I used to think of training as something that circus animals had to endure. Now, we have sensibly banned performing lions but motorcyclists are still expected to undergo a bit of ritualised
It wasn’t always like that… For example, I just flicked through the Motorcycle Roadcraft book, and spotted the advice: “Red Mist: Don’t get into a personality conflict with the person you are pursuing.” Having spent much of my youth pursuing people specifically to get into a personality conflict with them, it took me more than one attempt to scrape through my bike test. I had had no instruction, other than my father’s two touching pieces of advice : ‘Never get a girl pregnant’ and ‘Don’t fall off’. I’m fairly sure these weren’t meant to be related.
I remember pootling around some backstreets until a crazy guy leapt out in front of me. This was pretty scary in 70s Belfast, but I managed to recognise his clipboard and braked, rather than racing away from being hijacked. He yelled at me for not using all my fingers to squeeze the front brake lever. When I blabbed an excuse, he said he was pleased I’d passed my motorcycle licence test… but he didn’t sound very pleased, considering I’d just saved his life.
These days, training is available everywhere – it’s impossible to get a permit for anything, including motorcycling, without submitting to the best-practice stasi. In addition, there are recreational training courses for offroad riding (gravel in the helmet liner), speedway (cinders in the leathers), track days (mud in the underpants – it is mud, honest) and the like.
I’m a tutor in Maths and Physics, so I do get that some things are just hard to understand. (Like why people don’t like Maths and Physics). I suffer, however, from an inability to follow instructions whilst also having to undertake actions. If the instructions are barked at me by some crusty old guy who smells of waxed cotton and acts like he’s got cinders in his pants, I simply won’t be picking anything up. In essence, let’s just say I’m not a natural candidate for structured training. I claim this makes me a dedicated autodidact, but ‘bloody nuisance’ is a more common epithet.
Here are my conclusions, having been subject to riding tuition from a number of different sources. There are five main types of motorcycle trainer:
The Stickler: Begins with an analysis of the importance of rotational momentum. By day-two we are ready to start the bike.
The ex-White Helmet corporal: Equips you with an earpiece full of screaming-over-static. Exhorts you to overtake when you see the whites of their eyes. Really believes that telegraph pole layout, two fields away, is a reliable indicator of what gear to be in. Insists on giving a running commentary – even during lunch.
The Pedalgogue: Gives you a complicated sequence of future turns in rush hour traffic and then scrutinises you from behind. Assumes you already know how to U-turn on a steep gravel embankment with an audience of football supporters (0-2 at home). Sighs and shakes his head when you return. If you return.
The Narcyclist: Makes sexist/homophobic comments about anyone who uses the phrase ‘nice colour’. Has a clipboard and can’t understand why that plus his natural leadership haven’t attracted a girlfriend. Ever.
The Kneedowner: The cool one who was once a mate of Barry Sheene but has “calmed down now.” Teaches relevant skills like riding around one-handed, in top gear, in a tight circle, smoking, blindfolded, seated backwards. “It’s amazingly easy” he yells after you as your bike careers into a canal. He really believes you can do it. But you can’t.
[Ed: We’re sure that motorcycle trainers have sardonic lists of the five types of motorcycle trainees. We’re also sure they all put The Doc in the fifth trainee category, labelled simply “Avoid”.]
Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise to find this guy among the various self-appointed online sensei. (I have a ‘characterful’ accent myself, so I’m ok with Mr DelVecchio’s).
The single thing that I’ll be working on most, when lockdown ends, is my cornering (obviously after a haircut, plus a quick trip to my second home in Greece if the pubs are still shut). I’ve been confused about a particular aspect… how can I possibly know what speed to enter a corner at, if I’m unfamiliar with the corner? My technique has been to shift down a county or two in advance, slow to a crawl until I can see the exit, and only then roll on some throttle. I’m a bit sick of being overtaken safely by pensioners on electric bicycles, so I need some help.
The Police Foundation and the Stationery Office agree: “Just before you enter the bend, the limit point begins to move round at a constant speed” . I have no clue what this means, despite my spouse’s best efforts to explain it via a combination of Extreme Charades and amateur panto (“it’s in front of you!“) Somehow, I can never see the 4m tall red triangle that is supposed to be hovering helpfully in the sky.
WARNING: Descriptions of leaning motorcycles follow which some may find disturbing. BMW riders of a nervous disposition, please look away now. Similarly, those who have taken Roadcraft to heart: “use of the brakes while cornering should be avoided” may need to go for a quick lie down. We are talking about Trail Braking.
As far as I can understand, it just means “…continuing braking gently past the corner entry towards the apex and then throttling out when you can see the exit.” This gives control of speed in a corner, so you can adapt to that sudden brick/ donkey cart/ yawning chasm in the road.
Ok, he may not be the best reader of an autocue, but Mr DelV’s slow/go-brake-throttle-transition training may have just saved the lives of many a jaywalking Scottish woodland creature. And assuaged the impatience of many a pedalling Scottish pensioner.