What to Expect
Everyone is nervous when they join a new club or group, especially when you don't know what to expect. One of our new riders has agreed to share his experience and views of his training to help to overcome that fear. Keep coming back to see how his training is progressing:
Why did I join ARNY?
Passing your DAS, or moving up through the ranks from getting A1 to full category A licence, I’ve found, is just the beginning. The DSA system to get you on the road is all well and good, but it only goes so far. The skills it doesn’t teach you… I’m still finding more!
To the credit of my tutors, I passed my DAS test with only 3 minor faults. I was left, however, with nagging thoughts that I wasn’t as skillful in bike handling and hazard assessment as I needed to be to keep myself and other road users safe. This was confirmed by a fall from my 125 on black ice on an otherwise well treated road. I sprained my elbow and dented my confidence. Too scared to lean my bike when it was wet, I needed some further training If I was going to truly enjoy my new found passion with confidence.
Trawling the internet looking for courses in the Yorkshire area I found ARNY, a RoSPA affiliated group. The website looked pretty professional, but what shone through was the attitude of the tutors, the passion for sharing their knowledge and years of experience. Precise, scientific, yet flexible and friendly. This looked like the group for me.
First Contact & Arrival
I e-mailed Richard, the club secretary, to request a taster ride and it was arranged to meet at the Strawberry Fields cafe on the A19.
I’m not the best at meeting new people, especially large groups, so pulled up at the Strawberry fields cafe with some trepidation. Nerves got the better of me and I pulled up in a parking place away from the large group of bikes.
I took my helmet and gloves off and turned around to see the club training officer, walking over to greet me. Introducing himself, we went into the cafe for a cuppa. Nerves now gone with the relaxed atmosphere it was down to business.
The Taster Ride
For all rides a destination is decided before splitting into training groups, the actual routes are decided by the tutor depending on what the associate needs to work on.
For the taster ride and the first few training rides it’s one to one training, and Andy was to be my tutor for the morning. We sat at one of the picnic benches, and went through the aims and objectives for the ride. Today, he explained, he wanted to get an overall idea of my riding ability. No pressure, just ride how you normally ride. I felt the pressure immediately! I’m my own worst enemy. I’m supposed to be enjoying this. Relax! This isn’t a test.
Pulling out onto the A19, left onto the A64 and on up to the York outer ring road, I start to relax. I almost forget that Andy is there, catching only occasional glimpses in my mirrors. Usually he's somewhere I don’t expect him, watching, sacrificing his ideal road position to see, well, everything!
We pulled into the Vue cinema car park for an interim debrief. I’d been resting my foot on the brake for most of the way, the rotor now hot to the touch. I’d have never known I was doing this if it hadn’t been for Andy riding behind me.
Over that embarrassment we headed into the country side. Twisting roads and little villages. I started to enjoy myself. This is why I learned to ride!! Then Andy took the lead to demonstrate some road positioning. My anxieties on bends soon started to reduce as I watched how effortless and smooth it all became when you’re in the right place at the right speed in the right gear.
Bloody hell can I actually do this? - yes I think I can! It’s amazing what a bit (a lot) of advice, encouragement and support can do.
All too soon we were at the meeting point, Beadlam Grange farm shop and tea room near Helmsley. With a well deserved brew we discussed the ride and went through the “Taster ride report”. I found the format very useful, discussing what went well, points for improvement and overall comments and recommendations.
I ride home thinking “This is what I was after! I’m signing up!”
First Proper Training Ride
I didn’t want to be late for my first official training ride so set off a little early. When I arrive there’s only one guy there. His name is Michael. He’s a little further on in training, having done a few sessions and we have bit of a chat about his experiences while waiting. It’s very quiet and we both get to thinking that training’s been called off. Almost immediately one after another pull in. We take over the far end of the cafe for the compulsory brew and pre-ride chat. My tutor today is Richard, the club secretary.
As this is my first proper training session there are a few formalities to go through. Firstly you have to confirm that you’re appropriately licensed and insured. - So don’t forget to bring your licence. Then there is the training pack which includes the associate training record, a pamphlet which you will take through your whole training “career”. In this you’ll need to note some important information including next of kin contact details for if the worst should happen. There are contact details for all the tutors, safety guidance points, training assessment pages and some very useful pages detailing training objectives and what the tutors, and eventually your examiner, are looking for. Also included is a copy of Motorcycle Roadcraft. This is the police rider’s handbook and is an essential companion to advanced riding training. And don’t forget the ARNY stickers. Everyone loves stickers!
All associates are issued a ARNY branded high vis vest. This is to be worn only during training, but thankfully folds up quite small and will fit in a jacket pocket.
Destination decided we turn right onto the A19 again. Why is there always a lull in the traffic before you’re ready to set off, then when you want to pull out of the junction there’s a constant stream of traffic, first in one direction and then the other? Gap spotted. Go for it! I check my mirrors. Richard got out as well, so there must have been enough room.
Into York through Fulford this time. Riding through town, head on a swivel, we hit Saturday morning traffic. I end up stuck too close behind a bus, not able to see a bloody thing, and actually feeling a little vulnerable. Won’t be making that mistake again. Further on I manage to stall in moving traffic. How the hell did I do that? Oops, was in 3rd! Clutch in, starter pressed, first gear selected off we go, all without putting a foot down. Phew! The rest of the ride goes fairly well, including some rather nice overtakes, until a sweeping 90 degree left hander. Concentrating on some junctions and the vanishing point I don’t see a vicious looking manhole cover ‘till the last moment. I panic a little, running wide. Thankfully I could see round the corner well, nothing coming. What a muppet!
Sitting in Thirsk garden centre cafe Richard and I go through the ride turn by turn and fill in the training record. There are 2 sections to complete for each ride. The advanced riding elements grading section, from use of brakes to machine sympathy (not how much you’ve polished your bike), each is given a grade from 1 to 4. 1 being potential gold pass standard, to 4 - needs improvement. It’s nice to see a few 2’s, but I’m not surprised to see a couple of 4’s, cornering being one. The other section is what I can only describe as the “what went well and what could have gone better section”. This is an opportunity for self critique as well as the for the tutor to give guidance. All this is done in a very relaxed, but professional manner conducive to guided self reflective learning.
Multilane roads and Roadcraft next time. I’d better get reading!
Ride 2 - Paperwork
Today’s weather is perfect for riding. It’s dry for a start, and 10 degrees. It’s nice to wear my summer gloves again without the fear of frozen fingers
My trainer for today is Phill. He’s ARNY's marketing officer and my training mentor. Each associate is assigned a mentor to keep an eye on their training progress. They are available to discuss any training issues you may have and contact details are in the associate training record. ARNY aim to rotate tutors and associates (now there’s an interesting mental image) so that the associate can benefit from different tutoring styles.
Sitting at one of the picnic benches outside the cafe we recap the previous training ride, looking at what needs improvement. At this stage in my training there’s quite a few skills that need a bit of polish, but as long as some of my scores improve I’ll be happy. It is worth noting that it’s best not to get too caught up in how many 2’s and 3’s one gets early on. You’ll have good days and bad days for each “skill”, and it’s general overall improvement that’s the aim of the game.
We turn left onto the A19 today. Uncharted territory for me on the bike. Turning left towards Wheldrake I can soon see why we’ve taken this route. A combination of sweeping corners and right angle bends, but on flat open fields, This makes it possible to see across the corner and is ideal practice for getting ones head up to read the road ahead and develop the riding plan.
I settle into the sweeping curves and feel like I’m getting the hang of things, but overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness and I go into a tight left hander a little fast. I’m not going to make it! I push the left bar a bit more, consciously trying to relax and counter steer. I make it round just on my side of the road. What is it with me and left hand bends?
We stop at Rebecca’s Kitchen in Elvington for a de-brief. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true. Phill draws a road with a series of bends and junctions. We run through several scenarios, tracing the ideal road positioning, and like the flick of a switch I “get it”. A sudden gust of wind blows Phill’s papers like confetti all over the car park. Phill’s scrabbling about in the car park chasing one lot and I’m charging up a drive way after the other. Papers and composure gathered we set off again.
Phill’s diagrams certainly helped, and at the next stop in Tadcaster he informs me that the last section would have gained me a test pass. Whoo Hoo! After some slow riding practice we head back to York for some town riding and compulsory stalls at traffic lights. Leaving Tadcaster road Tesco, a kid on a BMX rides out into the road from behind a parked bus. Bollards!!, but I react in good time. I stay upright and he makes it across the road safely.
In Cafe Moto (A1 Moto Triumph) we get down to completing the training record. Overall a smooth, safe and controlled ride with good progress and reaction to developing hazards. Not bad! A lot more 2s this time, but a 4 for clutch and gears (no surprise there, I just wish I could stop stalling).
‘Till next time, ride safe.
Ride 3 - April Fools
Compared to a fortnight ago the weather seemed to have stepped back towards winter and the clouds were threatening rain. That’s the British spring time for you. Riding towards Strawberry fields on the A64 it starts to rain. Not heavy, just big drops, and they hit my exposed neck like armour piercing bullets. In my haste to set off I’d forgotten my neck warmer. I hope this doesn’t keep up!
A fleeting shower thank goodness, and the weather stays kind for the rest of the ride.
Steve Potts is my trainer today, and he wants to see some more of my town riding. We must be April fools to ride through York city centre on a Saturday morning. Sure enough it’s packed! Zombie pedestrians and frazzled bus drivers. A good test of hazard perception if ever there was one.
I’m first at the lights on Bridge street turning right on to Rougier street. The lights change, shoulder checks done, I stall. By the time I’ve sorted myself out the lights turn to red again. Nobody beeps, but I still feel a fool. I’d like to blame my Rotax parallel twin engine, but it is operator error, and I simply didn’t give it enough throttle as well as being a bit ham fisted with the clutch. We pull over at Acomb green for a debrief, and apart from the stall Steve is quite happy with my town riding. I’m relieved to be out on the open road when we head out through Rufforth on the Wetherby road.
Coming out of Long Marston we get stuck behind some slow moving traffic. Off a right hander I go for an overtake. Slotting into the gap I have to brake a little, but it’s otherwise o.k. I overtake the rest of the queue on a long straight. Nice, or so I think. At the next de-brief in Wetherby we discuss the overtakes. Had I included the industrial estate exit on the right in my riding plan? I had, but always think about the what ifs. If a car had pulled out it might have been a bit marginal on safety. Starting the overtake a little earlier would have increased the safety margin. Something I could have done if I’d been in the overtake position and not the following position. Braking as you pull into a gap is also not ideal, as the following vehicle can get spooked and slam the anchors on (and might think that you're a reckless idiot). There’s something that needs work.
It’s great having a brew and a chat before we set off, but what goes in must come out, and with no handy conveniences a detour to the A1 services is required. Concentration restored we head off through Boston Spa, Tadcaster and Sherburn-In-Elmet, with lovely sweeping curves the roads are ideal to work on linking bends.
Pulling into Squires Cafe Bar the sun is out, and so are the bikes, but down to business. Generally a good progressive ride with good town riding, although some minor control issues (stalling - again!). Positioning now excellent (I’ll take that!) but develop positioning for the overtake vs the following position. I don’t know how Steve and the guys see and remember all these fine points of our riding, but they do, and it really helps to have their constructive criticism. I’m sure it’s making a difference.
Now to find my way home - Mobile phone and Google maps to the rescue.
Ride 4 - Purple Socks
It is the Easter bank holiday weekend, and it would probably be safer to stay off the roads today. I’m not sure what the collective noun for scooters is, but as most of them are Vespas I suppose it should be a swarm. I’ve never seen so many. As I pull into the petrol station on the A64 there is a group of Vesperazzi huddled around a metallic green specimen as though it were an injured animal which they are tenderly trying to coax back to health. I feel much safer on my Beemer.
There are more associates than tutors today, so we’re doubling up for training. I’m paired with another guy who is just a little further on in training than me. I shan’t name him to protect his identity. (You’ll see why later! - and I haven’t got his permission.)
Training logs reviewed, it’s decided by Martin that I need to work on overtaking, and my colleague, let’s call him Bob, on dual carriageways. We head out west onto the A64 to then switch back east to debrief the short section at Strawberry Fields. Bob ended up out of sight on the westbound section, but thankfully circled the Askham Bryan roundabout until Martin and I caught up. Debriefing, one thing I took away was the concept of the safety bubble in respect to dual carriageways. Both lanes had been moving at similar speeds, but the right hand lane we were in was crowded. There would have been a much better safety bubble in one of the larger gaps in the left lane for a negligible reduction in progress.
I now feel reasonably competent in reading the road and linking bends. The Cawood Rd, the B1222/1223 to Tadcaster, is an ideal road to learn and demonstrate this skill. I follow Bob around the sweeping bends, overtaking the numerous cyclist that punctuate our progress. It’s interesting following another rider, seeing how they position for the corners. It’s good to look at how others do things and learn from what they do both wrong and right. Debriefing in Tadcaster, Martin asks me what I thought of Bob’s riding. This is awkward! I offer my opinion in as constructive a way as I can. Martin asks us both if we saw the junction when we overtook the cyclist with the purple socks. Neither of us had. We’d both been focused on the moving hazard i.e. the cyclist, although I hadn’t noticed the purple socks either so am still unsure of which of the many cyclists he was talking about. Needless to say I now always look for junctions when overtaking cyclists. They can change direction on a sixpence, and often without warning. Give them room and look for reasons that they might change direction quickly before you pass them.
I lead out from Tadcaster looking for the overtakes that I need to practice. They are not particularly forthcoming. Eventually an opportunity arrises just outside of Bilton-in-Ainsty. 3 cars with the lead car holding everyone at forty. I pick my moment, and off a right hand bend go for a one car overtake. The Landrover Discovery speeds up as I pass and tries to close the gap. I get in, but have to brake to match my speed with the car in front. He certainly made it difficult. I really don’t know what people get out of putting others at risk like that.
The rest of the ride goes well until, with Bob up front, a large waggon impedes our progress. I can see him thinking about the overtake, but the visibility doesn’t look great. Martin and I are both shouting in our heads NO! DON’T DO IT! He goes for it, the road narrows. Brake lights burn bright and dust clouds fill the air as the waggon scrubs the verge. Bob drops back and waits for a better, and safer, opportunity. PHEW! I almost had my phone out to call 999 there!
When we debrief at Beadlam Grange farm shop Bob had thought that the waggon had been speeding up, but from our vantage point up the hill both Martin and I could see that it was the road that was narrowing. As the hedges become closer they appear to move faster in our peripheral vision which is what led Bob to think that both him and the waggon were accelerating.
With a few lessons learned both from my own mistakes and Bob’s, there’s plenty to practice before next time.
Ride 5 - Double Trouble
Last time it was associates that were doubled up. This time it’s tutors! Adam is being observed by Tony for his tutor training, so there’s double the pressure. Once again overtakes are one of the objectives of the day.
I thought it would be a good idea to record the ride, as often so much has happened during the ride that I struggle to remember some of the finer points. I do think that this reduces the amount I gain from each ride. As I want to see things from the tutors point of view we attach my GoPro to the top of Tony’s helmet. We’re the last out of the carpark as setting up the camera took a little while, and a slightly dodgy looking position from Tony as I tried to switch it on.
I ride along trying to put the pressure of 2 tutors AND being recorded to the back of my mind.
Turning onto my favourite road my heart sinks. The council in their infinite wisdom have carried out a surface dressing. We all know the type, with loose stone chips that fly up from wheels like bullets. To me it feels like riding on ball bearings so I take it steady.
Coming out of Stillingfleet the ball bearing road ends, but we end up behind a camper van doing 30mph. I start looking for opportunities to overtake, which to my eye comes about a minute later off a right hand bend. I can see a cyclist some 100 metres ahead and a left hand bend another 100 metres beyond. I have 3 choices. I can overtake the van and the cyclist, overtake the van and drop in behind the cyclist until after the bend, or stay put. I go for the double overtake and make it with about 50 metres left to the bend.
Debriefing in Tadcaster Adam mentions that within that minute or so I actually had a couple of better opportunities to overtake the van. Tony agrees adding that the best opportunity was as we entered the national speed limit coming out of Sillingfleet. To be honest I hadn’t seen it, but the camera never lies, and reviewing the footage, he’s right. He even waves for the camera to highlight it. He also points out a junction on the left which I run a little close to. Although I’m in the correct position for the bend, I should have given this position up for one of safety, improving my visibility to anyone waiting to pull out of the junction.
The ride is going well until just before Cattal. There is a narrow bridge crossing the river Nidd that is traffic light controlled. Adam and I get through ok, but the lights change and Tony gets stuck. Our route is temporarily blocked at the level crossing at Cattal and we expect Tony to catch up. He doesn’t though and we head on. I eventually notice him behind us somewhere after Little Ouseburn. When we debrief at Morrison’s in Boroughbridge he claims to have gotten lost and hit a kamikaze pheasant. Unfortunately the camera had not been working properly and the files are still corrupted, so only Tony knows where he went and what really happened with that pheasant. I bet it was in his top box and made a lovely Sunday roast.
By the time we enter the A168 to Thirsk I’m getting a little tired and my concentration starts to waiver. A very ropey dual carriage way entry is followed swiftly by a rushed, wrong exit with a very late indication. Adam and Tony have no choice but to follow, and we end up heading into a very busy Thirsk town centre. Adam, with his local knowledge of the back routes, rescues the situation and gets us to Thirsk garden centre safely, avoiding the worst of the traffic.
In the final debrief I know what’s coming, more work on overtaking, dual carriage ways and maintaining my concentration. I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a plateau, but that’s how it goes when learning a new skill. The journey continues....