we weren't on one)
So a bit of a mixed bag, but generally very favourable. And I enjoyed it too. Did I mention we went to Arrochar? Almost two hours of fairly gentle but intensive riding with two stops in laybys enroute for ongoing constructive criticism. I can't make the next two weeks, but I'll bore you with my progress as I go along after that.