I’m now 56 and came back to bikes about five years ago
I started riding motorbikes when I was about 14, mostly 125’s off-road, given I didn’t have a licence at the time. I then ‘graduated’ to an FS1E moped when I was sixteen, before shifting to cars when I got my licence and passed my test at 17. I’ve always loved riding and driving, so kept my interest in bikes riding 125’s until I finally put in for and passed my bike test when I was 21 and got myself a GS550, which I rode for a couple of years before giving up bikes, for cars and kids when the GS broke down in 1992. I’m now 56 and came back to bikes about five years ago when I purchased a BMW R1100S just to see if I’d still enjoy it. Needless to say, I did! So, I soon traded that in for a BMWK1200S. A full 169 BHP monster which I still ride and last year bought a brand new R1250RT to go with it.
I was running into issues here and there that forced me to reflect
I live on the Wirral in Merseyside and work just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. That’s a commute of 57 miles each way. To be honest I don’t mind the distance because before the pandemic I could use it as an excuse to ride one of the bikes to work. Talk about taking the pain out of commuting. I have two favoured routes, either along the A51 from Chester to Nantwich or the A41 to Whitchurch and then across. Both lovely rides, early in the morning when traffic is light before the rush hour. I also do the odd weekend ride out to North Wales and recently started touring with my partner on the back. I think I am a good rider but was aware that on each ride I was running into issues here and there that forced me to reflect that on occasion I was getting things wrong and putting myself, and sometimes her, in danger. Too many of those ‘that was close’ moments for comfort, mostly on overtaking and cornering. So, with no formal training, I always had half an eye on BikeSafe and this year I managed to get on a course when the email offering a place landed late one evening. Three weeks later I turned up at 08:30 on a Saturday morning in Birkenhead.
This practical aspect of the course was important
Having seen police riders at work doing escorts for football coaches, I knew how good they were at what they do, so was looking forward to hearing and learning from some of them. The first half of the course is classroom based and the delivery team, made up of Police Motorcyclists and Advanced Motorcyclists, ran us through some of the basics on key things around cornering, overtaking, filtering and so on. All good stuff, sometime a bit basic for experienced riders, most of it straightforward but there were always little nuggets of valuable knowledge to pick up. The learning wasn’t just from the trainers either. It was in the group discussion about the inputs that I was ultimately able to understand where my problems with cornering were coming from. As we were talking as a group through one of the scenarios, one of the experienced police riders picked up on what I was saying and gave me some feedback that helped me to understand that in my cornering I was getting the weight distribution wrong because I was not using my gears, engine and braking correctly. Modern bikes are very different to the ones I grew up on and that was my lightbulb moment!
We then had the opportunity to ride out to put some of this learning into practice with an experienced police rider observing us. This practical aspect of the course was important, and I’d encourage you to go onto the courses that offer it. The feedback was good and with two of us being observed, we also had the opportunity to ride at the front being observed or at the back doing the observing. We’d stop discuss and feedback on my classmate as well as them analysing me. What was useful because the ‘real time’ assessment of my riding they provided helped me to understand that my standard of riding was very good. I was doing lots right as well as just a few things where I could be getting better. So, for me the value of BikeSafe is helping you to understand exactly where your standard of riding is. We may think we are good at riding but it’s helpful to confirm that from the perspective of highly experienced riders and your peers on the course with you. With Merseyside BikeSafe you also get two days, with the second starting with a bit of first-aid to help you to understand how to help others in the event you come across an RTC. But day two is mostly about riding out and about – for us into North Wales and lunch at the Ponderosa. The team did well to pair me up with someone who was at a similar riding level to me and, with no police involved that day, we had observation from an advanced motorcyclist. I thought this was excellent and an important way to further embed the learning from day one and an opportunity to open some frank discussion about things like speed limits that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing in the company of the police.
I feel a more competent and informed rider
All in all, the two-day course at Merseyside is superb and I’d thoroughly recommend it. Taken together I learnt a lot across that weekend. I feel a more competent and informed rider, think I’m safer on the road and who knows the course may well save me from an RTC. Well worth the £65 I paid for it, after all what have you got to lose but your life?
Professor Clifford Stott
West Kirby, UK.
(Attended Merseyside BikeSafe, March 2022)