Having recently become an Advanced Driver (did I mention I got a F1RST) my attentions have now turned to applying the same developments to my riding skills.
As the only biker based full-time at IAM RoadSmart HQ (unless you count Richard Gladman, Head of Standards, which I don’t) I often forget that there are quite a few other bikers within the wider community of our staff, and all of them are already advanced riders. It’s just me letting the side down!
As Mr Gladman often reminds me, no matter how minor the spill, coming off a bike always hurts. The benefits of learning advanced riding are, in a sense, more easily realised than those of advanced driving in terms of their benefit to my personal safety. Now that summer is here I’ve got no excuses left for not getting on with it, but more on that in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, in the spirit of #GetMovingInMay, a proper motorcycling weekender was in order to get my biking season going in earnest. My girlfriend, Kim, was also feeling in need of two-wheeled mini-adventure, having bought a new bike in January after a couple of years away from riding, and been frustrated by the last few months of wintry nonsense. Kim is a pretty natural rider but tends to be a bit nervous, mainly owing to limited road miles.
Previous May heatwaves suggested that May would be a good bet for decent biking weather. Optimistically we planned a route, booked a campsite and dug out the tent and bike luggage, which we packed and strapped onto the bikes (by which I mean 90% of it went on my bike) in readiness the evening before our trip, making those all-important POWDERY checks at the same time.
Then we had the bright idea of checking the weather forecast. Our optimism would be rewarded with single-figure temperatures well below the May norm, high winds, patchy rain and possibly the odd burst of hail. Marvellous.
While I’ll admit to be something of a fair-weather biker, I do accept that occasionally getting caught out by the vagaries of the British climate is all part of the experience. Even summer trips abroad have always been punctuated by at least one torrential downpour each.
The thought of venturing out in the rain when you’re sitting indoors in the dry is a whole ‘nother level of depressing though. Which is why, at around an hour into our journey, we found ourselves sipping hot coffee in a lovely warm café in Braintree, staring out at the drizzle and deciding to shorten the trip.
Our outbound route was supposed to include a lengthy detour to West Mersea where we would fill our faces with seafood, but we decided to park that one for another day, wait out the shower and then plough on to the campsite.
Conditions remained blustery, with some of the hairiest side-winds I have ever experienced, but at least we had prepared well. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothing’ or something. Full winter riding gear helped maintain that all-important core temperature, although faces and fingertips still got a bit chilly on the faster stretches.
Happily, our campsite (complete with its flocks of free-frolicking feathered friends) was within easy reach of the seaside town of Aldeburgh, whose top-quality fish and chips more than made up for our missing mission to Mersea.
Our multi-layered riding kit also came in very handy overnight as supplementary bedding, such was the inadequacy of our choice of summer sleeping bags (my fault).
On the subject of experience, the trip overall was not only enjoyable, but beneficial for both Kim and me as riders. For Kim, I think it was necessary to get her back into the swing of riding, without the pressures of rush-hour traffic or an inflexible schedule. For me it was a reminder of all the things that you tend to forget about over time.
Watching a less experienced rider conscientiously checking their mirrors before slowing down, making frequent life-saver checks and using road positioning in a very deliberate fashion makes you reflect on your own riding.
I ride fairly regularly and generally feel confident and safe, but how good is my riding in reality? Do I make frequent enough use of mirrors and other observational tools? Is my road positioning part of a properly planned system, or is it just habit these days?
I guess I’ll find out in the near future …
By Gary Bates, IAM RoadSmart marketing manager