I’m sure there are few bikers who wouldn’t want to take their bikes onto a super smooth track, with no speed limits and great corners to tip into. However, I’m also sure there are many lesser experienced bikers who are a little nervous or put off booking a full on track day. If you’ve only got a little street bike for commuting or are not a confident rider, you will likely be daunted by the idea of hitting the track with loads of race replica, crotch rockets, fresh out of tyre warmers and fuelled on testosterone and macho posturing.
Undoubtedly they prefer teaching bikers to ride better, than cleaning up motorcycle mess off the roads when things go wrong.
However, a track day is a great way to improve your riding and learn what your bike can do in a safe environment. And this is the core aim of this novice Ride Skills track day I attended, run by Kent Fire service in conjunction with IAM and MSVT. Undoubtedly they prefer teaching bikers to ride better, than cleaning up motorcycle mess off the roads when things go wrong. The day included:
I started the course back in January, when I signed up with the East London Advanced Motorcyclists (ELAM) group. The course is based upon the Motorcycle roadcraft police rider’s handbook, but is presented through a slightly more digestible ‘How to be a better rider’ book (included with the course). The ELAM group begin the course in a fairly structured manner; starting with a machine control day on an airfield to practice slow manoeuvres, emergency stops and slalom. This is followed by 5 observed ride outs roughly every fortnight, each concentrating on particular areas, e.g. overtaking, bends, motorways, town riding etc. There were also 3 theory night sessions around these rides which covered the ‘system’ – an underlying principle to apply to your riding, various best practices and many legal points.
For my birthday my lovely wife signed me up for the IAM Skills For Life course, something I’ve wanted to do for a while which should really help improve my riding. On Sunday I attended the first day of the course – the machine control day. Out on North Weald airfield I was practising some key riding skills; low speed riding, balance, emergency stop, counter steering and so forth.
The riding was not easy, but really useful to practice in a safe environment off the road and quickly highlighting some bad habits I’ve fallen into (in particular how I cover my front brake). There were loads of IAM observers on hand to help, give encouragement and ask the right questions to aid us pinpointing our own mistakes.
I passed my DAS. Bit nerve racking, but passed. I can now ride any motorbike I like!
It was a bit tight on time, as my test was late morning, only giving me half a day to practice. The guys at 1 Stop Instruction have all been great, taught me well and quite obviously have a great system for getting newbie’s on two wheels.
We did a lot of riding around Enfield covering all the main routes of the test. Checking out many traps and common gotcha’s that others often fail on. Then it was off to the test centre. I just had to stay calm, remember every life saver, position myself correctly at every junction and cancel them bloody indicators! The 1 Stop bikes all have buzzers attached to the indicators as an aid memoir, simple but very effective.
The test mostly went very smoothly, though a brief hail storm made things interesting. Especially as this occurred when I ran into a long tail back behind some vehicles on tow. Do I filter past or hold back? Can I get by before the island in the road? Should I be safe and stay back due to weather conditions?
Near the very end of the test we ran straight into a jam waiting for a railway crossing. Odd I thought, the 1 Stop guys had shown me a common trap just round the corner: a junction at the end of a road with no central markings, but painted parking bays either side. The trick is not to assume its a one way street and position yourself to the right of an imaginary left hand lane, ignoring parking bays. So why did he let me go into the jam and not take me here? After the test, in the debrief the examiner quizzed me if I had heard him say turn left back there… Thinking back, I can’t work out if it was an intercom failure, or just me too deep in concentration elsewhere… Oh well, I passed.
Overall I felt relaxed and confident throughout, the examiner took me on roads I had ridden many times over the previous 2-3 days. Advice for your test: know the roads, avoid surprises. And jams are your friend, less time you’re riding, the less time you could be failing.
Yay, I’m half way through my DAS course after passed my module 1 today. For those not familiar with the DAS, it is split into two modules, the first consists of a series of manoeuvres around a car park; U-turn, slalom, figure-of-8, emergency stop and swerve at 50kph, etc. The second module is done entirely on the road, being followed my a DVLA examiner.
I have spent the last day and a half practising these manoeuvres like mad in a car park with 1-Stop Instruction. The car park at their disposal is a lot smaller than the test centre and they pushed us to achieve the required manoeuvres within this tighter space, on a slight incline and at faster speeds. This made it tough, but rewarding and prepared me and my fellow student well for the module 1 test – blatantly, as we both passed first time.
For me the U-Turn proved hardest, maintaining smooth clutch control throughout to get the right speed, not too slow as to lose balance or too fast to go wide. The two speed tested manoeuvres were a bit nerve racking. These involve an emergency stop and swerve after passing through a speed camera at 50 KPH (~31 MPH). The CBF500 could manage the stop fine, but too hard on the brakes and the ABS kicks in to prevent skidding. Safe, but unfortunately a fail on the test. The swerve really tests ones confidence and control of the bike. The bike needs to lean back and to in a smooth manner, more than I was initially at ease doing considering my lack of experience. The key is too look at where the bike needs to go, rather than at the cones.
My test certificate had a couple of minor faults, one for lifting the rear wheel off the ground slightly on the emergency stop and one for handling of the bike when pushing it from one parking space to another. This latter one was because I had failed to find neutral on parking up (Doh!), so had to perform the manoeuvre holding the clutch in to hide the fact… A pass is still a pass, so I spend the rest of the day practising the module 2 routes around the Enfield DSA test centre, going through places where previous students have been caught out. Nearly there now.
Most Direct Access (DAS) courses are run over 5 days and not always flexible in this matter. For some this is not long enough and they end up retaking their test(s), for others this is too long and thus unnecessarily expensive. After completing my CBT with 1-Stop Instruction, I was keen to continue with them for my DAS course. Their suggested route is to take 2 hours of 1-2-1 tuition, to migrate from a 125 onto a larger 500cc bike and then follow this up with just 3 days of DAS training.
Today, I completed this 2 hour 1-2-1 course. It began with a quick refresher on a 125 bike, a quaint Honda CG125, then onto a Honda CBF500. Since the CBT course was my only experience on a motorcycle, I was quite nervous. However this was very much unfounded, I found the CBF500 a much easier bike to ride. It was a lot smoother to control, far less twitchy on clutch than the CG125. The extra power was a lot more forgiving, so less stalling too. Out on the road, it was a fun and exciting ride, cementing my dream I want one of my own.
I now have my DAS course booked for later this coming week. Can’t wait.
Compulsory Basic Training. It’s what all bikers need must get through before they hit the road on two wheels. Today, I completed my CBT with 1-Stop Instruction over at Fairlop (NE London).
The training is basic, beginning with simple safety points (helmets, boots etc), then an introduction to the bikes (location of controls, on-off stand). Before moving onto simple manoeuvres around a car park and then escorted onto the road for final assessment. The CBT can be done on an automatic scooter or a traditional manual 125cc bike. I opted to do the CBT on a manual 125, as my dream is to move up to a proper big bike. 🙂 However unlike cars, passing the CBT on an automatic will still let you ride on a manual 125 afterwards.
This was my first time on a bike, so a little nerve racking. I was initially a bit stumped, as I took my big goth boots along, thinking they’d be best on the bike. However the steel toe caps stopped me changing gear, so I had to switch back to Converse. Not ideal biking footwear, but much easier to control the bike. Clutch control took time to get the hang of, it’s a real knack to use it to fine tune speed, rather than tweaking the throttle.
Overall, I came away very chuffed and can’t wait to get back on a bike now. I can now legally ride a 125cc bike on the road on my own – phaww! My dilemma now, is do I try and find a small bike to build up some experience, or do I continue onto a Direct Access (DAS) course and aim to start on a big bike (500cc ish)?
The first step in my journey to getting on a motorbike is the theory test. Although I have a full car driving license and undertook a theory test many years ago for that, I still have to complete a motorcycle specific theory test. It is in fact very similar to the current car theory test but with the addition of a few motorbike specific questions.
The test starts with a whole bunch of multiple choice questions, mostly general highway code stuff. Then followed by a short passage of text describing someone driving through various scenarios with a sequence of associated questions. Finally there is the hazard perception test, a series of short videos during which you must click the mouse button as soon as you see a hazards start to unfold on the screen. You are scored on the number you spot and how soon you spotted them.
To revise for this test, I read the highway code a few times, run through a few sample tests on the DSA website and watched several sample hazard perception videos on YouTube. The test isn’t hard, but do prepare and read instructions carefully. There is a real lack of motorbike specific practise materials out there, but so much of the car test is shared so ultimately it’s not a big issue. There are numerous places selling practice materials, but if you hunt around there is enough stuff free, like here.
Key Things to Remember
You need a provisional motorcycle license to book the test.
You must take both paper and photo part of your license along to the test.
After passing, your certificate will expire after 2 years. So don’t hang about completing the rest of your motorbike test.