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I’ve done the IAM – what would I gain from Survival Skills?

This is a question I get asked surprisingly often.

Typically it runs along the lines of:

“I am a full member of xxx and therefore the IAM. Do you think it would be worthwhile me participating in any of your courses and if so which in particular? I ride a zzz and use it almost every day.”

I’ve get quite a few IAM members from various groups attend the courses each year and the observation that is often made at the end of the training is that I’ve given them alternative ideas and different ways of looking at the same situation. New perspectives and more tools, one might say.

Without wishing to start a long debate, one thing I would say that by its very nature, the IAM approach is geared to producing a standard of riding to pass the IAM test, which is, of course, based on Roadcraft and police techniques.

That’s not a bad thing as it does ensure something near a common approach to riding, but it does have two disadvantages:

– other worthwhile training schema are perhaps not given the prominance they deserve – the IAM approach becomes “self-reinforcing” if IAM riders don’t get out and about to see how other riders approach the same problems

As I’m on record many times as saying, my main issue is that progress often gets emphasised at the expense of risk assessment and management. As a courier for many years, I had plenty of motivation to “get on with it”. However, despatching offers a steep learning curve as the consequences of a mistake are often no earning potential until the bike/rider is repaired, rather than a simple insurance claim and my own courses start very much from the opposite angle, so rather than look for opportunities for progress, they are based heavily on understanding and managing risk.

To start with, a rider needs to know the risk attached to any particular manoeuvre. One of the myths of riding is that ‘done skillfully, xxx is safe’. It isn’t – it’s probably (but not always) less risky. Subtle but important distinction. This is the role of risk assessmentment.

A quick glance at the accidents stats reveals that overtaking turns out to be very high risk – it’s not a situation that we get into that often (compared with riding bends or passing junctions – two other common accident scenarios), but it results in a high number of serious and fatal accidents.

Once we understand what’s risky and what’s relatively safeR, we need to know where we are at risk from that particular activity. That should give us a heads-up that ‘finely judged overtakes’ should not perhaps be part of our day to day riding – they might be something that police riders need to do but civvies?

An area that I think is massively underplayed on Roadcraft-based courses is the use of road signs to alert riders to risk. In the words of the Institute of Highway Engineers, “the road should be capable of being read like a book”, and whilst signing isn’t always consistent, that’s largely true.

There is far more information available in road signs and road markings than most advanced riders are aware of. Many common motorcycle accidents on rural roads could be avoided if the hazards the signs and markings warn of were a) seen and b) heeded. But many riders seem to view them as “only for learners” probably because of they last studied them to pass the DSA test! To see why road signs are important, we only need to go back to those accident statistics, where accidents happen and why they happen. As a result, this is an area I spend a lot of time working on.

A third area for improvement is in ‘sports psychology’ approaches to improving your mental skills of observation and anticipation. The way the mind works in learning skills is fascinating, and outside of a few specialist driving books, ‘mind training’ is almost completely ignored by conventional advanced riding; but it’s an area where a small investment in time and effort can reap huge improvements.

Once we understand the hazards riding poses, then we need management techniques for dealing with them safely; for instance when riding bends, I use a Keith Code-based approach cornering that emphasises three issues:

– positive machine inputs in terms of braking, steering and acceleration as a contrast to “throttle sense” – improving stability by adapting to changing radii mid-turn by using changes of lean angle rather than throttle adjustment – identifying common reference points in corners to give a road map that ties in the the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (USA) approach of SLOW LOOK LEAN & ROLL (which you have probably heard of without knowing where it came from!) with the Thames Valley Police Driving School approach to straights sometimes known as “Thirds”

Finally, it’s valuable to get different opinions and perspectives. It’s worth pointing out that most couriers who have done the job for any length of time are generally surprisingly careful and restrained, as well as being highly skilled.

This contrasts with the idea that demonstrating an ability to overtake and to ride as fast as the road allows is actually a defining feature of “advanced” riding. As a personal opinion, I really don’t think progress-oriented riding is a road down which we should travel too far, not least because it excludes riders who can perform to a very high standard in all other areas of riding and who simply don’t choose to take the added risk of ‘making progress’.

What I learned very quickly when despatching was that to know where you could go fast, you very much HAD to know where to go slow, not just be quick indiscriminately. One would think that advanced riding was very much about being descriminating, but as I’ve said, I really don’t think enough consideration is given to risk assessment for many riders to be clear about how much risk they are taking.

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