Life on bikes

Are you good enough to get to IAM Advanced Rider standard?

Biker & Bike’s Editor takes to the road with an IAM RoadSmart Observer under their free Observed Ride offer. As it turns out, this was a good thing to do.

I’ll be honest, deep down, I thought I’m a better road rider than I actually am.

I can guarantee the majority of bikers will think they have better roadcraft skills than they actually possess, even if they never admit it down the pub.

After a 90-minute session with an IAM RoadSmart Observer, I’m now under no illusions. While I do a lot of things right, there are still areas that ‘could do with improvement.’

Most of us badly need more road craft

If I had a quid for every time I’ve tailgated a slow-moving bus or entered a corner on the inside line…

And it’s not just me. I do rides with many different groups of people and on virtually every trip I witness at least one tut-tut or even heart-in-mouth moment. Normally during overtaking manoeuvres. Often involving single and double white lines misdemeanours.

However, having become the de-facto ride leader on trips with my own mates I was acutely aware that I needed to be more careful on behalf of the crew. It’s all very well standing the bike up on a corner or coming up to a crossing a bit too hot every now and then, but it’s not right putting your mates in the same position.

So when the free observed ride offer came up I was straight on to it.

What exactly are brakes again?

John, the Observer was already aware I was from Biker & Bike and admitted he’d bumped me up his booking list (very nice of you, John).

I asked for no special treatment, just an honest appraisal, as that would help me, and therefore the guys riding behind me, the most.

One potential issue was already on my radar. I’m used to twins and a crossplane R1, so I use engine braking more than the brakes, preferring to use the latter as little (and therefore normally as late) as possible.

For people who haven’t ridden with me before it’s a bit of a nightmare as there are no clues from my brake light as to how severe the upcoming corner might be.

But I’d justified it by saying we were getting a smoother ride in and out of corners, as there was more control over the engine. And by telling them they should be looking beyond me to the road itself.

To my surprise, John completely agreed. “They should be looking at the road in front of you, not your brake light.

“You should be using braking as little as possible and use your engine to maintain an appropriate speed for the corner, conditions and riding ability.”

I started to like John even more, and, in the pre-ride chat we got on famously as he took me through his expectations and the pre-ride checks advanced riders are expected to do.

The pre-ride check, P.O.W.D.E.R.S, is way more comprehensive than B&B’s own T.M.C check, and I’d argue that our own Two Minute Check is more likely to be conducted on a regular basis, but John pointed out that IAM principles are pretty rigorous.

One small criticism I have around IAM courses, although I’m not sure there’s any way round it, is the prolific use of acronyms. During our pre, mid and post-ride chats, so many came up that even John could see the funny side.

On the road

Out in the country lanes of Essex I became more nervous than a 25-years-in-the-saddle rider should be. Especially as there was no licence hanging on the outcome. I probably used my rear-view mirrors more in that first 30-minute session than I had done in the whole of the previous month.

Happily, the half-time verdict from the observer was not as bad as I might have thought.

My road positioning was good, especially on corners. If anything, I was being too rigid in enforcing an outside line entry for better vision round the corner. “You need to be more fluid,” said John. “Keep as straight a line and the bike as upright, and therefore stable, as you can.”

Being used to track days where the challenge is to get the elbow down, let alone the knee, this came as a bit of a shock. “Never mind worrying about chicken strips. You’re on public roads and at this country’s speed limits, the quickest and safest way through is straight, both the line and the bike.”

Ah, speed limits…

On IAM Advanced Rider courses, unlike the police BikeSafe courses, speed limits are NEVER broken.

As my insurer might read this one day, all I can say on this is that, after the full observed ride had been completed, John simply marked my card (there is a scorecard with 3 – Requires Development to 1- Commended) with a “2″ and the advice, “Be more fussy,” in the Speed Limits section.

For that same insurer, I’d like to point out that for Smoothness, Anticipation, Hazard Awareness and Progress and Restraint (whatever that means) I scored top marks each time.

As I did for Braking Technique ?

I would have also scored the top marks for Clutch and Changing Gear, Choice of Gear and Timing of Changes, but John and I ‘agreed to disagree’ about block and clutchless gear changes, which John is very much in favour of (as is B&B contributor Dan Netting on his Track Riding skills website:

I used to be too, until I saw this video:

Leaving clutchless upshifts and the cost of Triumph Daytona gearboxes to one side, the rest of my marks were ‘dependable 2’s’ with the exception of a couple of ‘somewhat lacking 3’s’, one of which was for not knowing what an IPSGA is. Bloody acronym’s again.

Will it make me a better rider?

So, after 25 years of riding, some on track, much of it on superbikes, am I a notch rider? Nope.

The size and type of bike you ride, and how fast you can ride it, has very little to do with how good a rider you are on the road.

To pass the IAM test, all of those scores need to be 1’s. I’m clearly not there yet.

However, you are never too old to learn and that there’s always an opportunity to discover better ways to do things and I learned a fair bit even in just a 90-minute session.

So yes, if I completed the full Advanced Rider course, I’d become a better rider. Not that I’d brag about it to my mates.

Get Yourself Sorted:

Book a free IAM RoadSmart Observer session here:

Available until 30th June 2017

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns four bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'02 Suzuki SV650s
'09 Yamaha R1

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.