They say training is the best modification you can invest in for your bike
It’s a fine, sunny day in early September and I’m riding out to Northamptonshire Police HQ for my BikeSafe workshop. They say training is the best modification you can invest in for your bike. Let’s see. I’m a born-again biker. I rode in the 1980’s and, after a 37-year break, decided it was time to get back to two wheels, so got myself a BMW R1200RT three years ago. I’d set myself the challenge of being able to ride to the same standard as a Class 1 Police Rider, knowing I’d never quite get there.
I signed up for the IAM’s RoadSmart special offer at MotorCycle Live for advanced training and completed the course after about a year with a ‘first’. I was helped greatly by a friend who’d ridden professionally.
Then crisis hit three months later, when I was diagnosed with a major heart condition, was within minutes of death, and after 18 days in Northampton General had a cardio defibrillator implanted. That meant I had to give up my licence for nearly 8 months, so again, I had to come back to the bike. The RT now felt to heavy for me to lug around, so I’d downsized to a Monster R, which would be my ride for the day.
The whole diary can be viewed on my YouTube channel (Back2TheBike) and below. That’s my story, and I guess we’ve all got a tale to tell about our journey.
The group is a real cross section of the biker community
So, as I roll up to Northamptonshire Police HQ, I’m wondering what the day will hold in store, and what I can learn. As a professional management trainer, myself I’ve trained over 20,000 people to build the world’s most complex mechanisms over the last 20 years. I know the training certificate doesn’t mean much, it’s what you do with your learning that matters. We’re met by PC Chris Tall, who leads BikeSafe for Northamptonshire Police. Chris and his three colleagues have sacrificed their day off to take us riding and impart some of their hard-earned wisdom.
The group is a real cross section of the biker community: those who just passed the test; road racers who’ve had near misses; an IAM Observer; and those who’ve ridden for years with no formal training. They’ve ridden in from all points of the compass and some riders from outside the county.
On BikeSafe the usual ratio is one Police Motorcyclist with two bikers
After registration, we head out for a brief check ride. Chris and his BikeSafe team want a quick look at our riding, to see what they need to focus on for the day ahead. On BikeSafe the usual ratio is one Police Motorcyclist with two bikers. I get to lead us south out of Northampton on the B526 to Newport Pagnell. Through their day job and training, the police know all the best roads in and around the county, so we’re in for a treat today. We’re asked to observe the speed limits, ride our own ride as we would normally do, but (ahem!) enjoy ourselves. Chris rides one of Northamptonshire Police’s unmarked R1250RS’s – with cunningly concealed blues and two’s.
I lead for 20 mins, a quick debrief in a lay-by, then Jerzy, who passed his full test almost a year ago leads us back to the HQ. A coffee, then Chris introduces the group to IPSGA and the System of motorcycle control as used by the Police. We also get to interpret some photos of road conditions to test our observation skills and watch a few videos of typical motorcycle crashes. A good debate ensues, with the officers sharing their stories, experience, and plenty of questions from the group to prompt them.
I ask myself, if they need continual top-up training, how much more do we?
Suitably chastened, we now head out onto the roads again. The other three Police Officers will take their ‘pairs’ onto different roads than us but we’ll all meet up later. I power the cameras up as I’m filming. I also need to tell myself again, to switch on the brain and concentrate.
Now it’s time for some in-depth riding. Jerzy leads off, Chris follows, I bring up the rear, and this time we’re heading west onto some of the finest biking roads in the country. Nearly an hour later, Chris pulls him in for an extensive debrief. As a trainer myself I notice Chris’s full-on professionalism: He misses absolutely nothing with his forensic observation skills; he balances positives and areas to improve; his manner is calm, and his reassuring manner imparts confidence.
I asked Chris what gets him out of bed in the morning and he told me not many people get to combine their passion with their day job. All his colleagues on the day shared this enthusiasm for their craft. They have ridden day in, day out, for many years in all weathers at some scary speeds and are trained (in my humble opinion) to the highest standards of any road riders in the world. Forget the YouTube circus acts that many like to model their skills around, these guys do it for real every day, and they never stop learning. I ask myself, if they need continual top-up training, how much more do we? They are happy to pass that knowledge on to us.
150 miles, a full tank of fuel and some world class biking company
Their motivation, they will tell you if you ask them in a quiet moment, is to reduce the number of times they have to walk up someone’s garden path, to knock on your door to inform your family there’s been an accident, with injury or worse! Anyway, I digress. Now it’s my turn to lead, so we head into the south of Northamptonshire, more curves and twisties at a great pace, then back east through chocolate box villages in the autumn sunshine.
We are having so much fun we arrive late at the meet-up with the other groups, the renowned biker halt, the Super Sausage Café on the A5, just after closing. I get my feedback from Chris. My rear observation needs some work and I tend to ride my rear brake a little. Chris’s colleagues extend him their ‘sympathies’ for his hunger and thirst, offering their leftovers with much banter and many wind-ups. So now back to HQ (via yet more scenic lanes and another observed ride and debrief) for a learning review.
150 miles, a full tank of fuel and some world class biking company. All in all, a great day out and loads of learning. I have just improved my chances of getting home safe, and I will get more out of my bike. I know the Monster R has way more talent than me, but I have narrowed the gap a little. Whatever your standard, or however many years you have ridden, you can’t help but learn something from this workshop and come away with an appreciation of your county’s police bikers.
A huge thank you to Northamptonshire Police for a brilliant day.
Neil aka Back2TheBike