By James Balls
After laying off motorcycling following a bad accident at the age of 18 in 1990, I reached the age of 40 and it felt like it was time to try it again. I decided to buy my brother’s 2000 Suzuki SV650, even though I still felt nervous, and it took me a good while to start enjoying it again.
It’s safe to say my passion for motorcycling soon returned. Over a period of five years I gradually traded up, buying KTM Super Duke 1290 GT last year.
My partner Nicky often rides pillion. Although she enjoys it most of the time, she would often tell me off for being too erratic and pushy. She said I followed cars too closely and accelerated to quickly from roundabouts. The final straw came when the KTM decided to wheelie from a slow roundabout, which really scared her.
For my birthday Nicky kindly gifted me the IAM RoadSmart Advanced Rider Course as I’d always shown an interest in improving my road riding technique and this course offered the whole package.
I purchased my membership in March 2020. Soon after we went into lockdown due to COVID-19. I contacted IAM RoadSmart and they explained that government advice meant every on-road driving and riding course had to be suspended until further notice.
I might not have been able to complete my course in March, but I was invited into the local Facebook group where I was contacted by Nigel Bean, who was appointed my Observer. Nigel kindly sent over an electronic copy of the rider’s handbook and other useful literature to read to understand where I could improve my riding skills.
The day finally came when the government’s easing of lockdown meant observing could re-commence, and Nigel soon contacted me to say that I could book my session if I was happy to do so.
The big day finally arrived when met Nigel for the first time., I felt nervous but I was soon put at ease as we chatted from a distance. Nigel explained the structure of the course and within 15 minutes we were on the road. I was given a brief route and Nigel explained that he would show me the way by using his indicators, or he would pass me and I was to follow.
We rode for about 20 miles before we stopped for a mid-session debrief, and I was eager to hear Nigel’s feedback. I was surprised by his comments as he said that majority of my riding was safe but gave me a few pointers to take onboard before getting back on our bikes. I followed Nigel for the next couple of miles so I was able to observe him and his riding skills before being waved passed to be assessed in front.
The end of the session came round quickly and Nigel gave me points to work on, as well as some useful guides to read. I headed home and was buzzing from my day.
Between each session I would read and ride, practicing and thinking about everything Nigel had advised. Another five sessions passed by, each one different, each one working on more areas of the handbook but always working on the IPSGA system.
After the sixth session Nigel said he wanted to put me in for my test. I felt shocked that in six weeks I had gone from a rider that was a little erratic and pushy to a rider that was ready for the advanced rider test.
Test day arrived and I decided to take a little warm up ride from Holbeach through Spalding up towards the meeting point at Sutterton to calm my nerves. Mike Chapman who was conducting my test explained the structure and answered my questions. After giving me the first part of the route verbally, we were ready to go.
The excitement and nervousness kicked in, I calmly lead us out of the garage and headed up the A17 as Mike had instructed. The route that Mike had chosen was a good technical mix and before long we were back at the services. I knew I could have done better in a couple of places but overall, I was happy with my test.
Mike asked me to talk through how I felt I did and explain where I thought I could have done better, he agreed and added a couple of other pointers that he felt I could polish up on but said it was a solid and safe ride. I’d passed and I felt so happy and proud of myself.
Since completing my test Nicky has noticed a big change in my riding skills. We joined the Sunday charity outing arranged by South Lincolnshire Advanced Motorcyclists (SLAM) and Nicky commented how relaxed and enjoyable the ride was and she didn’t feel any aches from being tense or having to hold on.
I too have noticed less aches with the smoother, more thoughtful and safer riding, and this for me has given me the confidence to take on longer rides - and maybe even some two-up touring in September.
I would advise anyone, no matter the age and experience to join up and complete the IAM Advanced Rider Course, I can assure you it will make you a better rider.