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“How difficult can it be…

…to chat over the radio?”

is one comment I’ve heard about motorcycle training via a radio link.

Which just goes to show how riders who’ve never done any instructing simply don’t realise the pitfalls.

Here’s an example from a trainee with another school who was writing about his experiences on one of the forums I frequent:

“During a lesson we had to take the next left to get to a bike shop, just after some traffic lights. I was in the RH lane and a huge truck was beside me in the left lane. I was quite anxious as to how I would make the turn, realising I would be stuck in the wrong lane at the traffic lights.

“I indicate left and get told “pull in front of the truck”, and I go for the small gap in front of the truck whilst heading for the fast approaching red traffic lights and cut in front.

“Part way through my manouvre, he repeated the command (as usual) but this time the sound didn’t cut out and the command was actually “DON’T pull in front of the truck!”

Which just goes to emphasise how difficult it is to offer good instruction in terms of direction and comment over a radio link.

I was lucky that I did a really good training course with the now defunct CSM, which spent a lot of time working on radio technique, how to say things and what to avoid.

Scenario – training instructor playing ‘trainee’ and us real trainee instructors trying to learn radio technique. Riding along a busy main road, with ‘trainee’ riding too close to parked cars and brushing wing mirrors with elbow.

Trainee instructor starts giving instructions over the radio link.

“Move away from the parked cars” (‘trainee’ stays where he is)

[With emphasis] “MOVE AWAY from the parked cars” (no reaction)

[With more emphasis still] “MOVE TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD” (‘trainee’ crosses white line and heads on collision course with double decker bus)

[Rising note of panic] “GET BACK GET BACK GET BACK” (‘trainee’ moves back to the left and starts brushing car mirrors again)


Instructions can be not heard, misheard or misunderstood. In this case, there was no definite instruction as to WHERE to move. The ‘trainee’ didn’t know where to move to get away from the cars. Any of “1 metre to the right”, “2 metres from the car door”, “just left of the centre line” would have told the trainee exactly where to go.

The “other side of the Road” is just that. It’s important to remember some people WILL take an instruction literally – the ‘trainee’ just did what he been told to do!

“Get back” isn’t helpful either.

Correct solution? Don’t rely on the radio, but stop the ‘trainee’, explain about safe passing distances – and THEN use the radio for correction IF necessary.

I was also treated to a fine demonstration of how not to use the radio on my DAS assessment (done 2:1 back in 97) by an otherwise extremely competent and knowledgeable instructor who clearly hadn’t used radios much.

Motormouth wasn’t in it – he didn’t stop talking and he confused me as an experienced rider as to what he was expecting. At one point I was screaming “shut up” into my lid as I tried to ride my own bike. I can’t imagine what a genuinely inexperienced rider would have made of it. He failed.

It’s important for an instructor to be aware of the problem with VOX operated radios; they do usually clip the first word before they cut in, so you need to preface the instruction with a throwaway word (the trainee’s name works well, or something like ‘Okaaaaaaay…’ before continuing with the instruction.

Some instructors have the VOX sensitivity turned way down so the radio is on more or less constant transmit, but the problem with that is that it drains the batteries and deafens the trainee with wind noise.

Whilst some instructors prefer PTT (press to talk), it has the disadvantage that the instructor needs to hold a button down to transmit. Whilst that’s ok on the open road, I find it inconvenient round town when you’re trying to use the indicators and clutch yourself.

Having given an instruction, I repeat it at least once, until I see the correct reaction – or it’s safer to shut up and let the trainee find his own way.

It’s also important to use consistant phraseology, and to consider who’s actually listening on the end of the radio link. For instance, “form line astern” would make loads of sense… to someone in the Navy!

One of the gold plated stories we were told to emphasise the importance of usage of words was of another group of trainee instructors, one of whom was an old school car instructor, apparently trying to take advantage of the bike training boom in the mid-90s.

“Pull up at your convenience” he said… so he was quite surprised to see the ‘trainee’ suddenly hare off on his own route, with the trainee instructor following along trying to stop him, quite perplexed.

A couple of miles later, the ‘trainee’ stopped in a public car park, next to the gent’s toilet!

But more than anything else, pre-riding preparation is the key to radio use; to ensure the trainee fully understands how the radio will be used and then to use the radio absolutely as little as you can get away with.

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