My journey to becoming a better rider…
It all started about 15 or 16 months ago!, I had spent the last 26 years living and riding in South Africa , where traffic volumes and road conditions are completely different. The roads that I was used to were wide, long and relatively straight where one could see for miles, the roads would literally disappear in the mirror heat shimmering distance. I rode on a variety of bikes and off-road quads. My last road bike in SA was a MotoGuzzi 850 leMans Mk2 which I enjoyed tinkering with as much as riding.
I was very young when I left the UK thus I’d learnt to drive and ride in SA, you can imagine my shock when we returned to these shores! Driving through towns and suburbs was a real eye opener for me, there were cars everywhere I looked and the roads seemed to be crammed full of them! It was a real challenge to drive down a normal street as there were cars and vans parked everywhere. And the roads didn’t make sense to me as there just seemed to be too many unnecessary bends, where a straight road would have done much better. Many good natured people have tried to explain why the British roads have so many bends in them. So 15 or 16 months ago I bought my Honda FireStorm and started riding these very bendy and impossibly busy roads. Because of the amount of traffic and bendy roads I found overtaking very difficult, normally being content to follow slow moving traffic until a very long straight came along which are rare! And narrow rural lanes were to be avoided at all costs. So after more than a few close calls (the type where the voice in my head would scream “that was TOO close”) I did a web search and found WHAM.
My free assessment ride was booked, and I met a WHAM observer at the petrol station in Newtown. He was a friendly fellow on a Pan European (a real pipe and slippers bike I thought at the time) we had a chat and he put me at ease. So off we set on my assessment ride! After a time he pulled me over so we could discuss some points, some of the things he said to me still ring in my ears today; for example he told me that I was riding along the road at 60Mph which I agreed; then he told me about the oncoming cars which were also doing 60Mph which I also agreed was right; he then went on to say the combined approach speed was 120Mph to which I agreed to again. When he then told me that the cars were passing me within 12 inches of my right leg my jaw dropped. I had never even thought about that.
We swapped around so I could follow him and have a look at lane positioning, and off he went, boy can that Pan can shift! I had no chance of keeping up with him (that was the moment my opinion of a PAN changed or was it the rider?) I did get to see his lane positioning though. At the very end of our ride he held me by the shoulders looked into my eyes and said “We can help you” and with that my mind was made up. I would take his offer of “help” and I signed up for the “Skills for Life” course.
I was assigned to an observer who arranged to meet me at the McDonalds in Hereford for our first ride. When he introduced himself I noticed his badge and it said “Senior Observer (Training)” . Oh dear, I thought to myself, it must be bad!!!! And there were two of them, the second one was a large fellow by the name of Martyn . I now know just how a rabbit feels when looking into cars headlights. At that first meeting I was totally put at ease and over the coming months my observer introduced me to advanced observation, lane positioning etc, with unbelievable patience! And with looking at the vanishing point of a bend, my cornering became so much smoother and consistent, with me hurtling into bends too fast a thing of the past. Thanks to the slow riding handling days that WHAM organises my low speed manoeuvring abilities have come along in leaps and bounds I even have a HUGE trophy to prove it!!!! These skills days are not to be missed if you’d like to improve your own skills.
Then came the big day of the test!!! Guy my ever patient observer assured me that the test would go OK, I was still nervous when meeting the examiner who proceeded to tell me that the pipes on my FireStorm were illegal!!! We’re off to a good start I told him, “I’ve never seen loud pipes kill any one” he smiled. So off we went on the test I was trying to remember all the things I had been shown during the previous months, after the ride we had a de-brief where the examiner kept me in suspense before finally telling me that I had passed, I was grinning like an idiot for hours afterwards. Some time later a letter arrived from the IAM saying that I’d made it into the top 50 of their “win a Yamaha” competition. That will be a story for a later news letter in which I’ll twist Craig Endicott’s arm to write together as he also made it into the top 50.
If I look at my riding now compared to before I joined WHAM, narrow country lanes are challenging and even fun, I even make excuses to take a lane instead of an A road and overtakes are now a personal challenge in the way I want to use each one to put in to practice the methods I have been shown. I was told by a wise person that overtakes should be meticulously planned and ruthlessly executed. One surprising outcome of this training was the fact that I could on average get 30mpg more per tank out of my bike, As I ride a VTR that has a reputation for being thirsty an extra 30 miles per tank is very welcome as normally I start to sweat when the trip meter gets to 110 miles.
Along the way I’ve met a lot of brilliant people some of whom have helped me increase my skills even further and due to being an advanced rider, a new and exiting opportunity arose that allowed me to put my advanced riding to good use that is I was able to join Severnfreewheelers as “blood rider” although I still have to do my check ride with them which will be in the near future I am looking forward to that new challenge.
By far the biggest difference to my riding style is that I no longer ride with blissful ignorance, I still make a lot of mistakes (I am human after all) but I am now aware of those mistakes and try to learn from them .
Roger (the slowest rider in WHAM)