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Generally, when a motorcycle industry marketing bod invites you to a press event, it’s a good ’un. Maybe it’s a bike launch, or pit passes to cover a special anniversary race.
But this time, the nice Devitts Insurance PR bloke had me sucking my teeth down the phone. Because the invite was to spend the day riding around Essex, closely followed by a Metropolitan Police motorcyclist, as part of the Devitt-sponsored BikeSafe initiative.
The temptation to say I was washing my hair that day was strong, but you have to take the rough with the smooth. And I’m firmly in the camp of ‘never stop learning’. I’ve been riding motorbikes on the road for 33 years now, but there’s always something new to pick up, and I’m interested to see how these ‘gods’ of advanced motorcycle riding operate close-up.
What’ll it cost?
You can book the BikeSafe scheme directly via the website at www.bikesafe.co.uk. Courses are available across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a Scottish scheme currently still being set up. The assessment day costs just £65 – a bargain really. Lunch isn’t covered, and you need to make sure your bike has an MoT, is roadworthy and insured (they do check!). Also, make sure you start the day with a full tank of gas.
I’ve written about BikeSafe before: local police forces take riders out for the day, following them along a range of different roads, and watch how they go. At the end they provide an assessment of your riding, and the idea is that you use that to tailor your own advanced training. So, if the officer reckons you need to work on your machine control, road positioning, or hazard awareness, you can go on to address that with a professional trainer.
The Police don’t aim to do any training on the day itself – they focus on assessment and feedback.
It all sounds good in theory, but I’d never tried it in practice. And now, I’m riding up to the Bike Shed in Shoreditch from my house in SW London for an early start. Once I make it to EC1, I’m met by a swathe of high-viz clothing and bikes, and the fight-or-flight reactions kick in… Everyone is very nice though, and after some excellent coffee, we sit down for some pre-ride training. It’s useful stuff, focusing on the basics of post-test skills: road positioning, cornering, hazard awareness.
Save some cash
Most insurance companies will provide a discount if you’ve taken some post-test training – check with your broker if the BikeSafe course qualifies. Devitt Insurance offers a 10 per cent cut on policies after taking a BikeSafe ride-out.
Now, it’s time to go. I’m assigned a very nice officer called Matt (not his real name), and we have a bit of a chat about my riding history, what I expect from the day, and communication. BikeSafe doesn’t use intercoms, so we work on simple signals.
Matt will ride behind me most of the time, and I’ll watch his indicators in my mirrors to see if we’re turning at junctions, otherwise it’s straight on. At tricky parts of the route he sweeps in front and I follow him, till he waves me past.
This works for about 250 yards of clogged Shoreditch roads. All the presentation so far has emphasised the need to ride as you normally would – the assessor can’t give you feedback on how you ride unless they see it, of course. So while I’ve reigned in my speed, I’m still filtering as I normally would on my little Yamaha Fazer 600, and the big R1200RT cop bike gets, er, stuck behind a bus.
Matt catches me up, and we continue on out of town into Essex. It’s pretty stressful, actually. There’s the weird feeling of having a cop bike right in your mirrors the whole time; I need to watch out for signals from Matt, and of course, I’m concentrating on riding in the hazard-rich environment of a busy route through London.
We pull up at a service station near the M11, and Matt gives me the first bit of feedback on the town riding. My formative years as a despatch rider have tainted my urban skills, and he’s wagging his finger a bit at some of my filtering and overtaking. I get some useful advice on hazard awareness though, and we set off for the main part of the day.
This is much better: proper, wide-open country roads, with the chance to stretch the Fazer’s legs a bit, and work on something other than grim city riding. After an hour or so we stop for lunch, and I get another in-depth chat with Matt. He’s happier now; he’s pleased with my machine control skills: braking, acceleration, cornering, gears, and things like road positioning are fine. There’re some areas to work on, though: sitting too close behind a vehicle you’re about to overtake, meaning you get a bit less forward vision.
There’s another session after lunch, and this is the best part of the day so far. The roads are amazing, the sun is out, and while my riding partner is still a big yellow copper on a big yellow cop bike, it ends up feeling like a great ride out with a mate.
There’s a final debrief, and I also get an email a few days later with a detailed assessment of my riding – good and bad.
So – I had a top day out at BikeSafe. The general atmosphere of the day was relaxed and friendly enough (considering you’re surrounded by traffic cops…); the riding assessment is definitely worthwhile; and even an old dog like me came away thinking about some new tricks. For the cost (£65), it’s a genuine no-brainer.