When I passed my bike test and I got a bigger, faster bike it became apparent to me that I did not like going around corners at speed.
I should probably give you a bit of background here. Before I got my bike licence, I used to compete in off road motorsport for many years in a purpose built racer. I was racing one day and the course went out of one field into the next through a gate and then you had to do a sharp ninety left and continue straight.
I had been going through the gate, drifting the back end out and then power on for some laps and it was on the penultimate lap that things went a bit awry. I had the back end out nicely drifting round and just as I had put the power on, I caught a rut and the racer flipped over and I ended up doing two 360 degree rolls ending up back on its wheels.
Now my co-driver and myself were okay which was the main thing even though the roll cage was now down by our ears and the windscreen was in our laps. The engine was still running so I kicked out the windscreen and continued racing back to the finish line and then into the pits. I am pleased to say that the roll itself only cost me 17 seconds but the scrutineer did not join with me in my elation.
Apparently, I should not have continued as the car was in no shape to have been driven from a safety point of view but when the adrenaline has kicked in and the red mist has descended once the visor goes down, you do not see it quite that way! The racer took 6 months to rebuild!!!
For about eighteen months/two years after this incident, I found going round a left hand bend in my car hard and could not get away from the feeling that I was going to roll over again but it did get better and the car, I am pleased to say, did not roll over.
When I got my first big bike this problem reared it’s head again and it was becoming a problem that I needed to address.
What to do?We were out for a ride one day and ended up at a café in Oxford and in the car park were a lot of police officers on police bikes. They were running a BikeSafe course and had stopped there for a cuppa and were talking to other bikers promoting the course they offer. BikeSafe is a national police run motorcycle initiative, which involves an observed ride with a police graded motorcyclist or approved BikeSafe observer.
I was talking to one of the police officers and I was telling him about my cornering predicament and he encouraged me to book onto a course as he was sure they could help. I booked onto a course near me which is run by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service. The officers are professional police motorcyclists, who are all keen bikers, and they share the secrets of how to become a neater, smoother, safer and more confident rider. They are the only police force in the country that offers this course to learner riders. They aim to cover different topics during the morning’s classroom session one of which is cornering and bend assessment – perfect for me.
The aim of the day is to help you enjoy safer biking even more, and you receive advice that will make sense to you at your stage and ability and help on where to get further training, if you would like it. I believe it cost me £35 which was for a full day’s workshop and included lunch.
We spent the first part of the morning in the classroom and watched some videos and did a lot of chatting talking about techniques, experiences etc. which I found really helpful. Mid morning we were paired up and assigned an officer who would ride with us and observe our riding. The chap I was paired up with was corner adverse like me, so we could concentrate on our weak points. After a spell of being observed, we pulled over and the officer had a chat with us and gave us some really helpful pointers and advice and we rode again putting his advice into action.
We met up with the rest of the people on the course for lunch and chatted about our morning. The officer who was observing us, then gave us some more guidance and advice and off we rode again for most of the afternoon ending up back where we had started in the morning for a debrief and a general chat about our day and how we felt we had got on.
I personally, had a really great day. I learnt lots and found it really useful. I rode home putting my new found techniques to use.
Did it sort out my cornering predicament I hear you say? No, it helped a great deal but it did not completely eradicate the problem.
Later in the year I was at a bike show at which the Fire Service had a stand promoting rider training days they had to offer. I was talking to a fire officer and he put me in contact with the fire department nearest to me who offer the training – Herts Fire Bikes who are a team of volunteers dedicated to reducing the number of motorcyclists killed or seriously injured on Hertfordshire roads. I spoke to a fireman called Chris Williams, who it would turn out, turned my riding around.
I met up with Chris and he asked lots of questions about my riding and what I hoped to achieve from my lessons with him. We then went out for a ride with Chris following me so he could observe my riding. After a while we stopped for a cuppa and Chris talked about my riding and where/how he felt I could improve.
The best thing we had was intercom which I found invaluable as Chris could instruct me whilst riding and I could immediately correct/change my riding and I could ask questions as we were riding along.
I had several lessons with Chris and, in my opinion, my cornering and overall riding has improved dramatically. Don’t get me wrong, I do not go round bends with one knee scraping the road and in all honestly I can say I probably will never do that. I did manage to get my knee down once but that was closely followed by my shoulder and then the rest of my body as I came off my bike and landed in a ditch! Luckily, I only suffered two broken ribs and the bike, which let’s face it is more important, was fine and I got back up, got on my bike and rode home!
My lessons with Chris were probably the best thing I could have done for my riding and I would encourage anyone who is struggling with any aspect of their riding to get on a rider development course and see if you can improve your riding.
Since my lessons, I have gained so much more confidence and have now been touring in this country a few times and Europe three times so far, with two trips booked for this year already.
I now find riding my bike a fun and enjoyable experience.