February 22, 2018

A Masters Degree in Motorcycling

Confessions of a Born Again Biker - Part 22 - Masters in Motorcycling

The IAM Roadsmart Masters qualification starts with a problem. How do you take an advanced rider and increase their skill level on a motorcycle? Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make that decision. My Institute of Advanced Motorists – IAM – test ride made that decision for me.

Having put in what I thought to be a solid ride on my test, there were a few areas where I could have sparkled a little brighter, Andy McManus, my examiner, congratulated me on passing as we started the debrief.

I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – argue with any of the points that Andy made and it is a testament to my Observer Roland Johns that one of the comments Andy made was “… close to a First”.

Confessions of a Born Again Biker - IAM MastersIf I’m honest, that comment stung just a little. There is an interesting story about a 4×4, a VW Polo and a truck, all coupled with an excess of restraint on my part, but the important part was the detailed and exacting conversation I had with Andy about that section of the ride.

As that conversation unfolded, I realised that there was so much more for me to learn about riding a motorcycle, despite the fact that I had just become an IAM Advanced Motorcyclist.

I rode home, in a mixed state of being elated and deflated. I sent a text to Roland my Observer detailing my good news and then rang the IAM to arrange a Masters course and, requesting Andy, the examiner, as my Masters Mentor. My logic being, if I came away with more questions, then Andy was the person with the answers.

Andy is an intriguing gentleman. Once a motorcycle rider in the Police Diplomatic Protection Squad, he later moved to Lincolnshire, where he spent many years as the Head of Collision Investigation. Then he decided it was time for a career change, and took up to post of Vicar at a Baptist Church in Lincolnshire.

Andy’s passion for motorcycling burns strongly, and he holds the distinction of being the first person to have an IAM Masters Candidate pass with Distinction – a gentleman I know only as “Dan”.

Andy’s constant desire to challenge the status quo and develop himself as a rider, despite his considerable experience, is how my fellow “trainee” Nigel Chapman and I came to be standing outside the Vicarage, on a Saturday morning in early June.

Confessions of a Born Again Biker - IAM MastersAndy wanted to explore training with two Master’s candidates as a collective, rather than the traditional mentor and pupil, one-on-one arrangement.

This style of training is similar to that used by the British Police force. It changes the dynamic from the teacher and pupil relationship that most of us are familiar with, for one where learning is a combined experience. Andy, as the mentor, sets the overall agenda for the sessions and ensures we stay on the right track, politely dispelling any miss held concepts or things that we are just plain wrong about.

On that Saturday morning, Nigel and I took it in turn to lead, typically with Andy riding at number two. Our instructions, for that first ride, included a destination, a reminder to maintain active rear observation, and the expressed desire to “get on with it” as Andy wanted to enjoy himself. Dawdling about was never on the agenda.

To say that Nigel is a quick rider is something of an understatement. A motorcyclist of 45 years’ experience, I found I needed to ride harder than my normal pace to stay with them. There was that excess of restraint coming to the fore again.

Arriving at the first tea stop of the day, Andy had a cheeky grin on his face as he asks Nigel and me to critique each others ride. Neither of us wanted to, especially as we had only met an hour or so earlier, but Andy pushed for details. Having received my assurance that I won’t be offended by anything Nigel has to suggest, Nigel relented and offered me some solid feed back.

When it comes to my turn, my questions are mainly around the pace of the ride.

Thoughts from Brother Nigel:

“What I noticed most is how differently we ride. That made a great environment to pool resources, share each other’s good points, and above all to listen to Andy, who is the Oracle. No doubt about it.

I will never forget the demonstration Masters ride that Andy gave. Super smooth, quietly efficient, courteous, and making effortless progress. No fuss or flourish. He just arrived at whatever it was that was impeding his progress, and a moment later, he was passed it and gone. That is how I wish to be able to ride. What an inspiration.

For me, the reality is that the Masters is not a destination, but a big gold star on the lifetime motorcycling journey that I am on. That demo ride made such an impression on me that the quest is to polish my new-found skills, practice them for the rest of my riding career, and maintain the standard that has been set for me.”

To take an Advanced motorcyclist and help them to improve, the mentor has to discover the right areas for improvement (AFIs).  One of the factors that control our ability to improve is our ability to process road information and developing the required increase in mental capacity comes from learning to operate at an accelerated pace.

It isn’t about making the world go by faster – speeding in other words – it is about constantly looking for more information and processing that through Observe, Analyse and Plan.

The I at the start of IPSGA quickly takes on a new level of significance. If you aren’t familiar with IPSGA, give IAM Roadsmart a call, in the UK, on 0300 303 1134. They will be happy to connect you with someone who can explain it. Trust me. You will enjoy every minute of it.

Over the following weeks, as our ability to digest information increases, we observe more, analyse and plan further ahead. Our position, for example, as always is based on safety, now also considers the stability of the motorcycle, as well as the view the chosen road position will deliver.Confessions of a Born Again Biker - IAM Masters

Our speed and the gear required for the next action in our constantly evolving plan, are known sooner. Acceleration, both positive and negative, is predicted and fed back into the information loop. We are looking and processing further and further ahead, delivering us the ability to progress safely, smoothly and unobtrusively, without fuss or flourish, through the traffic.

Nigel’s highlights additional areas I can extract more information from the road ahead. My suggestion to him is to trim 10% off his commitment to each manoeuvre, thereby establishing more “wriggle room” should something unpredicted happen.

And so our collective development continues. Nigel finds an even quicker way through corners by following Andy’s advice to reduce his entry speed and translate this into a faster exit.

Another improvement for me comes from changing the arc I take during the exit phase of right-hand bends. By extending the arc, so I’m back at the 3/3rds position a little later, I can maintain safety and increase stability, without sacrificing my view.

As we approach our final rides with Andy, Nigel and I can see how we have influenced each others riding and the changes that Andy’s tutelage has brought. Even the contrast in our clothing is now a factor we consider. We maybe three fashion faux pas on motorcycles, yet we stand out in the traffic by ensuring a good contrast, not just a glowing bundle of Hi-Viz colours.

So, the big question: Is the IAM Master course difficult? It is a common question I’m asked, and the answer is a subjective one.

Over one of the many cups of tea, while Andy is in his normal post ride trance making copious notes in his fabled book, Nigel and I pondered the point. Our reasons for starting the Masters are different, but the desired outcome is the same.

Nigel decided to embark on the IAM training after a road traffic accident, which involved significant physical injury which now requires him to both brake and change gear with the heel of his foot, rather than the ball of his foot, or his toes. His injuries, also resulted in one of his legs only bending little. Nigel maintains to this day that had he received IAM training all those years ago; the accident wouldn’t have happened. He would have spotted them coming.

For me, the IAM, came about when I realised there is so much I didn’t know. The hardest part of being RoadSmart was the initial phone call to the IAM. Understanding that I wasn’t as good as I wanted to believe I was, and being prepared to park my ego and take advice, guidance and constructive criticism, which at times can be tough, was the biggest hurdle. (See Confessions Part 11)

After getting past that, I’ve never looked back. Even riding through the winter as an Associate with Roland Johns, was highly enjoyable. Yes, the Masters is a challenge, but it isn’t about wondering if you are good enough. It is about learning and developing the skills to become good enough. It just takes practice and the willingness to learn.

So, perhaps Nigel and I should ask you the same question. Is the Masters level difficult to achieve, or simply the logical progression for any advanced rider?

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